Steve Wozniak – how he really is the brain behind Apple


We have chosen 10 successful people who made a difference in engineering and manufacturing industries and every Thursday there would be a new feature under the hash tag #successfulengineerchallenge. Come back to learn a few lessons for yourself!

This is week 2 of the challenge. If you missed the last one, click here.

“Wherever smart people work, doors are unlocked”

Steve Wozniak

When you think of Apple, your mind automatically imagines a black & white photo of Steve Jobs in his rounds glasses and a hand at his chin. Whilst many people probably know that he wasn’t alone in setting up the company hardly anyone is aware of who this other guy is. Well, let us show you the brain of the business – Steve Wozniak. Yes, they are both named Steve so don’t get confused!

All of us know how two brilliant Steves were initially working from Jobs’ home garage and built computers without any help. Since the beginning Wozniak was responsible for the actual design and building technology whereas Jobs was supposed to market the product right, which by today’s numbers he definitely succeeded at. In order to do so, Wozniak had to quit his job at HP, where he previously suggested the idea of making personal computers but was rejected. Well, they probably felt stupid after Wozniak left them and created a computer himself.

How Wozniak really shaped the computer industry

At least a half of the people reading this post are doing so from a personal computer. Well, you should say ‘thank you’ to Wozniak for the ability to do it. If it weren’t for his talents, not only Apple but the whole personal computer industry would be different and would arise definitely years later.

Wozniak’s abilities were highly appreciated: he achieved numerous awards in the field of electronic engineering, including National Medal of Technology by the President of the United States in 1985 and Heinz Award for Technology, The Economy and Employment in 2000 for “singlehandedly building the first personal computer”.

Indeed, Wozniak designed Apple-1 computer and made everything for it himself: from the hardware to the operating system. He started off by writing BASIC (programming language) on a microchip 6502 by MOS Technology (that he chose for its cheaper price) and after successfully finishing the BASIC interpreter, he put a keyboard over the panel switcher and used a TV as a video terminal. And there he had it – the first personal computer resembling the ones we have nowadays. All there was before was a Teletype, which was basically an upgraded version of a typewriter. Using two 256 x 4 PROM (programmable read-only memory) chips Wozniak created a 256 byte programme called the ‘monitor’ (and we were wondering where this word came from). At the time it couldn’t do much but it was definitely more advanced compared to the Teletype: Wozniak’s computer could display 60 characters per second whereas the Teletype could only do 10.

As for the memory bit, the fully populated board allowed 8K of DRAM (dynamic random-accessed memory), which consisted of 4K of BASIC and the other 4K were free for users to upload their own programmes.

At the early stages of sales, Apple -1 came as a kit and the keyboard had to be purchased separately and then subsequently wired into the connector. Later on Wozniak and Jobs put it into a wooden box so it no longer looked as a naked circuit board. The computer had no colours or graphics and obviously no speakers. But it was a major advancement over whatever there was before. It was running on only one circuit board (whereas other computers built by electronic hobbyists at the time had to contain 2), had only 30 to 40 chips and even had a peripheral slot but there was nothing to put in it yet. But what got most attention was that BASIC programmes could work on this computer. People were interested and as a result, two hundred Apple-1s were sold in a period of 10 months after development for $666.66 each.

Taking from Wozniak’s own words, the only reason he had for enhancing the Apple-1 computer was to show off at the computer club. He wasn’t interested in money or even the electronic industry; he was just doing it for himself, and for this other ‘showing off’ reason. And there came the first major changes: new Ram chips, 4K more memory, colour, a speaker made of a cassette player and eight slots for all sorts of things to connect to, including printers and modems. And an improved design came along as well – Apple-2 looked professionally made being put in a plastic case with a few screws and bolts being visible only at the bottom.

The company had hit it off and while Wozniak was busy making changes to the computer, Jobs was marketing the product and looking for sponsors and people to sell the technology to. If they could start off a billion dollar company from a garage, anyone is capable of doing great things!

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