Steve Jobs Retrospective: Apple is founded

Posted on Sunday, October 9th 2011 at 5:04 a.m.

Steve Jobs’ foray into the world of technology began when he joined Hewlett Packard as a summer employee while still in high school in 1972. At HP Jobs met Steve Wozniak and there began the friendship that would lead to Apple Computer and all its innovations. Jobs briefly attended college in Portland Oregon, and a calligraphy course he took there influenced the Macintosh’s later options for multiple typefaces and proportional fonts.

In 1974 Jobs returned to Cupertino California and attended meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club with Wozniak. He took a job with Atari, became a Buddhist, and experimented with psychedelic drugs. Jobs would later credit his experiences with psychedelics as giving him the creativity to think in a different matter about product design. While at Apple, he worked on developing a circuit board for the game Breakout. Jobs persuaded Wozniak to assist him in a redesign of the circuit board to claim a bounty for reduction of chips in the board at $100 a chip, promising to split the bounty. Wozniak was able to reduce the chips by 50, but Jobs claimed that Atari had only given him $700 and paid Wozniak $350.

At the Homebrew Computer Club, much attention was focused on new microcomputers such as the Altair 8800. Wozniak wanted to purchase a Motorola 6800 processor but couldn’t afford the cost, so he wrote code for the chip in the hope that he could save the money to purchase one in the future. MOS Technology then released its 6502 chip for significantly less, and the chip was designed by the same people who designed the Motorola 6800. Wozniak wrote a BASIC for the chip and then built a computer around the chip. While showing it at the Homebrew Club, Jobs approached Wozniak and talked about the commercial potential of his hobby machine.

Jobs was able to negotiate a COD sales deal with a local computer store, The Byte Shop, to sell the Apple PC. With the COD purchase order, Jobs was then able to go to an electronic parts distributor and negotiate purchase of the components required for the PC’s on 30 day credit terms – all at the age of 21. Wozniak’s design of the Apple I was revolutionary at the time, using far fewer parts and providing many more features than other hobby machines.
With the money gained from the sales of Apple I, Wozniak and Jobs set to designing its successor. Jobs pushed Wozniak to come up with a machine that was going to be ready to run out of the box and featured greatly improved graphics handling, eventually making color available. The chassis would also feature expansion slots for the addition of peripherals such as disk drives and printers.

The components cost was going to be significantly higher as a result, but Jobs was able to secure financing thanks to a loan co-signed by Armas “Mike” Markkula. Jobs was already establishing his entrepreneurial spirit – with his enthusiasm for his products, and the idea that Apple’s inventions could have significant impact, Jobs was able to win over skeptical investors and business partners. As well his design aesthetic was starting to come out – Jobs wanted the Apple II case to be sleek and feature an integrated keyboard. There were no visible screws on the case, and the case was able to be air cooled thanks to Jobs getting some engineering help in creating a power supply that ran cool.

The debut of the Apple II at the First West Coast Computer Faire in April 1977 also marked the debut of Apple’s new multi-color logo. The Apple II was priced at $1298 with 4K of RAM or $2638 for 48K. This priced it significantly above the Commodore PET and the TRS-80, but its expandability made up for the high initial cost. The II had modest sales until VisiCalc was created in 1978, making the Apple II the first PC that could be used for accounting functions. Apple’s sales multiplied year over year, and newer Apple II models were introduced. By 1982 Apple’s sales reached $1billion. In the space of five years, Apple went from a handful of people building machines on credit to a company of over 1000 employees, making sales of $1 billion, and was poised to enter the Fortune 500.

In 1983 Jobs made a decision which would later come back to haunt him: Mike Markkula, who had served as president of Apple and had brought a veteran business sense to the company wanted to retire. Markkula believed that Jobs did not have the temperament and discipline to be President. Eventually Pepsi president John Sculley, who had created the Pepsi Challenge in the 70’s, was identified as a candidate. It was thought that Sculley’s marketing success, as well as his solid business background, would reinforce the idea that Apple was a major corporation and would be a stable business. Jobs made a famous pitch to Sculley: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?”

It was around this time that my experience with Apple products started. My school’s computer lab had Apple IIe’s and IIc’s, and I cut my computer teeth programming in Apple Basic. I got so good at programming that I was able to finish programming assignments in a day and was able to spend the rest of the lab days playing games. I also remember attempting to code a Zork-type game set in the Dune universe – I didn’t get very far. Finally I remember vast abuse of the famous Broderbund software program Print Shop, as people printed everything under the sun and probably burned through hundreds of dollars of the school board’s budget in paper and printer ribbons. I wanted an Apple at home but my only computers that I had until university were the Commodore Vic20 and Commodore 64.

Next: Macintosh

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