Feeds

Steve Woz: From wooden Apples to iPhone love

Computing the human equation

The Power of One Infographic

Woz remembers

The Apple I and II designs and their internal organs were things of beauty, Woz recalls. He enthuses about the Apple I boards he built by hand and the relatively small number of chips used in that very first machine. "I wish [people now] could see the hand-wired boards. I went in at night, made little drawings – on a drafting table – of the boards with every single little red wire. I looked at it and was 'Wow'."

There were several key choices Woz made that separated the machine from the rest of the hobby-computer crowd and – eventually, when those same choices reached the Apple II – set Apple apart from the Intel/PC herd. For one, he picked the 6502 over the Intel 8080 used in Bill Gates' object of affection, the MITS Altair 8800. Apple stayed free of Intel until 2005, when Jobs announced that Macs were coming off the Motorola/Freescale and IBM PowerPC chips by 2007. Woz's decision to go non-Intel with the Apple I was partly down to price. The 6502 was cheaper than Intel's 8080.

The other important choice was the bet on dynamic RAM (DRAM) at a time when PC hobbyists used static RAM (SRAM). SRAM was powerful and more reliable, but it was expensive. Around the time of the Apple I, DRAM - invented in 1967 - was finally affordable enough for Woz to pack in 4K of memory and allow the Apple I to run relatively quickly.

"The 4K of memory with these dynamic chips was finally half the price of using static and it really made the things go," according to Woz. "That was the first time there was enough memory to make a useful computer that was going to be affordable by an average person - that's one of the keys that isn't always brought out.

"All the other little hobby kits used static memory. Why? [The people building them] looked at Intel data sheets, and Intel data sheets want to show a simple diagram. They don't want to show how to refresh dynamic memory ... so everybody just copies the Intel data sheets to build these little kits. My goal was different."

But compared to the Apple II, the Apple I was a Frankenstein's monster, a terminal that Woz modified and that he used to access the world's first wide-area packet-switching network: the US government's ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), one of the foundations of today's internet. The wood-encased clunker used a TV set for a monitor, had a relatively expensive $60 keyboard, and components Woz says he had optimized to run at modem speed - ARPANET peaked at 56Kbps.

That's all nicely nostalgic, but it's the Apple II that most warms Woz's heart. The Apple II, he says, deserves its seat in the Computer History Museum's $19m exhibit on the first 2,000 years of computing. "Everything we were doing was catching a lot of publicity in the press, so everything we did was getting articles," he says. "We sort of had a feeling.

"It didn't drive me, but the Apple II – we knew this one was going be a history thing. It had color, games. It had so few parts. It was so affordable and buildable, and [it] had more versatility and expandability. It was a leap ahead of all the others at the time. The Apple I wasn't designed as a computer. The Apple II was."

Apple I at the Smithsonian, photo Ed Uthman

That's no bread bin, that's an Apple I

The Apple II had a 1MHz MOS Technology 6502 processor. It offered expandable memory, rather than limit you to a mere 4K. And beginning in 1978, Apple offered an optional floppy drive for storage and file transfer.

"The Apple II was designed from the ground up, and it was good enough to change the world," Woz recalls. Once his work was seen by other members of Silicon Valley's Homebrew Computer Club, which included Jobs, Woz believed that it was open for others to copy.

The conceptual bit

These machines were more than just a collection of parts. They were new ideas. "The biggest challenge wasn't in terms of abilities or parts affordability. It was the realization of the whole formula to build a very small machine that anybody could have - that I could have myself," Woz says. Once he had created the Apple I and was connected to other computers on ARPANET, Woz says, he realized how powerful a few microprocessors and a little memory could be.

"As soon as I realized - my gosh - what a microprocessor was, what its instruction set was, I instantly knew I was there and I would get there. I got there very quickly and hastily with the Apple I, not designing it from scratch but modifying an existing terminal," he says.

Those early Apple machines set the company on a trajectory to superstardom. Together with pal Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne - a friend of Jobs from his work at Atari - Woz founded Apple Computer on April Fools' Day 1976 with just $1,300. Just six years later - with no small help from early investor and business adviser Mike Markkula and many others - Apple became the first PC company in a mosh pit of newcomers to hit $1bn annual sales.

Maybe the Apple II's price helped hit those sales figures: an entry-level machine with 4K of RAM cost $1,298. By comparison, the rival Commodore 64 - also in the vanguard of that PC revolution in 1982 - debuted at $595, and later dropped to $199.

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Airbus promises Wi-Fi – yay – and 3D movies (meh) in new A330
If the person in front reclines their seat, this could get interesting
UK Parliament rubber-stamps EMERGENCY data grab 'n' keep bill
Just 49 MPs oppose Drip's rushed timetable
Want to beat Verizon's slow Netflix? Get a VPN
Exec finds stream speed climbs when smuggled out
Samsung threatens to cut ties with supplier over child labour allegations
Vows to uphold 'zero tolerance' policy on underage workers
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
US freemium mobile network eyes up Europe
FreedomPop touts 'free' calls, texts and data
Big Blue Apple: IBM to sell iPads, iPhones to enterprises
iOS/2 gear loaded with apps for big biz ... uh oh BlackBerry
Price cuts, new features coming for Office 365 small biz customers
New plans for companies with up to 300 staff to launch in fall
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.