This battered leather briefcase, housing a circuit board, cassette player and removable keyboard, seems an unlikely beginning to one of the great success stories of the modern age. The Apple 1 computer was the first product designed and manufactured by the Apple Computer Company, co-founded by Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs. It is considered to be the first personal computer. The Museum’s Apple 1 is rare; only about 50 of the original production run of 200 have been preserved worldwide.
The Apple company really took off with the Apple II in 1977. Compact, affordable and user friendly, the Apple II brought the capabilities of main frame computers into people’s homes. It was a mainstay of the personal computing market until the early 1980s, when Apple launched the Macintosh.
The Macintosh embodied much of Steve Jobs’ visionary approach to the design and marketing of computing technology. It was the first commercially successful personal computer to use a mouse and the graphical interface system known as WIMPS (Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pull-down menus), originally developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre. Steve Jobs became convinced WIMPS was the future of personal computing, despite widespread derision from across the industry.
The first Apple computer to use a graphical interface, the Lisa, failed because of its high retail cost. But the more competitively priced Macintosh soon followed and was a hit, particularly within the creative industries and universities. Under Steve Jobs’ direction, Apple’s marketing positioned the Mac as a partner in the creative process rather than a nerdy tool for calculation, with slogans like ‘skis for the mind’ and ‘computers for the rest of us’.
In the story of these few early Apple objects from the Museum’s collection, the genius of Steve Jobs – for communication as much as computing – is already apparent. His death in October 2011 sparked a wave of tributes around the world. In the words of US President Barack Obama, ‘By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun … The world has lost a visionary’.
First published in Powerline, December 2011