The Apple II was first demonstrated at a computer faire thirty five years ago today — and it couldn’t be a more different machine or philosophy than Apple’s current walled garden approach.
The Apple II was, as you might have guessed, not quite Apple’s first computer — but it was certainly the machine on which the company’s fortunes were founded. While it was first on show thirty-five years ago, it wasn’t until June of 1977 that you could actually buy an Apple II; that particular machine remained in production until 1981, when it was replaced by the Apple II+, and then in 1983 by the Apple IIe; the line would continue in production until the IIGS was discontinued in 1992. That’s an incredible span for a product line by any measure.
I think we can all be grateful that computer advertising isn’t quite that… noisy any more. I’ve got to admit that while I used plenty of Apple IIs in the 1980s, I never actually owned one until the late 1990s — and that was a completely dead Apple II that I used as an ornament while its floppy drives acted as doorstops, because computers in the early years were built like tanks.
It wasn’t even that long ago that Apple still proudly talked up the Apple II in the bottom of all its press releases; even the release for the ill-fated Motorola Rokr E1 had what was then the standard blurb:
“Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning desktop and notebook computers, OS X operating system, and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital music revolution with its iPodportable music players and iTunes online music store.”
Check an Apple release today, and it simply reads:
Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.
It certainly wasn’t always like that; Apple used to regard its history with something regarding fondness.
Ignoring the dodgy nutrition ad at the end of that clip, it’s fascinating to think that the millionth Apple II was worth making in gold trim; Apple sold three million iPads in just the first weekend that the third generation went on sale.
That video also shows the most striking difference between Apple as it was and Apple as it is; the company now pursues a very tightly controlled operation from design to user modifications, where the Apple II and its descendants were highly open machines that became less configurable over time as they chased greater mass-market appeal.