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The Apple II launched 46 years ago today and helped to start the PC boom

A few days ago, on June 5, Apple officially announced the Vision Pro mixed reality headset. Apple certainly wasn't the first to introduce an AR/VR hardware product. However, the company does have the tendency to launch new devices that can later become the best-selling product in specific categories.

That's certainly the case for one of Apple's first hardware launches, the Apple II. The personal computer started shipping on June 10, 1977, or 46 years ago today.

apple i pc

Yes, there was an Apple I "PC" that launched two years earlier in 1975. However, the PC, created by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, was really just a circuit board that was sold to tech enthusiasts for $666.66. Owners had to create their own cases and connect keyboards and monitors to it. Only about 200 of them were actually made, so if you manage to find one today, it's worth a lot of money.

In 1976, Wozniak and late Steve Jobs officially founded Apple Computer. The goal for this new company was to make a PC not for tech heads, but for anyone at home, in school, or at the office. That meant Apple had to create a case around its circuit board. Inside that board was a MOS Technology 6502 CPU running at 1.023 MHz. The PC had 4K of RAM, which could be expanded to as much as 48K.

Wozniak decided to put in the BASIC computer language directly into the PC's ROM. In an interview with Byte Magazine in 1984, Wozniak talked about how he created a version of the game Breakout in BASIC (a game he originally designed for Atari).

It was the most satisfying day of my life [when] I demonstrated Breakout—totally written in BASIC. It seemed like a huge step to me. After designing hardware arcade games, I knew that being able to program them in BASIC was going to change the world.

apple ii

Perhaps more important than what was on the inside of the Apple II, was what was on the outside. Apple 2 History notes that Jobs contacted a man named Jerry Manock, who Jobs had met during meetings of the local Homebrew Computer Club, and asked him to create a case. Manock came up with a plastic molded beige color prototype that was very close to what Jobs imagined it would be like. The Apple II's keyboard was made by a company called Datanetics which had earlier made a keyboard for the Apple I.

The Apple II's logo on top of the case was also the first use of the company's iconic apple logo which included multi-colors stripes. That design would remain the company's logo for two decades.

The Apple II was first shown off at the West Coast Computer Faire in April 1977. A few months before then, the Commodore PET PC had launched, which included a monitor on top of its case and had an introductory price of $795. The Tandy TRS-80 PC would launch a few months later in August 1977, again with an included monitor and a price of $599. When the Apple II PC shipped in June 1977, it did so without a monitor, with the idea that people would simply hook it up to their regular television. The PC did have the advantage of being able to support color graphics, which its competitors could not.

The Apple II started shipping with the PC and two game paddles. The starting price was much higher than the Commodore PET or the Tandy TRS-80 at $1,298. That's the equivalent of $6,497.78 in 2023. Apple also sold it with just the circuit board, like the Apple I was sold, for $798.

According to Ars Technica, the initial sales of the Apple II were on the slow side, with only 700 units sold during 1977. Sales picked up a bit when Apple introduced the PC's floppy drive accessory in 1978, which was far better and faster than the cassette tapes that were originally supported for extra storage.


The real reason why the Apple II finally became successful was not because of Jobs, Wozniak, or anyone else directly connected to its creation. In 1979, the VisiCalc program was launched for the Apple II. It was the first PC spreadsheet program, and since it was only available at first for the Apple II, it quickly caused the PC to get a huge sales boost from businesses who wanted to use it.

By then, the company had moved on with the Apple II Plus, and would continue to release new models in the Apple II series for years to come. Apple was on its way to becoming one of the leaders of the PC revolution, even with the slow start of the original Apple I and II.

Perhaps Apple can learn some lessons from the launch of the Apple II with the upcoming Apple Vision Pro. The original Apple II was expensive, even more so than the Apple Vision Pro's price of $3,499 when inflation is considered. It took two years, and the launch of an app that everyone wanted, for the Apple II to finally succeed. It may be that instead of high-end hardware, there just needs to be a "killer app" for the Vision Pro to kickstart it into people's home.

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