Retro Home Computers – The Apple 2


Apple 2 – 1977

 

Adding the Plastic Case

Built and released 1977, the Apple II was a follow up to the Apple 1 release in the previous year. Based on Steve Wozniak’s Apple 1 design, but adding several additions.

The first major design improvement was the all in one design with the addition of the plastic case, keyboard and power supply. While common today, this was not the case for electronic devices prior to 1977. Steve Jobs knew that adding a case, while increasing the cost, was essential for making the computer mainstream.

 

Apple 2 Plastic Case

Above: Apple 2 complete with a plastic case, keyboard and power supply.

 

The second addition was the ability to display colour graphics. In most cases, having a computer screen was seen as a major improvement for many.

The Apple 2 Home Computer featured a larger ROM and increase RAM. The Apple 2 started with 4KB and came with eight expansion slots, which also allowed for more memory, which many users added.

The Apple 2 Home Computer had integer BASIC hard-coded on the ROM for easier programming, and included two game paddles and a demo cassette for US$1,298.

Expensive Floppy Disk Drive

In early 1978, Apple released a disk drive for the machine, one of the most inexpensive available at the time at US$495, later costing US$595 with a drive controller built in. The Apple 2 home computer remained on the Apple product list until 1980.

 

Apple 2 5.25 Floppy Disk Drive

Above: Apple 2 floppy disk drives.

 

Visicalc Killer App

But what made sales of the Apple II take-off was the new spreadsheet program VisiCalc. This was the first affordable program to perform such an amazing feat, something which corporate accountants previously spent hours or even days doing.

VisiCalc transformed the Apple II into a serious business machine. It was released on the Apple II before any other system due to Apple’s rather large memory size since the Apple II could support up to 48K of RAM.

However, memory was very expensive at the time. An Apple 2 with 48KB cost US$2638 plus applicable taxes. This may not seem overly expensive for a business today, or even for many home users, but in 2011 dollars, the cost is equivalent to US$9,934.

However, the performance gains for business were huge. The spread sheet allowed for instant analysis that could takes days, weeks or even months using a calculator.

 

Visi Calc for the Apple 2

Above: Visi Calc for the Apple 2. This became the killer application for the Apple 2 and the personal computer.