Garrett Fuller

The History of Apple Computer

In the early 1970s, a man named Steve Wozniak worked as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard (HP), a manufacturer of electronic test equipment and early electronic calculators. Wozniak was intrigued by electronics, and studied electronics engineering.

Another man, Steven Jobs, was a college drop-out. He got a job at Atari, an early manufacturer of video games. At the time, video games were not designed in software; the majority was done in hardware. Jobs and Wozniak previously became friends, and Wozniak designed some of the video games for Jobs at Atari. One of Wozniak's most famous works, Breakout!, eventually became one of the few well-known games from early Atari. (The others consisting of Pac-Man, and Pong!)

Wozniak showed Jobs the small teletype terminal he had built from scratch. Jobs proposed that they should build the computers and sell them for a profit, while Wozniak was interested in sharing his design with others through the Homebrew Computer Club he was a part of. It was clear that Jobs was the business-man and the marketer, whereas Wozniak was clearly the engineer.

In 1976, Apple Computer was born in Steve Job's garage. The first model, Apple I, was essentially the motherboard, without the power-supply and other ancillary components. Mike Markkula, a multimillionaire angel investor who made his fortune off stock options made while working for Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel. Markkula, who retired at age 32, also brought business expertise to the table. Jobs was 21 years old and Wozniak was 26. (Ronald Wayne was another early co-founder of Apple, although he quickly left the company.)

The Apple II Days

Apple IIIn 1977, Apple Computer introduced an enhanced model of computer. The Apple II (stylized ][) was not just the motherboard - but it was a complete package. It included the keyboard, memory, power supply, video output, and the case. The Apple II could also display color, being one of the first (if not the first) computers to be able to do so when matched with an RF modulator or color television set/monitor with composite video input.

However, the Apple II met fierce competition. 1977 was also the year which Commodore released their PET computer, and it was also the year which the Tandy Corporation (more well known in the US as Radio Shack) introduced their TRS-80 microcomputer. Others tried to get in the game, such as Texas Instruments and Atari, but their attempts were mainly failures or limited successes.

Despite this, the Apple II sold well. By 1979, an enhanced model of the Apple II, the Apple II Plus, was introduced to the market. Floppy disk drives were later added, to add support for floppy disks so that slow cassette players, with questionable data transfer reliability, could be replaced.

However, Apple was pioneering the future of the computer industry within the boundaries of Cupertino. One project, primarily the Apple LISA, would change the way we would compute.

Pioneer Days and Early Failures

The Apple LISA, or Local Integrated System Architecture, was one of Apple's first huge projects, and one of Job's first pet projects. The name LISA in and of itself relates to Jobs; Jobs' first daughter was named Lisa.

The LISA was special in the fact that it was the first commercial graphical user interface (GUI) designed. Apple, specifically Jobs, had stolen (or "borrowed") the idea from Xerox Park, who had a similar system with a GUI. The LISA also inspired their next pet project.

The Macintosh was another GUI-based computer, although built by a different team in Cupertino. The early Macintosh prototypes borrowed a lot from the Apple II and/or LISA, such as the Twiggy floppy drive. (The "Twiggy" was a special name for 5.25" floppy drives.)

In 1980, Apple released the Apple III (///) which was their first commercial failure. For starters, the price tag was anywhere between $4,340 (2016 - $12,674.85) and $7800 (2016 - $22,779.69) for one. The reliability of the Apple III was terrible. Steve Jobs, being the design perfectionist he was, insisted that the Apple III use no fans, but rather use the metal case as a heat sink. Sadly, this did not pan out too well. The intense heat from the components caused most to damage themselves from the heat, including even melting solder and disconnecting components from the motherboard, and even melted floppy disks.

Also in 1980, the company had become publicly traded under the stock symbol AAPL. The opening share price was $22/share, which generated more IPO capital than when Ford Motor Company went public, and created the most instant millionaires of any company.

Apple LISAIn 1983, Apple had much the same luck with the Apple LISA. The LISA was too expensive for the ordinary consumer, with a $9,995 (2016 - $29,190.13) price tag. The LISA, and its early GUI, was seen as a toy rather than a serious computer. A very expensive toy.

1983 also brought the introduction of the Apple IIe, or Apple IIe(nhanced.) It was an enhanced version of the Apple II Plus. 1983 also marked the introduction of John Sculley, former CEO of PepsiCo, to become the new CEO of Apple.

The Macintosh

1984 brought many new products to Apple. One was the introduction of the Apple IIc, a compact and portable version of the Apple II with a built-in disk drive, the ability to be powered from an optional battery pack, and even an optional LCD display.

However, the biggest introduction of the 1980s for Apple came on January 24, 1984, when the original Macintosh was introduced to the public. The original Macintosh only contained 128kb of RAM, and only had a black-and-white display. It was marketed using the infamous "Nineteen Eighty-Four" commercial, which the first famous Super Bowl commercial costing over $1 million to make and air.

The Macintosh became Steve Job's second pet. A year later, the board of directors decided to remove Job's from all associations with the project, and essentially placed him in an empty building with little to do. Soon after, Jobs quit after planning a failed boardroom coup.

Apple itself seemed okay at the loss of their co-founder for some time, but sales of the Macintosh were not doing so hot. The Mac was viewed by the public in much the same light as the LISA. Many called it an expensive toy, a machine uncapable of doing real work. There was the mentality that GUI was childish and a toy, whereas command-line operating systems (such as BASIC, MS-DOS, CP/M, and various others at the time) were ruling the market and was made for real tasks.

However, Microsoft agreed with Apple. In 1985, Microsoft developed their own GUI based on top of their MS-DOS, titled "Windows." Unlike the Microsoft Windows of today, it was essentially an "operating environment" built upon a MS-DOS shell. In the early days, many tasks could only be done through the command line. However, the Macintosh was different. The Mac was built as a GUI, not a "operating environment" or "add-on", down to the operating system itself. Therefore, there was little to no command lines in Mac OS, and that was what set it apart. (The GUI would later turn into a "requirement" rather than a luxury.)

In 1987, Apple released the first non-Compact Mac. 1989 brought the Macintosh Portable, which was a competitor to IBM's PS/2 P70 luggable. (The P70 was better than the Portable.) Many claimed that the Macintosh Portable was an "unfinished prototype sent into manufacturing."

Trouble on the Horizon

It was "clear" to many that Apple had the better end of the bargain in 1989. Mac fanatics and Apple themselves concluded later that what the Macintosh could do in 1989, it took another six years for Microsoft to play catch-up.

However, trouble began appearing on the horizon. Apple was once again falling victim to decreasing prices and increasing power and value in PCs. IBM released OS/2 in 1987 for their PS/2 line, adding another layer of competition. Even worse, for the business market at Apple, Steve Jobs' second company, NeXT, was taking off with their NeXT-Step operating system.

Things went into a tailspin there. Apple was also falling behind on innovation; Windows and OS/2, two other GUI operating systems (or "environments"), had color, whereas it took until System 7 (1991) for color to be a widely-utilized feature in Mac OS. In 1987, Apple shot themselves in the foot with introducing the Apple IIGS. The IIGS, which was based on the Apple II series (the last computer in the II lineup), was more powerful, contained more marketable features, and was much cheaper than most Macintosh machines of the time period. Plus, the IIGS had color.

In 1991, Apple once again stepped up their portable computing game. The Portable was a nice, well-featured machine, but contained many caveats that made people think twice before buying one. However, Apple cleared many of the problems with the PowerBook series.

The PowerBook was everything that Portable wanted to be; it had a nice(r) display, a better battery, and could start up under its own power. The PowerBook was smaller, and more portable. It was not a luggable, unlike the Portable.

In addition to the PowerBook, Apple released more products in an attempt to repair the market share issues that were occuring. They released the Macintosh Classic, one of the last "Compact Macs", in 1990. The Classic was the first Macintosh, and the only Mac of that period, to retail under $1,000. Apple also developed the LC series (standing for Low Cost, or Low-cost Color), which was a Mac desktop system which was marketed as a low-cost color system.

However, the LC series was a sign of the struggles Apple was having at the time. Quality was becoming less and less prevelent in Cupertino at the time. The LC was made of cheap plastics; users would often snap the cheap plastic into pieces when trying to open the case via the push-tabs. The "pizza box" case was not popular for this reason.

Soon, though, Apple teamed up with IBM and Motorola to develop the AIM alliance. The AIM alliance was responsible for the PowerPC processors, which were eventually used in Apple products ranging from the lowest-end Macs to the powerhouse Macs.

Spindler and Amelio: Not for the faint of heart!

In 1993, after a decade-long tenure at Apple as CEO, John Sculley was ousted of the company by the board of directors. His replacement was none other than Michael Spindler. If you thought 1990 was when the tailspin of issues started, his tenure started a rapid freefall.

Spindler was not famous within the company. He allowed the Macintosh to be cloned. As if this poor decision wasn't bad enough, Microsoft was working on a project which would almost entirely wipe Apple away.

As it market share wasn't doing so hot for Apple, Microsoft released the Windows 95 operating system in 1995. This was a big, nearly-fatal wound to Apple; but Mac fanatics and Apple employees kept their hopes up. Maybe System 7 patches would keep them afloat, at least until the year 2000.

Things kept getting worse, though. It was a good time to hate Apple, and most Mac users deserted their fancy Macs for a humble PC. The Board of Directors realized this issue, and Spindler was ousted, with Gil Amelio being his replacement.

Gil Amelio was known as the CEO which tried hard to sell Apple. But nobody wanted the failing company, nor the failing products which came with it. Apple was not innovating, and Apple was falling into that black hole no company wants to go into.

Welcome Back, Steve!

In 1997, after a half-decade long "depression" for the company, things were looking extremely bleak for Apple. The Macintosh had lost all but just a few customers. All business customers had switched over to Microsoft Windows or IBM's OS/2, and many home users, small businesses, and schools jumped on the Windows 95 bandwagon. The Mac was being kept alive by only a few users which were die-hard Apple fans.

Apple, of course, needed to do something. Gil Amelio's tenure wasn't going so hot. In 1997, things were going really badly. The company was only months away from insolvency when, one man, came back to clean up the mess.

That man? None other than Steve Jobs, the guy who co-founded the company and was "fired" in 1985. Jobs was working on two other companies. NeXT was also failing. NeXT was known for having products made "before their time", and NeXT products were overpriced. NeXT's NeXT-Step was an industry-changing operating system, which competed with Microsoft Windows NT and Apple's Macintosh in the business sector. The other company Jobs was working with was Pixar. Steve Jobs provided capital and business knowledge to the fledgling company in 1986, and his investment came to fruition in 1988 with an animated short, one of the first entirely computer-animated shorts, titled Tin Toy! In 1995, Jobs and his Pixar worked with Disney to produce Toy Story, one of the first completely computer-animated films produced.

Jobs came in and was reluctant to return. Amelio pointed out that the company was like a ship with a hole in the bottom, and it needed to be pointed in the right direction. Jobs performed his second boardroom coup, which successfully ousted Gil Amelio and many parts of the board.

Now with a blank-slate, Jobs returned Apple's focus to computers. He discontinued the Newton line of products. Upon return to Apple, Jobs' other company, NeXT, merged with Apple.

Less than a year later, Apple returned to profitability - just in the nick of time. The iMac G3 was released, placing Apple back on the map. The iBook G3 "clamshell" was also released in June 1999, and the company was doing well compared to the depression they brought themselves out of. But what about Y2K and the new millenium?

Y2k and Beyond: The New Apple

Y2K stoked people's fear regarding computers. Y2K was a simple problem which, people thought, could detonate nuclear weapons, make appliances and automobiles cease to work, traffic control systems to fail, and other issues. Y2K itself was simpe: in programming, the computer only updated the ones and tens digit of the year. (ex. 1998 + 01 = 1999.) However, when 2000 hit, this would cause issues, as the computer would "roll back" to 1900. (1999 + 01 = 1900; 1999 + 17 = 1916). For PCs and older Macs, expansion cards were sold to "modify" the date in the CMOS for use with BIOS, updating the hundreds and thousands digit. (CMOS: 1900; BIOS: 2000.) Since most programs access the BIOS date, this was no issue. But for those that directly accessed the CMOS date, it still had issues.

In the end, people woke up on Y2K and their cars started (the engine computers in cars do not have any calendar or need to access the date or time.) There were minor problems, but no nuclear weapons detonated, and no airplanes crashed.

In 2001, Apple was working on two big new products. The first, released on October 23 of that year, was the iPod. The iPod was a portable media player which changed the way we listen to music and watch videos. Prior, the Sony Walkman and various MP3 players and portable CD players and cassette machines were the standard for listening to music on the go. These solutions had their caveats; the Walkman was expensive, most MP3 players had limited capactiy, and CD players had problems with playing a song reliably without any skipping or stopping. The iPod solved these issues; the first model contained a miniature hard drive, which could contain up to one thousand songs. You could finally listen to high-quality music on the go.

The other solution was Mac OS X, the next generation of the Macintosh operating system. It finally released on March 24, 2001, and was essentially the Macintosh classic operating system merged with the NeXT operating system. It revolutionized the way of modern operating systems, and would later influence another product.

Intel Macs and iOS Devices

In 2005, the PowerPC processors were coming upon their 13th birthday. The PowerPC G4 was found in almost all Macs, and even some Windows-based machines and other products. However, Apple was dissapointed with IBM's progress on the PowerPC line, and Apple was considering switching to Intel. This switch would turn a Mac, which was fairly different to this point, into a PC clone with a different operating system.

On January 10, 2006, the first computers built by Apple to feature Intel processors - the 15" MacBook Pro and iMac - were announced. Both utilized the Core Duo processors.

With Apple on the ball, and successfully managing two giant processor architecture swaps, they continued to innovate. The iPhone, the first widely-known smartphone, was released a year later. In 2010, the iPad - a tablet form of the iPhone - was released. In 2015, the Apple Watch released.

Similar to the rise of the Apple II and Macintosh, however, Apple has serious competitors in the smart device marketplace. Samsung and LG both are huge competitors, but Apple offers features which set them apart from the rest.


Last updated 09/21/2016 ; T420 (created 09/13/2016)
©2014-16 Garrett Fuller. Learn more about this website.