05/12/2021

049 – Steve Wozniak and Apple 1 – 1976

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‘At our computer club, we talked about it being a revolution. Computers were going to belong to everyone,
and give us power, and free us from the people who owned computers and all that stuff.  Steve Wozniak

With his IQ of 200 Steve Wozniak was well-versed in electronics by his engineer father.  At school he routinely won science competitions.   In the eighth grade, 13/14 years old, he developed a rudimentary computer he called an ‘Adder/Subtractor’.  Switches were used to enter two binary numbers, add or subtract was selected, and a series of lights gave a solution.  He remained excited by electronic circuitry, acquiring minicomputer manuals to work on improving the design by using fewer chips.

On a day-per-week work experience at Sylvania he learned to program, and promptly consumed a FORTRAN manual and set about the ‘Knight’s Tour challenge’.  This involved moving a knight chess piece around a board, the challenge being to visit all 64 squares in just 64 moves.  He prepared and loaded the software but nothing appeared to happen.  The Sylvania team established that he had put the computer into an infinity loop.  Wozniak calculated the program would have taken longer to run than the universe had existed!  Apple’s HQ address is Infinity Loop.

During a sabbatical year from college Wozniak worked as a programmer at Tenet, where one of the team acquired some chips for him.  He and Bill Fernandez regularly stayed up late drinking Cragmont cream sodas and building a computer with these chips and cast-off components.

It became known as the Cream Soda Computer.  It had no screen, no keyboard and programs were entered by punched card.  The results read from a series of lights.  There was no MPU, yet it had the features of the Altair.  A local reporter was to write about it, but stepped on a lead and the device shorted.  It was five years before MPU-based kits arrived. 

Fernandez introduced Wozniak to Jobs; both enjoyed working on projects, both were pranksters and shared similar aspirations for computing.  Fernandez became Apple’s first employee.

Back at college Wozniak saw an article in Esquire magazine describing ‘phreaks’, a contraction of phone and freak.  It introduced him to loopholes in the telephone service to achieve free calls.  A Bell Systems Technical Journal in 1960 had rather obligingly revealed them.

Wozniak built a ‘blue box’ that generated the tone used by the phone company to enable free calls and used the device to call the Vatican City, imitating Henry Kissinger’s voice.  The Pope was woken to take his call!  Wozniak produced his device because he could; it was Steve Jobs who suggested building it for sale to fellow students.  The style and format of their relationship was set!

1973 Wozniak took a job at HP designing scientific calculators, but still running his own projects.  Meeting ARPANET he designed the Computer Converser teletype system to use his home television as a video terminal.

Seeing Pong he developed his own version with fewer chips.  Jobs called him to assist with a task on a new game, Breakout; he again delivered a chip-saving design.  During this project he worked out a means to generate colour on a screen, used later for his Apple II design.

1975 Wozniak attended the inaugural meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club believing it to be about video terminals.  He was disappointed when they focused on the Altair, which provided no more facility than his Cream Soda computer. 

Someone handed out the technical specification of a clone of Intel’s 8008 MPU and when Wozniak analysed this he decided to design and build his own computer. He acquired two 6502s and a friend at HP set up an emulator to test his design.

My goal wasn’t to make a ton of money.  It was to build good computers. Steve Wozniak

He created Monitor software on a ROM to start up the computer promptly, ready to program.  Altair had a complicated, time-consuming delay while a program loaded.

Perhaps more importantly he decided his computer should also come with a keyboard and a screen. He wrote in ‘iWoz’, ‘Every computer before the Apple I had that front panel of switches and lights.  Every computer since has had a keyboard and screen.  That’s how large my idea turned out to be.’

Aiming to impress his friends, he handed out copies of his design to members; this included the software code.  It was Jobs who noted that members took the data but did nothing.  He proposed the two of them build and sell the boards to members.  Jobs also proposed the formation of a company, coming up with the name Apple Computer, based on the orchards he had enjoyed at an Oregon commune.

They produced boards for $20 and sold them at $40.  The boards came without a power supply, a keyboard or a display; it could output to a television, rather than an expensive dedicated VDU.  There was no outer casing; users were expected to customise their own cases from wood, metal, leather…

Wozniak reviewed the club’s paper-tape copy of Microsoft BASIC and finding no published version for the 6502 he wrote one.  Written in longhand hexadecimal it took forty minutes to type in and was lost on power down.  Wozniak soon added a cassette interface.

The two needed cash to proceed so Wozniak sold his HP 65 scientific calculator for $250 and Jobs made $1,500 from his Volkswagen van to raise the necessary seedcorn.

The two Steves, together with Ronald Wayne who had worked with Jobs at Atari, formed Apple Computer on All Fools’ Day 1976.

Wayne drafted the partnership agreement, drew the first Apple logo and produced the user manual.  For this he received a 10% equity share, each Steve had 45%.  Given Wayne’s business experience he would referee any dispute between the others.

Jobs took the idea to Byte Shop’s Mountain View store.  Paul Terrell already had computer kit offers from others; his interest was in a finished product.  In July 1976 he gave Jobs a purchase order for fifty Apple 1s, agreeing to pay cash on delivery.

Jobs approached a parts supplier and requested 30-day credit terms against the security of the purchase order, which allowed them the time to assemble the machines and collect their money from Byte Shop.  The parts distributor spoke with Terrell directly to confirm the validity of the PO and agreed. 

Terrell added his own power supply, keyboard, monitor and case and sold it as a complete system.  Apple 1 was off and running

It was the Byte Shop deal that led Wayne to withdraw.  His partnership agreement made him jointly and severally responsible for any debts, and he was working for no salary.  He sold his 10% for $800 in April 1976 and could only watch as Apple took off.

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