Designed by Stephen Wozniak and sold in 1976 with the help of Steve Jobs, the first Apple was a computer strictly for electronics engineers and hobbyists. Although it came fully assembled (unlike the computer kits that began circulating after the invention of the microprocessor), it had no keyboard or power supply and, without a case, all its components could be seen. Nevertheless, interest in the Apple was undeniable. Wozniak and Jobs built dozens of them in a garage in California, in the area well known today as Silicon Valley. To purchase parts, the young men had to sell off some of their most valuable belongings (Wozniak his calculator, Jobs his minibus).
After their first taste of success, Wozniak and Jobs developed a bigger game plan: selling computers to a much wider consumer base. Led by Jobs’ keen business sense, Apple (the name of the company the men formed as well as the computers they sold) found new investors, consulted a public relations firm, and heavily advertised the second computer they offered. Dubbed the Apple II, the machine entered the market in 1977 and became the first personal computer used in many businesses, schools and homes. Designed with the average consumer in mind, the Apple II was housed in a plastic case so that the machine’s parts did not intimidate the user, who instead focused his or her attention on a color, graphical display. The machine, which featured a MOS 6502 microprocessor that supported up to 64KB of memory, also had sound capabilities and came equipped for use with peripherals such as printers.
The manuals provided technical details for companies interested in building peripherals or software to use with the machines, a decision that helped drive sales as more of these products became available. The development of VisiCalc, the first personal computer spreadsheet program, by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston was a particular boon to Apple’s business. The program, along with the affordable hard disk drive Wozniak invented in 1978, allowed Apple computers to efficiently store and quickly retrieve data, such as a company’s financial information.
In 1978, Apple engineers began developing an improved version of their product, released the following year as the Apple II Plus. The machine offered an improved form of the programming language Applesoft BASIC. Licensed to Apple by Microsoft, early versions of Applesoft had to be loaded as an upgrade onto Apple II machines (a timely and often problematic process), but came already installed on the Plus in the read-only memory, or ROM.
The popularity of these computers made Apple a leader in the early microcomputer industry. In 1978, the company developed an Apple II Europlus to accommodate the languages and power standards of other countries. Production of the Europlus ceased in 1983, a year after the company stopped making the Apple II Plus. The Apple IIe succeeded the Apple II Plus. It cost less and had more power and memory than its predecessor. It also displayed both uppercase and lowercase letters, unlike previous Apples. Other improvements appeared in subsequent models of the Apple II line, which remained a cornerstone in the market throughout the 1980s. In the early 1990s, Apple’s Macintosh computers finally overshadowed the Apple II line, the last of which sold in 1993. By that time, the Mac had been in production for nearly a decade, though it had been slow to catch on among Apple II loyalists.
Allegiance to the Apple II was understandable. After all, the machine dramatically changed the way people worked in the office and, with the development of computer games, played at home. But as the computer market grew, the Apple II was not only up against its sister product, the Mac, but also home computers built by other companies. Today the computer in your home or office may or may not have been made by Apple, but the fact that there is a computer there at all is owed in large part to Apple’s role in making computers “personal.”