In yesterday’s feature, we looked at part 2 of the History of Steve Jobs and his company Apple in which our attention was on Apple I. In part 3 of the same series, we look at the transition from Apple I to Apple II.
The debut of the Apple II
On April 1977, Apple II debuted at the West Coast Computer Fair. It rivaled against big names such as Commodore PET. It was a groundbreaking machine just like Apple I and had tape-based storage and color graphics. It displayed an impressive image of 280 x 192 resolutions, while the memory ran up to 64K.
With no doubt, Apple II (or apple] [as it was styled was a top notch invention). Walter Isaacson, Job’s biographer, credits this invention to have launched the personal computer industry.
The trouble is, specs alone were not enough to convince the business persons to dish out $1,300 for their IT sector. It was until the perfect excuse presented itself; Apple’s first killer app.
VisiCalc: Apple’s first app
Dan Bricklin was a student at Harvard Business School when hevisualised “a heads-up display, like in a fighter plane, where I could see the virtual image [of a table of numbers] hanging in the air in front of me. I could just move my mouse/keyboard calculator around on the table, punch in a few numbers, circle them to get a sum, do some calculations…”
Of course we will easily recognize that as a spreadsheet but back in 1970s, such things could only be done on paper. Converting them into a digital platform would not be an easy task but Bricklin was determined. He borrowed an Apple II from his eventual publisher and started work mostly during the weekends.
Most of the concepts that he used are still relevant today – letters above each column and numbers by the row.
Due to technological limitations in the hardware, everything did not work out well as Bricklin had imagined. Apple Ii lacked heads-up display. The mouse on the other hand had been invented but was not yet bundled up with the machine. So, the heads-up display became the regular screen, and the mouse was swapped out for the Apple II’s game paddle, which Bricklin described as being “a dial you could turn to move game objects back and forth… you could move the cursor left or right, and then push the ‘fire’ button, and then turning the paddle would move the cursor up and down.”
This was sluggish and Bricklin therefore opted to use left and right arrow keys. The space bar replaced the fire button to switch between horizontal and vertical movement.
The Apple Ii sales were greatly driven by the unveiling of VisiCalc in 1979 when it was described to have the ability of calculating and recalculating.
Writing in Morgan Stanley’s Electronics Letter, shortly before its launch, analyst Benjamin M Rosen expounded his belief that VisiCalc was “so powerful, convenient, universal, simple to use and reasonably priced that it could well become one of the largest-selling personal computer programs ever… [it] could someday become the software tail that wags (and sells) the personal computer dog.”
Apple itself passed its credit to the app for having been behind a 5th of all II’s it sold.