Computing

Apple II: The World Catches On

Often it’s an artist’s second book or album that draws the public’s attention—so too with Apple’s number 2, whose story is excerpted here from Core Memory, photographed by Mark Richards and written by John Alderman.

Name: Apple II
Year created: 1977
Creator: Apple Computer, Inc.
Cost: $US1,298 with 4KB of RAM; $US2,638 with 48KB of RAM
Memory: 4K semiconductor
Processor: MOS technology 6502

Spurred on by the small but encouraging success of the original Apple, the two Steves, Wozniak and Jobs, retreated to the garage (Jobs’) to craft the personal computer that was the most convincing case yet that such an item could have a mass market. The Apple II started where the Apple I left of, namely, with a case. It didn’t look like an object dropped from a starship or developed in a military lab. It had a familiar, prosaic form of an elongated beige typewriter, though additions like the television monitor and the cassette player used to store programs made it look a little like a college-dorm entertainment centre.

If its appearance was familiar, the Apple II was also attractive to consumers in a way that previous computers just weren’t—even if their manufacturers tried. It shipped with high-resolution colour graphics and sound, and it had a rainbow-coloured Apple logo that seemed both fresh and optimistic. Said Wozniak, “The Apple II, more than any other early machine, made computer a word that could be said in homes. It presented a computer concept that included fun and games—human-type things.” The ability to have a business and a social side was an important sign of computing’s growing relevance.

The price made the Apple II affordable for businesspeople, well-off families, and schools. It was in the education sector that its influence lasted longest—although it certainly made its mark on business as the first platform to run VisiCalc, the first consumer spreadsheet program. It was the programs that really hooked people, and the Apple II had a great roster of educational and entertainment software. By attracting developers, a snowball effect occurred, and a new generation of developers became attracted and then obsessed.

Core Memory is a photographic exploration of the Computer History Museum’s collection, highlighting some of the most interesting pieces in the history of computers. These excerpts were used with permission of the publisher. Special thanks to Fiona!

The top photograph was taken by Mark Richards, whose work has appeared in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Fortune, Smithsonian, Life and BusinessWeek. The eye-candy is accompanied by descriptions of each artifact to cover the characteristics and background of each object, written by John Alderman who has covered the culture of high-tech lifestyle since 1993, notably for Mondo 2000, HotWired and Wired News. A foreword is provided by the Computer History Museum’s Senior Curator Dag Spicer.

Or go see the real things at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Gizmodo ’79 is a week-long celebration of gadgets and geekdom 30 years ago, as the analogue age gave way to the digital, and most of our favourite toys were just being born.

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