Steve Wozniak Talks Apple II on Its 45th Anniversary


Steve Wozniak holding a six-colored apple on a blue background in 2014

When Steve Wozniak designed the Apple II—launched in June 1977—he kick-started a wave of appliance-like dwelling computer systems for common individuals. For the forty fifth anniversary of this monumentally necessary machine, we talked to Wozniak about its impression—and he had so much to say.

The Key to Apple’s Early Success

In 2022, Apple is without doubt one of the largest, most successful corporations on earth. That’s an immense achievement, and it began again in 1976 when Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs based Apple Laptop, Inc. Whereas the corporate launched its first product (the Apple I) in 1976, it reached a really restricted viewers as a hobbyist machine. In distinction, 1977’s Apple II aimed for the mainstream from the beginning, and its reputation made Apple a wildly successful company by the requirements on the time.

In that vein, we requested Wozniak if he thought there was something particular concerning the unique Apple II design that laid the foundations for Apple’s present success. (He replied to our questions by way of electronic mail, and his solutions have been flippantly edited for presentation.)

An Apple II floating in cyberspace
Steven Stengel

“The Apple II was years forward of others,” replied Wozniak, referring to different private computer systems in growth on the time. “In actual fact, I had designed and constructed for myself a small laptop 5 years earlier that was like what everybody else was making an attempt—principally a processor with a bus and switches and lights [for an] interface.”

By 1976, small computer systems have been largely bought amongst technical-minded electronics hobbyists who knew learn how to construct and use them, Woz notes. However his Apple II relied on a extra user-friendly setup: a typewriter-style QWERTY keyboard as an enter machine, a CRT monitor or tv set as an output machine, and got here with the BASIC programming language in-built. As quickly as you turned it on, you would start utilizing the pc instantly.

“The Apple II was such an advance that it was our solely profitable product—incomes numerous cash for Apple—for the primary 10 years of the corporate,” says Wozniak, referring to a tough period the place the Apple III (1980), Apple Lisa (1983), and the Macintosh (1984) all struggled within the market. “The Apple II gave enterprise leaders the platform to create different hit merchandise finally, after many failures.”

The Affect of Video Video games on the Apple II

Through the course of our interview, Woz emphasised the affect that early video video games performed in his Apple II design, and the way that affect translated into distinctive options of the Apple II, equivalent to low-cost colour graphics and the inclusion of two paddles (rotary knob controllers) for taking part in video games.

“Atari was creating the video arcade business in Los Gatos, California,” he wrote. “These have been fast-paced graphical video games, beginning with Pong (and a bit earlier than). They have been black and white as a result of colour was costlier and tougher to create. These arcade video games had 100 to 200 chips usually, with 1000’s of wires to be related by expert TV engineers to place recreation components on the TV display. You’ll be able to see why a recreation prototype took the higher a part of a man-year to develop—and solely by expert engineers. I do know as a result of I developed some video arcade video games together with Breakout.”

Apple Computer's logo in 1977
Apple, Inc.

Coloration in arcade video games was extremely rare within the Seventies, so having the ability to create a colour recreation on the Apple II, programmed in software program as a substitute of logic chips, was a giant deal, says Wozniak. “A 9-year outdated may create a good recreation (for the time) in sooner or later utilizing a easy programming language, BASIC, which was constructed into the Apple II. I had created this model of BASIC with instructions to set colours and to plot horizontal and vertical traces.”

The way in which that Wozniak designed the Apple II to create colour video alerts on a budget is the stuff of legend. Modern colour video boards for the sooner Altair laptop, such because the Cromemco Dazzler, value $350 (about $1800 in the present day) and used dozens of chips. Woz’s answer used no additional circuitry and got here constructed into the machine.

“To generate colour for $0, I needed to work far outdoors of the books and arithmetic defining the colour system of the day, NTSC within the US,” says Wozniak. “I used to be certified to be a TV engineer as nicely. It was an analog world and took precision elements with numerous testing to get colour on a TV. The circuits required differential calculus simply to design. I wish to suppose outdoors the identified strategies and realized in my head that simply taking a digital quantity and feeding it to the TV the fitting approach, would present up as colours.”

The Apple II’s potential to generate a colour video sign was an enormous achievement and a distinguishing attribute of the product from the very starting. It even outlined advertising and marketing for the corporate itself. “Give it some thought, our first brand was in 6 colours,” says Wozniak, referring the to well-known Apple brand with six coloured stripes.

Is There Something You’d Do In another way?

Over the previous 45 years, Wozniak has given 1000’s of interviews concerning the Apple II, and it may be arduous to interrupt new floor with attention-grabbing questions. So for enjoyable, we requested Wozniak: In the event you may return in time and alter one factor concerning the Apple II design, what would it not be?

“I’d change nothing,” he replied. “My recommendation to myself could be to rob a financial institution,” he stated jokingly. “Then I’d have had a couple of different choices from the beginning, like lowercase characters.” (The Apple II platform only supported uppercase characters till the Apple IIe in 1982 as a result of Woz’s unique cost-saving design.)

Though Wozniak designed the Apple II circuitry and structure himself, the Apple II as a whole product wasn’t a one-man present. For instance, Rod Holt designed the facility provide and Jerry Manock designed the Apple II’s plastic case. The position Steve Jobs performed within the growth of the Apple II comes up usually in historic accounts, so we requested, “Would you’ve got achieved something otherwise if Steve Jobs had not been concerned with the Apple II?”

An illustration of people using Apple II computers from the "Applesoft BASIC Manual" published in 1978.
Apple, Inc.

“Steve Jobs was not concerned, so I’d have achieved nothing completely different,” Wozniak stated initially, referring to the digital design of the Apple II. However then Wozniak described Jobs’ important position in getting Wozniak’s laptop into the fingers of paying clients.

“Steve Jobs took a pc design right into a shippable product,” says Wozniak. “He was nice at enterprise and advertising and marketing. I used to be very shy and had only a few associates, and Steve Jobs revered my engineering talents, so he was my greatest technical pal. Others recommended I take the Apple II to a product with them or others, however I’m too loyal, and Jobs was the one one I’d do it with. He had been turning designs of mine into cash and enjoyable for 5 years before the Apple II.”

Understanding The Apple II At this time

Since a lot time handed because the launch of the Apple II in 1977, a brand new era of People has grown up with out direct publicity to the Apple II. So we requested Wozniak: Is it necessary for individuals to know concerning the Apple II in 2022?

“I’m undecided how necessary it’s for the lots,” he replied. “An individual all in favour of astronomy would look again on the nice steps in that area. These within the interior working of in the present day’s computer systems would look again too. Additionally, there’s a ‘retro’ market, as in different fields.”

“The Apple II is comprehensible,” he provides. “That’s why early merchandise get quite a lot of consideration. A single particular person can see into the Apple II design.”

An Apple II illustration from a vintage ad.
Apple, Inc.

We’ve additionally been pondering if there may be something the Apple II did nicely that trendy computer systems don’t—one thing we’re exploring in additional element in one other article. So we requested, “Is there something we will be taught from the Apple II design that we’ve forgotten?”

“Pairing was zero-step,” stated Wozniak. “In the event you plugged a board into slot 4, it was often known as ‘4’.” He additionally talked about the Apple II’s radically open nature, freed from buyer restrictions. “You, the consumer, have been in management your self and owned it.”

45 years later, Wozniak is grateful for his success with Apple, which he didn’t do for the cash: He needed the respect of his friends. “My intent was to not begin an business or firm,” he says. “It was to produce other digital engineers respect my engineering, taking a look at my designs and code. I did wish to get this nice laptop to others, to be trustworthy. How nice Apple grew to become is necessary to me, however so is being an IEEE Fellow, the place I’m revered by different engineers.”

As for the Apple II’s legacy, he’s proud that it’s nonetheless partially a technical one, inspiring the following era of engineers. “It’s nice to see individuals creating Apple I and Apple II replica kits in the present day. Our future is with children who get all in favour of computer systems and constructing early on.”

Pleased birthday, Apple II!

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