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Remembering Steve Jobs’s Apple II

In the last few days, many articles have been written about Steve Jobs's contributions to the electronics world. They tend to focus on recent product introductions from {complink 379|Apple Inc.} including, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPad. Those are sensational products; but, in my opinion the authors' memories are too short. The articles do not give proper recognition to Jobs's first big hit: the Apple II.

In 1978 I was working for EMM Semi, a pioneering 4K SRAM manufacturer. Yes, 4K! In June of that year I went to the National Computer Conference in Anaheim, Calif. It was a big-iron show. The main hall featured exhibits by IBM and the Seven Dwarfs, (Burroughs, Control Data, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR, RCA, and Sperry Rand) as well as minicomputer manufacturers such as Digital Equipment Corp. and Data General. Microcomputers were only allowed, very grudgingly, in a much smaller, dingier hall across the street. None of the big-iron people thought microcomputers were a real market.

I remember counting something like 140 small microcomputer manufacturers at that show. Because almost every microcomputer manufacturer had a proprietary operating system, there were nearly as many OSs. The Wintel partnership was far in the future. Microcomputers used so little memory that the total system cost for using SRAM was less than for DRAM. Even though the cost per chip was much lower for DRAM, the lower cost for the few chips required did not cover the cost of the DRAM refresh circuitry. Today, that seems laughable.

Because SRAM was the memory of choice, EMM Semi's 4K SRAM sales grew exponentially during the first few years of microcomputer sales. EMM Semi was at the National Computer Conference to show off its latest SRAM, an 8K SRAM. (The fate of that product is another story.) To properly display the 8K SRAM in the EMM Semi booth in the microcomputer hall, one of the EMM Semi engineers had procured an Apple II. Since it had only been introduced in June 1977, this had to have been a very early Apple II. He had replaced 8K of the Apple II's SRAM with the new EMM Semi 8K SRAM. He had then put a piece of Plexiglas in a rectangular opening cut in the Apple II's top so the EMM Semi 8K SRAM could be seen installed.

I had not seen the Apple II with the 8K SRAM installed before arriving at the show for booth duty. When I reached the booth, I was in for a shock. The booth was surrounded, people were packed in; but no one was paying any attention to the EMM Semi 8K SRAM. They didn't care. They wanted to see the Apple II and play with it.

The Apple II was like nothing else in the microcomputer hall. The other microcomputers were rectangular brown or white boxes. They looked as if they had been designed by engineers. No surprise — they had been. They looked like sample boxes. They had no pizzazz. No sizzle! The Apple II had both. I knew I was looking at the future when I saw the Apple II and the reaction to it.

The Apple II revolutionized the microcomputer industry. It appealed to consumers, not engineers. It led the way in ease of use, features, and expandability. It was the genesis of the mass-produced personal computer industry. Other microcomputer companies fell by the wayside. The IBM PC followed. But, by the end of production in 1993, somewhere between 5 and 6 million Apple II computers had been shipped, making Apple the leading microcomputer manufacturer of that time.

The Apple II was Steve Jobs through and through (with help from the “Woz,” of course). It was his first big success. To me, it remains his biggest.

19 comments on “Remembering Steve Jobs’s Apple II

  1. Parser
    October 11, 2011

    To me Apple II was a high fashion well build personal computer. As an engineer I recognized very well implemented engineering solutions and as a costumer I liked industrial styling and the way it could be handled. Really good flag ship by Jobs. 

  2. AnalyzeThis
    October 11, 2011

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Morry!

    For me, the Apple II was probably the first computer I had ever seen. It was certainly the computer I first learned how to use. There's a picture of me at age 3 or 4, happily sitting in front of an Apple II and playing Pac-Man. I played a variety of Apple II educational software (because at the times I just thought of them as games) and did my first programming on that machine as well.

    I still feel slightly sad that we sold that Apple II at a garage sale in the late-80's/early 90's. I believe it would still work; that Apple II was one of the most reliable machines I've ever used.

    Certainly, to me, the Apple II was the Steve Jobs product that impacted my life the most dramatically. I'm not really sure what my life would be like if I wasn't introduced to computing at such a young age. I very much doubt I would have taken the same career path.

    And to any other Apple II fans out there, I suggest taking a look at the variety of emulators available and reliving the magic!

  3. Nemos
    October 11, 2011

    I think Steve wrote a history, and the next generation will meet him in the books about IT or in books with the topic “how to be successful.” One of the things we must have in mind is that out-there  is a “evil” disease and it is waiting in the corner. Furthermore, I want to mention that there are a lot of young people like Steve give them an opportunity.

  4. elctrnx_lyf
    October 11, 2011

    morry, thank you for the nice post. Its thee shear creativity of steve a big fuel behind the success of apple products with consumers.

  5. maxmin
    October 11, 2011

    To be accurate, the Apple II was not Steve Jobs' creation but Woz'.  Steve Jobs was merely a showman for the Apple II.  The 1st Apple product credited as a true Steve Jobs' baby was MacIntosh.  The detailed Steve Jobs bio can be downloaded in PDF here:  http://allaboutstevejobs.com/bio/Steve_Jobs_Bio.pdf or HTML version:  http://www.allaboutstevejobs.com/bio/long/01.html

  6. Matt Staben
    October 11, 2011

    I was in High School when I received my Apple II+ in 1982 – eventually it was fitted with an 80-column card, Keytronic keyboard, extra Language Card (bankswitched 16K), Pascal and … DOS.

    Steve Jobs, however, was as usual a bit ahead of his time when it came to HOW to operate the machine.  Like he would years later with the NeXT that an advanced operating system that required too much expensive resource, he attempted to convert the masses to ProDOS, the first advanced Microcomputer file system (that I knew of) that had real long file names and dynamic directories, and other advanced concepts.  It was very cool, but resource hungry and so never became as popular as it should have.

     

     

  7. xchristine
    October 11, 2011

    10/11/11

    I have 3 children, the youngest will be 15 in December. He was dignosed with a Learning problem at age 3 and later the school system diagnosed him with Autism (although I have never agreed with this diagnosis). He has been in school since age 3, including many summers. He still has great diffiuculty with reading and comprehension despite many efforts to find the right resources to assist him in succeeding academically. I have a daughter who is 16 and a creative writer. I have an adult son, age 23 from a previous marriage who is really sweet and a great brother. I had purchased about 4-5 Apple computers in a short period of time for myself and the children, except Ryan the oldest who was used to using Microsoft and Dell Products. Anyway, the products created by Apple have helped my family immensly-allowing us to create, learn and communicate with one another. The technology is an absolute must for my son. When I was able to sit side by side with him with his laptop he was able to achiieve the most. He has had some excellent Tutors in the past, which helped him achieve and advance several years within months. My daughter and I enjoyed spending time together playing games like SIMMS and Ployvore, photoshop. The children and I have been separated for the past year due to a divorce and house fire, however the technology allows us to maintain some contact. I remember buying Michael, the youngest his 1st generation Classic ipod with video. An interest in music is something we have all shared and connected with. I enjoy talking to my youngest son about technology and using Apple as an exapmle of a good (great) company in relation to his studies in History. I've always had great experiences in the Apple retail stores, learning the various software programs and revising my sons lessons into audio visual formats which he could better understand. I bought him an ipad as well-he was diagnosed with dysgraphia at Kennedy, difficult to read his writing-however the school has not permitted him to use this technology in the classroom. I love itunesUniversity and podcasting as well. I think Steve Jobs is very inspiring and I enjoyed reading his biography. His contributions are immesearuable.

     

    Chris Clark

     

     

  8. kolpation2
    October 11, 2011

    i think everyone should write him at http://www.i-remembersteve.com

  9. Taimoor Zubar
    October 11, 2011

    “They looked as if they had been designed by engineers.”

    Just to add to this line, Apple's products seem as if they have been designed by artists. The product design, interface and usability clearly stand out and this is what makes them great products to use. Steve Jobs was certainly a genius who knew exactly what people wanted.

  10. _hm
    October 11, 2011

    I loved the Apple logo and MArio games. They were quite innovative.

     

  11. Daniel
    October 12, 2011

    Morry, you are right. It’s a human nature to forget the old and to stick to the new.  As we know apple starts with PC business, which most of the new generation knows only about I Phone and IPad. In my opinion, instead of much populating the newer generation gadgets, we have to salute him for his contribution in early 80’s and 90’s, where technology had not developed that much.

  12. mfbertozzi
    October 12, 2011

    I am convinced Apple could count on one key factor more: Apple Developer Community. Speaking worldwide, it is one of the biggest, competence, knowledge and professionals are very good and it could be play in the near future as important resource for Apple itself.

  13. JADEN
    October 12, 2011

    Steve Jobs saw the future of technology and led the world to it, and the source of his countless innnovations is passion. His greatness product is Steve himself.  If we choose to remember him and his lesson, it will provides a near sure path to greatness and success.

  14. Mr. Roques
    October 12, 2011

    Yes, Steve was an artist, one of the best! I think he created the need and the want, he knew what people would want, if someone offered it. 

    I don't think I ever said: “I want to carry MP3 music around”, after he released the iPod, I thought: “duh!”

    The iPad? I dont think no one really came to him asking for that… he created the want and the need.

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    October 13, 2011

    @Mr Roques. I totally agree with you and in addition, Steve was a thinker with a vision.He saw into the future and took all of us there by Apple products.

  16. Adeniji Kayode
    October 13, 2011

    @Jaden. you know, I just made the same comment similar to yours before seeing your comment. I agree with you and in addition, He was a visioneer, a leader and a pioneer.

  17. Adeniji Kayode
    October 13, 2011

    @Taimoorz, Some how I think Steve really understood human nature and physiology so much that all Apple products seem to be a perfect design for us.

  18. Tim Votapka
    October 13, 2011

    Interesting similarities between Jobs and Edwin Land, the inventor of instant photography. Check it out on the NY Times.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/07/opinion/the-man-who-inspired-jobs.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

     

  19. timbit42
    October 16, 2011

    You said,

    “But, by the end of production in 1993, somewhere between 5 and 6 million Apple II computers had been shipped, making Apple the leading microcomputer manufacturer of that time.”

    If it is repeated enough, everyone begins to believe the lie. I hardly think Apple was ever the “leading microcomputer manufacturer” of ANY time.

    By “the end of production in 1993”, Commodore had sold almost 13 million Commodore 64's ( Source: http://www.pagetable.com/?p=547 ), not including the millions of PET's, CBM's, VIC-20's, Commodore 16's, Plus/4's and Commodore 128's.

    Read more details here. In particular, note the charts on pages 3-6 & 10: http://arstechnica.com/old/content/2005/12/total-share.ars

    I hardly think Apple was ever the “leading microcomputer manufacturer” of ANY time. If it is repeated enough, everyone begins to believe the lie.

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