Hobbyists were having a heyday with microcomputer systems in the mid-1970s. There were clubs devoted to them, where enthusiasts shared knowledge and traded tips on the latest advances.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. ~ Steve Jobs
American electronics engineer and programmer Steve Wozniak (known as Woz) met Steve Jobs through a mutual friend in 1971. They quickly became friends, sharing an interest in pranks and electronic devices.
Woz designed a blue box: an electronic device that emitted tones which let a user make free telephone calls. Jobs briefly put the two in business selling the illegal boxes to friends and acquaintances.
In 1975, Woz joined the local Homebrew Computer Club. His enthusiasm drove him to design a simplified version of the Altair.
Woz demonstrated his board to an appreciative computer club audience. Woz then tried to interest Hewlett-Packard (HP), where he worked as a programmer, into making an inexpensive microcomputer. HP, which was doing well in the electronic calculator business, demurred.
Once again, the entrepreneurial Jobs cajoled Woz into going into business. Woz’s board became the Apple I, which sold for $666 in 1976 ($2,778 in 2015 dollars).
The Apple II followed in 1977, with the low-end model priced at $1,298 ($5,085 in 2015 dollars). That it had color capability spurred its popularity among enthusiasts.
The Apple II began to penetrate the business market from 1979 thanks to VisiCalc, a spreadsheet program.
Apple followed its model II with the Apple III in 1980. It was a bust.
The initial manufacture of the Apple III had loose connectors that made the machine flaky. Apple issued a recall and fixed the problem, but by then the damage to the III’s reputation had already rendered the computer a dinosaur.
In 1979, Jobs visited PARC and saw the Xerox Alto. In an echo of young Ken Olsen’s appreciation of the value of interactivity, Jobs was immediately convinced that the future of computers lay in graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
Apple began development of the Lisa computer, named after Steve Job’s daughter, in 1978. After Job’s epiphany at PARC, Lisa took on a GUI.
Infighting forced Jobs out of the Lisa development group in September 1980, so he went to work on the separate, low-end Macintosh project.
Lisa came out in 1983. It had a stiff price tag: $9,995 ($23,817 in 2015 dollars). But the real problem was inside the box. Though it had advanced features, the Lisa OS sucked the power out the computer’s microprocessor, leaving it sluggish. It did not help that Jobs announced that Apple would soon be releasing a superior system that would not be compatible with the Lisa.
The Macintosh was launched in 24 January 1984 with a TV commercial during the Super Bowl football game that proclaimed that “1984 won’t be like 1984.” The reference linked the dominance in the personal computer market of the IBM PC with George Orwell’s 1949 novel of totalitarian dystopia titled Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The Macintosh was originally priced at $2,495 ($5,699 in 2015 dollars). It was an expensive personal computer compared to the competition, but the only affordable PC at the time with a snazzy graphical user interface.
Macintosh’s GUI was imitated by Microsoft a year later with its ersatz Windows OS. But then, the Lisa and Mac had both been spawned in the spirit of the Xerox Alto.
Apple tried to ensure usability in the programs developed for the Mac by publishing Inside Macintosh, an extensive multi-volume set of guidelines on application programming and user presentation.
Macintosh ushered in the era of desktop publishing and computer graphics for everyman. Unsurprisingly, the Mac failed to displace the IBM PC as microcomputer of choice for business.