July 4, 2011
by Mark Ollig
“Byte into an Apple.”
This was the catchphrase used on one of the first Apple I computer advertisements printed in October 1976.
The Apple I was officially released to the public on April 11, 1976 at a cost of $666.66.
It was Steve Wozniak who designed and built the Apple I computer (and came up with that attention-grabbing price).
About 200 Apple I computers were made.
This past week, I found myself listening to an interesting audio from a 2006 National Public Radio interview with Steve Wozniak.
He talked about his early involvement with Apple Computer, and his creation of what I consider to be the first real personal computer, the Apple I.
Wozniak, or “The Woz” as he is called, states he had an early reputation for being an electronic genius, with an exclusivity in math and science, which, according to The Woz, kept him from wanting to be in “the other normal parts of the world.”
During fifth and sixth grade, The Woz said he was building “computer projects and ham radios.”
In high school, he had designed “hundreds and hundreds of computers, over and over” which developed his skills. He made a game out of designing a new computer on paper using fewer computing chips than he had used during the previous month.
Wozniak said he did this as a game, not thinking at the time he would take these skills and make a job out of it.
Back in 1975, Wozniak, along with his friend Steve Jobs, were members of an organization of computing hobbyists called the Homebrew Computer Club, which was located in today’s Silicon Valley in CA.
The Homebrew Computer Club met every two weeks.
It was during one of these meetings in 1975, when Wozniak gave a presentation of a computer he had designed and built.
What made this particular computer unique and different, was that it had features incorporated into it not found on the other hobbyist computers available at the time.
Back then, most hobby computers were put together from kits obtained via mail order from publications such as Popular Electronics, and similar hobbyist’s magazines.
The Apple I made use of a keyboard which allowed the user to type program information into the computer, instead of physically flipping selected toggle switches like one would do when using say, the Altair 8800 computer, which was a popular hobbyist computer in 1975.
The coded information entered into the computer, along with the computer’s character output, was viewable on the screen of an attached television set.
During the interview, Wozniak spoke in a broken sentence while saying, “When I built this Apple I . . . sort of the first keyboard . . . the first computer to say a computer should look like a typewriter. It should have a keyboard. And the output device is a TV set.”
Wozniak told of how he really didn’t have any money back then.
He had brought his own Sears color TV from home to the Homebrew Computer Club meeting to connect to his computer circuitry board.
Wozniak made his own wiring connections on a cable he ran inside the TV (there was no video-in connector back then).
The Woz then hooked up the other cable end to the circuit chips on his component circuitry board (breadboard) and to the small keyboard he had devised.
Wozniak admitted in the interview that he wanted to impress the other people who were watching him give the demonstration.
“I want to take credit for having done some very, very good things, some very good designs, some software that was like art like Mozart would do,” Wozniak said.
The Apple I even looked different, Wozniak explained how every computer before the Apple 1 had a front panel on it that looked like a piece of bland network switching equipment.
He noted from the time when the Apple I came out, every new computer since then has had a keyboard, and Wozniak takes credit for it too.
“. . . yeah, my idea-so I started passing out the schematics and the code listings for that computer, telling everyone here it is. It’s small, it’s simple, it’s inexpensive; build your own,” Wozniak explained.
He had no thoughts about starting a company until Jobs said, “You know, people are interested; why don’t we start a company?”
When speaking of Jobs, Wozniak said, “He had more of the future vision. We can bring this to everyone; we can start a company; we can sell it.”
Wozniak went on to co-found Apple Computer, along with Jobs, and the birth of the first truly “personal” computer company was born.
Jobs was more involved with company issues, while Wozniak worked on computer design and invention, which included the Apple I, Apple II, and Apple III computer.
Wozniak was also involved with the newly-formed Macintosh computer group inside Apple Computer during the early 1980s.
The October 1976 printed ad copy used for the first Apple computer can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/3v72zx4.