Apple's Timeline 1976-2018 from the Apple I to the new iPad

Click here for biographies of its two founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Click here for a link to Steve Wozniak's web page, and a recent interview with him on these early days.

Apple's first major computer, the Apple II in June 1977, also its predecessor, the Apple I in 1976 was based on a 6502 processor released in 1975 by MOS Technology, and in 1975 the least expensive, fully featured processor on the market.

MOS Technology was a chip-building company that had been joined by designers from Motorola, after Motorola's management had forbidden designers from further work on a low-cost version of its 1974 chip, the Motorola 6800. Famously, the 6502 was seen powering Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 1. It was at the heart of the later BBC Micro that kick-started home computing in the UK, and was a big influence on the ARM chip designs that now power Apple's iPhone, and Google's Android smartphone.

But in June 1977 the mass-produced Apple II was so "cool" according to Bill Gates. Its text mode display, memory mapped that we now take for granted, meant blocks and pixels could be altered in microseconds, no need for a slower serial bus. It inspired the spreadsheet VisiCalc in 1979 and the word processor Wordstar in 1979.

It did have competition

Launch DateDescription
US$666.66 4kb


Last unit sold 1977

Apple's first computer, the Apple I, was basically a home built circuit board, that used a 64x8x5 character generator in a 2,560 bit Signetics ROM memory chip, an interface for a 40-column x 24-line video terminal though not memory mapped and having only a display rate of 60cps, with an interface for a 16-pin parallel ASCII Keyboard, also an interface for a audio cassette drive. The screen, keyboard and cassette all of course cost extra.

However Steve Wozniak had built the first home computer to write characters from a video buffer to an ordinary TV screen. Click here for an interview with Steve about that time. Click here for more background on that NTSC signal — 262½ scan lines (having 341¼ dots per line) using 60hz (i.e. 60 scans per second).

In those days operating systems for microcomputers were called resident monitors and its "Woz Monitor", co-ordinating activity between keyboard, screen, cassette and memory, resided in just 256 bytes of ROM (read-only memory). It also came with his version of Apple Basic on tape. Called Integer Basic, it had no provision for floating point calculations.

Still, 200 boards were produced, and all but 25 sold during their 10 months on the market. Click here to see the Apple I's advertisement in October 1976.
Re the price:- Steve Jobs had suggested $777.77 but Steve Woz thought that was too high, so he "took the lucky number 7 and subtracted 1" — regardless of that biblical "mark of the beast" reference

US$1298 4kb
US$2698 48kb (initially, without TV monitor nor cassette)


Last unit sold 1993

The Apple II came with a "cool" power supply (i.e. not requiring a fan) and with circuit boards packaged inside a cool plastic case, having memory-mapped display that used 1 kb of RAM, plus a keyboard.
It offered the user programmable colour commands inside BASIC that would run on a colour TV monitor, also pretty much a first for a home computer.
Later that year Apple added floating point calculations through a deal with Bill Gates, providing the user with a licensed copy of Microsoft Basic, calling it Applesoft Basic. Bill Gates had originally written that version for the Commodore, and had been pressured financially, as the Commodore PET was much delayed in getting to market.

Note too, these were the days when you bought, loaded and saved data and programs on cassette tapes. It was to be 12 months before either Apple (or Tandy) released a floppy disk drive. (And even later for the Commodore.)

With strong encouragement from Mike Markkula (formerly from Intel), and to a huge reception in July 1978, Steve Wozniak designed a hardware controller and released the Apple floppy disk drive, the Disk II. The software for it was called Apple DOS consisting of a File Manager, a BASIC interface, and some simple utilities — written by Paul Laughton in just seven weeks April - June. Click here to read his story, also a copy of the Apple II DOS source code. So after July, you could save and read files almost immediately instead of having to sequentially search a cassette tape.
1979Now came VisiCalc, the first Spreadsheet program for microcomputers, released in October 1979. The Apple II was more than just a hobby machine, it was a serious business tool. Though from a wordprocessing viewpoint there was no lower case functionality.
March 1980Microsoft Consumer Products (an end-user/dealer branch for Microsoft) release the Z80-Softcard for US$349, a plug-in board with an 80-column display that came with both the CP/M operating system and Microsoft Basic. Click here for this announcement. CP/M could run Wordstar, first released back in June 1979, a true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) word processor supporting upper and lower case characters.

At the same time, Corvus Systems "hack" the Apple DOS software and release a file server for this Apple II supporting 5mb and 10mb (and in 1982 20mb) hard drives. It became very popular in primary and secondary education — via this single drive and backup a full classroom of Apple II computers could be networked together.
Click here for an interview with the Corvus Systems manager.

In Mt Gravatt Qld, the Zardax word processor (for a 40-column upper and lower case display) was written and released by Computerland Australia, easy to use, and very popular.

May 1980
US$4340 128kb


Last unit sold April 1984

Development of the Apple III had started in late 1978 to address weaknesses that the "business" market saw in the Apple II. It was released in May 1980, supporting an 80-column display with upper and lower case characters and a built in floppy disk drive. It was expensive though equivalent to about US$12,600 in 2016 dollars, and there were serious stability issues in the logic boards.

Following a design overhaul, it was formally reintroduced in September 1981 along with a 5mb Apple Profile hard drive (costing US$3500). It was still an 8 bit CPU, and was now following IBM's 16 bit Personal Computer (launched in August that year). And it had no "Prt Scn" key, a most useful introduction on the IBM.
So, following a high introductory price, design issues, a limited software library, then a pretty expensive hard drive, it was, commercially, a "hard to sell" failure.

Jan 1983
US$9995 1mb


Last unit sold August 1986

Work on the Apple Lisa also began in late 1978, and with changes of project leadership, Apple spent more than US$50 million and four years developing its graphical user interface, use of a mouse, and running on Motorola 68000's 32 bit processor with 16 bit data bus. After Steve Jobs was diverted over to the Macintosh project in 1982, it was launched in January 1983 with two built in floppy disk drives and 1mb of RAM. But with an introductory price that was close to US$10,000 (that's about US$24,000 in 2016 dollars), again it was, commercially, a failure. Apparently its biggest customer, NASA, used LisaProject for project management and was faced with significant problems when the Lisa was discontinued.

Click here for more about the Lisa's reception in 1983 and 1984.

Jan 1984
US$2495 128kb
And next the Apple Macintosh (Motorola Advanced Computer System on Silicon) with a relatively low introductory price — initially advertised at US$1995 but launched with CEO John Sculley's insistence at US$2495, awkward under-configured memory — initially 128kb it was reconfigured in October 1984 to 512kb plus another price increase to US$2795, but finally a success. The Macintosh 512K was supported by Apple right up until September 1998.

It came with a single 400kb 3½ inch floppy disc drive, simple networking using a US$50 box (LocalTalk), and like the Lisa a computer mouse that used a ball-tracking control mechanism for pointing at the memory-mapped display. To do this it had just a 9 inch CRT display screen that employed a 22kb frame buffer in main memory i.e. 512 x 342 1-bit pixels or 72 pixels per inch. It was of course a black and white screen, colour screens were still very expensive.

Click here for the story behind MacPaint that was released at the same time, its underlying library Quickdraw, and a copy of the source code.

In March 1985 "Print Screen" (Cmd-Shift-4) also "Capture Screen" (Cmd-Shift-3) added.

In March 1987 the Macintosh II, with an optional colour screen, was released with 1mb of main memory and a 20mb hard drive for US$5498.
The colour option cost US$7145, and included an 8-bit graphics card (512kb VRAM) supporting 256-color video on its 640480 display. A cheaper 4-bit model (256kb VRAM) supported 16 colours on a 640480 display, or emulated 8-bit with 256 colors on a smaller 512384 display.
Note, there was no hardware acceleration of drawing operations.

1991NeXTSTEP and the WorldWideWeb
Meanwhile, back in Sep 1985 Steve Jobs had a falling out with his board and departed. Launched the NeXT computer running the UNIX-based NeXTSTEP operating system in 1988 (for US$6500), followed by the NeXTcube (for US$10,000) in 1990. Expensive machines, they both sold in low numbers, mostly to universities, financial institutions, and government agencies. But one of the purchasers was the world wide web instigator, Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN in Geneva in 1991. Click here for more details.
US$1700 8mb
Last unit sold 2006
Apple Power Macintosh for business users, running on Motorola's PowerPC processor, using high-speed technology designed by AIM Apple, IBM and Motorola
1997Steve Jobs returns as CEO
US$1299 32mb
Apple iMac where the "i" is short for "Internet". It had out-of-the-box connectivity inside an All-in-one case that used Motorola's PowerPC processor, a 4gb hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, two USB ports, a 56 kbit/second Modem, built-in Ethernet, built-in stereo speakers and two headphone ports.

It was the first Macintosh computer to have a USB port but no floppy disk drive. The USB, being cross-platform, allowed Macintosh users to select from a large selection of devices including keyboard and mouse.

In 1999, Apple's operating system OS X server edition was launched, based on NeXTSTEP. The desktop version followed in 2001.

As Motorola steadily downsized, selling off its microprocessor division in 2005, the iMac switched to Intel in 2006, thus even enabling the user to run Windows, if they wished to

Back to 2001. Apple iPod portable media player running on a Samsung processor using technology designed by ARM in Cambridge, England
US$1099 128mb
Last unit sold 2006
Apple eMac. Marketed towards educational institutions as a low-cost alternative to the iMac
US$599 256mb
Apple Mac Mini. A very small computer. No keyboard, screen, or mouse. Runs initially on the PowerPC processor but switched to Intel the following year
US$2499 1gb
Apple Mac Pro. Apple's fastest computer, replacing the Power Mac for business users, running on a high-speed Intel Xeon processor
US$1099 512mb
Apple MacBook. Apple's portable notebook computer, replacing the PowerBook. Now on Intel
Apple iPhone. A "smart phone" that uses Apple's proprietary iOS operating system and runs on a Samsung processor using technology designed again by ARM in Cambridge, England. Apparently, Steve Jobs saw it more like an iPod than a computer, at least initially. However in 2008, Google released an "open source" operating system called Android that any phone manufacturer is allowed to use, providing it uses ARM technology, which ARM is quite happy to license for a royalty fee. Android has also been ported to run on an Intel processor chip.
Apple iPad. A portable tablet computer running on a Samsung processor using technology designed by ARM in Cambridge, England. Numerous competing tablets, e.g. Samsung's own Galaxy Tab which is marketed independently of Apple by using Android, have also been launched since 2010.

Click here for a great graphical hardware configuration summary (from the earliest release in 2007 to the iPhone SE release in 2016) of Apple iPhones, iPod Touch, and iPads. Yes, more succinct than Wikipedia.

Click here for the iPhone's quarterly sales totals 2007 - 2018


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