Milestone-Proposal:Introduction of the Apple II Computer: 1977-1978
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Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes
Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s fields of interest? (e.g. “the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communications and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences” – from the IEEE Constitution) Yes
Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes
Was it of at least regional importance? Yes
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes
Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes
Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes
Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an Electrical Engineering Milestone? Yes
Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:
Title of the proposed milestone:
Introduction of the Apple II Computer: 1977-1978
Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:
The Apple II was the first low-cost computer to offer quick start-up, pre-addressed standard expansion slots, processor RAM-based bit-mapped NTSC color graphics and random access storage in a handsome compact package. Combined with a BASIC interpreter and assembler in ROM, gaming and graphics features, and an economy of design, this device spurred software and hardware suppliers to help create the worldwide personal computing industry.
In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?
Santa Clara Valley
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):
IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:
IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):
Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):
1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014
Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.
Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need.
We would like to locate this at Apple Computer, either at the current headquarters or the new headquarters that the company will be building. We have been approaching the Apple PR folks about getting the permission for months but no movement yet. A fall back location is the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.
Are the original buildings extant?
The original garage where the Apple II was initially built is still in existance.
Details of the plaque mounting:
To be determined based upon the final location at Apple or the Computer History Museum.
How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?
To be determined based upon the final location at Apple or the Computer History Museum.
Who is the present owner of the site(s)?
Apple Computer owns the Apple Computer Headquarters.
A letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property:
A letter or email from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application:
What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?
The Apple II computer was the first widely successful personal computer. Introduced in 1977, it included bit-mapped graphics, viewable on a standard NTSC color television1, eight slots for expansion cards, and a BASIC programming language interpreter and mini assembler that executed out of ROM. The NTSC television data resided in the computer’s main memory, so blocks and pixels could be altered in microseconds without the need for a slower serial bus. Game paddles and sound were supported in the hardware, and the BASIC interpreter had game and graphics extensions tailored to the hardware. An important design feature was use of a switching power supply to reliably power up to eight expansion cards. These hardware and software features were packaged in a handsome case with a built-in keyboard, and a magnetic cassette interface to allow for cassette storage of programs and data2.
The computer was a true “garage operation.” Co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak borrowed money from friends to fund component and assembly costs in order to manufacture the product, initially out of the garage at the Los Altos, CA home of Steve Jobs and his parents. The resulting company established the first retail personal computer sales channels, and the resulting popularity of the product resulted in the growth and development of the personal computer industry.
in 1978, Apple introduced the Disk II, a 5 ¼” floppy disk drive with an expansion slot controller card that effectively supplanted its original cassette tape drive. It was a design marvel of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s in that it used just six low-cost chips as compared with the dozens of chips used by other floppy disk controllers that were then on the market. The six chips required special software that was included in the Apple DOS operating system in order to perform all of the operations necessary to fully support a fully functional floppy disk drive. The software was streamlined to run in a small footprint of the machine’s limited memory space.
The Apple II with its unique floppy disk subsystem quickly became a popular platform for hobbyists and game creators, as well as for educational, research and business applications3. The computer’s combination of software and hardware defined the general design and operation of all subsequent machines within the new personal computer industry.
What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?
Making a useful, low cost computer in the 1976-1977 timeframe was a challenge, but convincing people that a computer had a place in the home was a greater challenge. Creating a product that could meet people’s needs and that was ready to use, easily understandable and attractive took some time. In particular, creating standard expansion slots to enable easy modification and enhancement of the computer was much harder than the more common approach of a dedicated I/O channel designed independently of the computer.
A key to rapid expansion of Apple II sales was the availability of software and expansion cards to make the device useful. The VisiCalc spreadsheet program ran on the Apple II, and created a demand beyond the needs of the computer hobbyist. Apple and other companies developed expansion cards which greatly expanded the original machine’s capabilities. The original Apple II stored programs and data on magnetic tape cassettes, but Steve Wozniak’s dramatic design improvements for the Disk II 5 ¼” floppy disk drive made software creation and distribution easier and cost-effective. As a consequence, the Apple II computer became more useful for business and professional use.
There was no software industry to bootstrap the personal computer market until the Apple II. Because its BASIC interpreter, mini assembler and cassette interface were built into the machine from the outset, software was easy to develop. Demand for the Apple II swelled as software became available in the marketplace, and Apple Computer created an international distribution channel in response to this. In many regards, the initial growth of the personal computer industry that the Apple II initiated was based upon continuous development and distribution of products and services that had never before existed.
What features set this work apart from similar achievements?
What set the Apple II apart from all of its predecessors was the fact that it was a complete system: it consisted of built-in input (keyboard, cassette interface, and game paddles), built-in output (bit-mapped color graphics, sound and cassette interface), and built-in software that executed out of ROM (monitor, BASIC interpreter and mini assembler). All of these components were included in a small, portable and attractive form-factor case that was usable with a standard color television set, and yet it was easily and inexpensively expandable.
The NTSC color generation circuitry was subdivided for DRAM timing and processor timing using very few chips. Graphics displayed on the television screen were updated at processor speeds, due to every screen element being in memory. RAM refreshes were the result of constant video display accesses on the RAM4. Color animated arcade games were easy to create for the Apple II, and as a consequence the computer game industry began.
The motherboard was expandable from 4KB to 48KB, and its eight expansion slots for Z80-based cards allowed for upgrades from Apple and third parties. The phenomenal growth of the expansion card industry was due in large part to the fact that the cards was very easy to create – they only required a few chips to interface with the slot since most of the decoding circuitry was on the motherboard itself. In addition, thanks to a unique design from Allen Baum, each card had firmware space pre-decoded so that its driver could reside on the expansion card itself. The most popular expansion cards included memory expansion beyond 48 KB, software emulators, video cards, process accelerator cards, and peripheral interface cards.
The Apple II computer was the first broadly successful personal computer, and it helped to create the personal computer industry, and future generations of microcomputer- based consumer electronic products5.
References to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article.
1) US Patent No. 4,136,359 to Wozniak, filed April 11, 1977, issued Jan. 23, 1979: Microcomputer For Use with Video Display. 2) 1977 Apple II Advertisement. 3) Exploiting the Personal Computer in the Research Laboratory, R.C. Hallgren, IEEE Trans. on Biomedical Engineering, Vol. BME-27, Issue 3, pp. 161-64. 4) System Description: The Apple II, Steve Wozniak, BYTE, Vol. 2, No. 5, May 1977. 5) Sophistication and Simplicity, Dr. Steven Weyhrich, Variant Press, 2013.
Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.