After a dozen assembled boards had been approved by Wozniak, Jobs drove them over to the Byte Shop. Terrell was a bit taken aback. There was no power supply, case, monitor, or keyboard. He had expected something more finished. But Jobs stared him down, and he agreed to take delivery and pay.
After thirty days Apple was on the verge of being profitable. “We were able to build the boards more cheaply than we thought, because I got a good deal on parts,” Jobs recalled. “So the fifty we sold to the Byte Shop almost paid for all the material we needed to make a hundred boards.” Now they could make a real profit by selling the remaining fifty to their friends and Homebrew compatriots.
Elizabeth Holmes officially became the part-time bookkeeper at $4 an hour, driving down from San Francisco once a week and figuring out how to port Jobs’s checkbook into a ledger. In order to make Apple seem like a real company, Jobs hired an answering service, which would relay messages to his mother. Ron Wayne drew a logo, using the ornate line-drawing style of Victorian illustrated fiction, that featured Newton sitting under a tree framed by a quote from Wordsworth: “A mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.” It was a rather odd motto, one that fit Wayne’s self-image more than Apple Computer. Perhaps a better Wordsworth line would have been the poet’s description of those involved in the start of the French Revolution: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very heaven!” As Wozniak later exulted, “We were participating in the biggest revolution that had ever happened, I thought. I was so happy to be a part of it.”
Woz had already begun thinking about the next version of the machine, so they started calling their current model the Apple I. Jobs and Woz would drive up and down Camino Real trying to get the electronics stores to sell it. In addition to the fifty sold by the Byte Shop and almost fifty sold to friends, they were building another hundred for retail outlets. Not surprisingly, they had contradictory impulses: Wozniak wanted to sell them for about what it cost to build them, but Jobs wanted to make a serious profit. Jobs prevailed. He picked a retail price that was about three times what it cost to build the boards and a 33% markup over the $500 wholesale price that Terrell and other stores paid. The result was $666.66. “I was always into repeating digits,” Wozniak said. “The phone number for my dial-a-joke service was 255-6666.” Neither of them knew that in the Book of Revelation 666 symbolized the “number of the beast,” but they soon were faced with complaints, especially after 666 was featured in that year’s hit movie, The Omen. (In 2010 one of the original Apple I computers was sold at auction by Christie’s for $213,000.)
The first feature story on the new machine appeared in the July 1976 issue of Interface, a now-defunct hobbyist magazine. Jobs and friends were still making them by hand in his house, but the article referred to him as the director of marketing and “a former private consultant to Atari.” It made Apple sound like a real company. “Steve communicates with many of the computer clubs to keep his finger on the heartbeat of this young industry,” the article reported, and it quoted him explaining, “If we can rap about their needs, feelings and motivations, we can respond appropriately by giving them what they want.”
By this time they had other competitors, in addition to the Altair, most notably the IMSAI 8080 and Processor Technology Corporation’s SOL-20. The latter was designed by Lee Felsenstein and Gordon French of the Homebrew Computer Club. They all had the chance to go on display during Labor Day weekend of 1976, at the first annual Personal Computer Festival, held in a tired hotel on the decaying boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Jobs and Wozniak took a TWA flight to Philadelphia, cradling one cigar box with the Apple I and another with the prototype for the successor that Woz was working on. Sitting in the row behind them was Felsenstein, who looked at the Apple I and pronounced it “thoroughly unimpressive.” Wozniak was unnerved by the conversation in the row behind him. “We could hear them talking in advanced business talk,” he recalled, “using businesslike acronyms we’d never heard before.”
Wozniak spent most of his time in their hotel room, tweaking his new prototype. He was too shy to stand at the card table that Apple had been assigned near the back of the exhibition hall. Daniel Kottke had taken the train down from Manhattan, where he was now attending Columbia, and he manned the table while Jobs walked the floor to inspect the competition. What he saw did not impress him. Wozniak, he felt reassured, was the best circuit engineer, and the Apple I (and surely its successor) could beat the competition in terms of functionality. However, the SOL-20 was better looking. It had a sleek metal case, a keyboard, a power supply, and cables. It looked as if it had been produced by grown-ups. The Apple I, on the other hand, appeared as scruffy as its creators.
THE APPLE II
Dawn of a New Age
An Integrated Package
As Jobs walked the floor of the Personal Computer Festival, he came to the realization that Paul Terrell of the Byte Shop had been right: Personal computers should come in a complete package. The next Apple, he decided, needed to have a great case and a built-in keyboard, and be integrated end to end, from the power supply to the software. “My vision was to create the first fully packaged computer,” he recalled. “We were no longer aiming for the handful of hobbyists who liked to assemble their own computers, who knew how to buy transformers and keyboards. For every one of them there were a thousand people who would want the machine to be ready to run.”
In their hotel room on that Labor Day weekend of 1976, Wozniak tinkered with the prototype of the new machine, to be named the Apple II, that Jobs hoped would take them to this next level. They brought the prototype out only once, late at night, to test it on the color projection television in one of the conference rooms. Wozniak had come up with an ingenious way to goose the machine’s chips into creating color, and he wanted to see if it would work on the type of television that uses a projector to display on a movie-like screen. “I figured a projector might have a different color circuitry that would choke on my color method,” he recalled. “So I hooked up the Apple II to this projector and it worked perfectly.” As he typed on his keyboard, colorful lines and swirls burst on the screen across the room. The only outsider who saw this first Apple II was the hotel’s technician. He said he had looked at all the machines, and this was the one he would be buying.