Retro Computing News

An ‘appy Apple II anniversary!

Apple II computer on display at the private Musée Bolo from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (pic courtesy Rama, Wikipedia)

On this day in 1977, the now-legendary Apple II computer went on sale for the first time, marking the real beginning of the mighty American corporate entity that climbed from humble beginnings in bedroom and garage to become one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential companies.

The Apple II (its trademark style being apple ][) was (and is, as a practical modern collector’s item) an eight-bit home computer, and was one of the first highly successful mass-produced microcomputers.   It had a great influence on later computers and on software, with its moulded plastic case and expansions slots, as well as being the computer for which the now-ubiquitous and essential ‘spreadsheet’ program was first developed – the first being Visicalc (released in 1979).

Woz with an Apple 1 Board (pic Steve Wozniak)

The Apple II was designed primarily by Steve Wozniak, with the late Steve Jobs overseeing the development of the computer’s case and Rod Holt developing the power supply.

Apple II with Micromodem II (pic courtesy Dale Heatherington, Wikipedia)

The computer was first introduced in 1977 at the West Coast Computer Faire by Steve Jobs and was the first consumer product to be sold by Apple Computer (the original Apple I was aimed at serious hobbyists and makers who could build and case their own).  The first Apple II computers went on sale on 10th June, 1977.

Woz and Jobs working on the Apple II in their garage in Mountain View, Claifornia,, 1 January, 1976 (pic Apple Computer)

They were initially assembled in Silicon Valley, California, and later in Texas.  Printed circuit boards were manufactured in Ireland and in Singapore.

A MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor running at 1.023 MHz was the heart of the machine.  The computer was able to use two game paddles, and in its most basic form was equipped with 4 kB of RAM.

An audio tape cassette interface for loading programs and storing data was built-in, and the Apple II’s ROMs contained an implementation of the Integer BASIC programming language.

The Apple II’s video controller displayed 24 lines by 40 columns of monochrome, upper-case-only characters on the screen,.  Output was  NTSC composite and could be used with a monochrome (often green screen) monitor. It could also be used with a television set as its display by purchasing an accessory RF modulator.

Apple II advertisement (Apple Computer)

The Apple II cost $1,298 USD at launch and with the base 4kB RAM installed.  With a full compliment of 48kB RAM the price went up to a substantial $2,638 USD.

For the first time, Apple branded its first mass-produced consumer computer with the rainbow-striped Apple logo which defined its corporate brand until 1998.

The original Apple II went on to spawn a series of similar but steadily evolving computers (apart from the more advanced IIGS) which continued to be produced until the final model, the IIe, after which production ceased in November 1993, by which time the Apple Macintosh computer range had become the company’s primary product.

Today, the Apple II range is popular as a collector’s item amongst retro computing hobbyists and in museums; computers typically sell for anything from £150-£300 in the UK with a floppy drive or two, in clean working order and depending on expansion, being quite a bit cheaper in the USA where they were always more common.

It is still a good tool for anyone looking for a practical collector’s item which can actually do something useful instead of just playing games. In that way (and in its past popularity in the American education system) it shares similarities with the more specialised British Acorn BBC Micro.

For more information on the history of the Apple II range, check out the Wikipedia entry as a good starting point: