A 1979 profile of Steve Jobs and Apple from Time Magazine

Fri, Oct 30, 2009

Apple History, Featured, News

In 1979, Time Magazine profiled a then young Apple Computer, along with its hotshot young co-founder, Steve Jobs.  It’s always interesting to take a look back at where Apple came from, especially when you can gauge what the pulse on Apple was from within the pertinent time period itself.  The funny thing is, in the Time article below, the only 2 constants, the only 2 things that are still around or as relevant today as they were back then are Apple Computer and Steve Jobs.

These versatile machines are “personal computers” made by Apple Computer of Cupertino, Calif. In just four years, Apple has captured about 20% of the growing market for these relatively cheap (about $1,000) machines, which are designed primarily for small business and professional users. Sales in this new and rapidly evolving market will hit $300 million in 1979 and are growing at 45% annually.

The market was considerably broadened by the Apple II model, introduced in 1977 as the first programmable personal computer that could be bought fully assembled rather than in kit form. This year 100,000 Apple Us will be sold, vs 25,000 in 1978. Prices: from $1,195 for the basic model to $3,000 for a setup with all the trimmings, such as two ”floppy” discs, a graphics tablet and a printer. Exults Apple’s cofounder, Steven Jobs, a self-made engineer who is all of 23: ”We will sell more computers this year than IBM has in five.”

Thirty years later, Apple went from selling 100,000 computers in a year to 3 million in a single quarter.  For as much as computers are an integral part of our everyday lives, it’s weird to think about a time when they were little more than an expensive novelty.  And as for Jobs, well his bravado ain’t nothing new, that’s for damn sure.  It’s also interesting that the price of an Apple computer is still about $1200.

The basic Apple II consists of a typewriter keyboard about the size of an attache case; it plugs into any TV set and flashes information on the screen. It can be programmed by anyone familiar with BASIC, the simplest computer language, to do income taxes, balance a checkbook, record recipes, update the Christmas-card mailing list and play chess and backgammon…

Exciting times back then – taxes, checkbooks, recipes, mailing lists – what’s not to love?!  It may sound dry and boring now, but I can distinctly remember when playing chess on a computer was a really really big deal.

Apple is the fruit of Jobs and another college dropout, Stephen Wozniak, 26, both of whom had worked for West Coast electronics firms. In 1976 they sold a Volkswagen Micro Bus and a calculator to scrape together $1,300 to build a small computer in Jobs’ garage. It took them six months to design the prototype, 40 hours to build it from scrounged parts, and no time at all to sell it to a retail computer store in California. Says Jobs: ”To our amazement, the store ordered 50.”The Apple Computer—so christened by Jobs, a confirmed fructarian—was born.

The story of Woz and Jobs working out of Jobs’ garage to create the first Apple computer is legendary, but this is the first I’ve read about them selling a VW Bus and a calculator to generate some seed money.  Interestingly, the article labels Jobs a fructarian, a subset of Veganism who only eat the fruit of plants so that the plant doesn’t need to be killed in order to be eaten.  So while apples, bananas, tomatoes etc. are fine, carrots are a no-no since “when one eats a carrot, which is the root of that plant, the whole carrot plant dies.”  Who knew that Jobs’ precision diet was already well-known way back in 1979?!

Bankrolled in part by two West Coast millionaires, Venture Capitalist Arthur Rock and Henry Singleton, the Teledyne Inc. chairman, Apple has been able to finance its growth internally. In 1976 the company had no employees other than the two founders and $200,000 in sales; by 1978 the payroll was up to 150 and sales totaled $17.5 million. This year the company, which is privately held but admits to pretax earnings equal to about 20% of sales, expects to be doing $75 million in business with 400 employees.

Although some 50 firms are in the personal computer field, it is dominated by three: Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore. But IBM is eying the market, and Texas Instruments last May introduced a $1,500 model that can also be programmed for sound. Apple executives profess to welcome these entrants. The Apple corps believe that the big newcomers will help expand the market for all by advertising heavily to teach more people the wonders of personal computers.

Apple, Radio Shack, and Commodore?  What a time to be alive


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