In July 1976, electronics enthusiasts and hobbyists started seeing ads to purchase a new low cost board that could be used to assemble a computer. Priced $666.66, it was coming from a newly founded small company called Apple Computers, and the commercial name of the device was simply Apple.
Apple (later universally known as Apple I or Apple-1) was little more than a circuit board and once you bought it you were far from going home, plugging it to an electric cord and starting to program the machine. Indeed, you still had to get yourself a keyboard, a monitor and a power supply.
Obviously the concept of personal computer was radically different from nowadays and it was more akin to the do it yourself community of hardware and electronics hackers, who easily had access to the parts you needed to assemble the kit. You could also get an additional cassette board connector for data storage for $75… and don’t forget you also had to design and build you own case for the whole computer.
The real revolutionary feature of this otherwise notable, but standard for the time, machine was the introduction of the output to a monitor (a simple tv set you could find in every home) and a keyboard to interact; all of Apple I’s competitors, including the blazoned Altair 8800, were in fact programmed using toggle switches and used leds for graphic output. It was a big step forward and one of the claims used to advertise the machine was “No more switches, no more lights”.
With its 8 Kb ram – distributed in 16 separate chips – the Apple I board was produced in about 200 units and it has become a real collectors’ item. It’s estimated that just a few units survived (no more than 40) and when one shows up on auction it’s sold for prices ranging from $15,000 to $210,000.
By April 1977 Apple released its own Apple II machine, dropped the price of Apple I and discontinued it in favour of the newest machine – one of the first successful 8 bit mass produced home computers.
And the rest is history.