The Apple-1 is a singularity in the history of computing. Unlike any other vintage computer, the few surviving originals fetch phenomenal prices at auctions, up to 1 Million US$, which, even considering that the US$ has lost 98.8% of its purchasing power since the inception of the so-called 'Federal Reserve', still is quite a bunch of money, even at the time of this writing, in an era of galloping inflation caused by Green Toilet Paper "printing".
A currently running auction for a partially surviving early prototype Apple-1 (with about 1/3 of the PCB missing) here:
at the time of this writing stands at $278005, which is mind boggling. Why would anyone pay that kind of money for such an artifact ? (at the time of this writing you can get a nice single family suburbia home for that, small and humble, not a mansion like it used to be 50 years ago, but in a few years from now you might get only a garden shed for the same amount of money, if the "printing" continues.)
In the thread:
I floated the idea that the reason might be that some people may see the Apple-1 to be the first incarnation of what we call 'Personal Computer', and if so, examples of it would be priceless. I've opened this new thread to move this discussion out of the prototype auction thread. It deserved its own thread - and lots of thoughts and discussions - by many smart people on this list. Because it might be able to explain the "Apple-1 singularity" with all its consequences like a vivid clone building scene, and not only these mind-boggling prices at auctions.
Here are the criteria for the class of computers we call 'Personal Computer' (see my post #27 in the auction thread):
- a single motherboard computer (NO backplane !)
- with a microprocessor CPU capable of numbers and text manipulation
- with expansion slots for daughter cards in lieu of the backplane
- power supply unit plugs into motherboard by cable trunk
- full text keyboard plugs into that motherboard
- full text video output
- DRAM memory on the motherboard
- on board firmware to (at least) start it up at press of a button / no toggle switches for start up
I did not invent or make up these criteria - these come from a motion / petition at IEEE which sought to elevate the Apple-1 into the IEEE "Hall of Fame" as a milestone in the history of computing. Take one of these criteria out and you will have something else, maybe an educational toy, or a computer for a mid sized business, or a programmable calculator, etc., a different class of machine., but no 'personal computer' anymore.
We could also work backwards in time from an example which indisputably is indeed a true 'personal computer', the IBM PC of the year 1981. It ticks all the boxes for the above criteria. It was affordable by a single person. And if you look inside you can see its key ideas were stolen from the Apple II: a motherboard, with a microprocessor as the CPU, plenty of expansion slots, separate power supply box with a cable trunk plugging into the motherboard, ... etc., read the above list of criteria.
And as we all know, the Apple-1 was the predecessor of the Apple II ... and it also ticks all the boxes.
So is the Apple-1 the first 'personal computer' ?
Comments invited - but please don't indulge in sophistry about the meaning of words, such as what the meaning of the word 'is' is (cit. Bill Clinton), or what a DRAM is, or what a microprocessor is. Stick to the above criteria and show us any computer which ticks all the boxes and came before the Apple-1, and was produced and commercially available at a price affordable for a person (such the machine could be used as a 'personal computer' and not as a time shared machine etc. of the prior computer age). Note that I did not mention a price tag in the above criteria list, because in the age of fraudulent fiat currency, prices in form of numbers are meaningless. The logic goes as follows: if all the criteria in the above list are applied and leveraged, you can build an affordable and useful computer which can be used as a 'personal computer' by the average person. Omit one (or more) of these criteria and you end up with a less useful machine, or a too expensive one. This is the "secret recipe" for the personal computer. And I still think Woz was the first one who saw it, built it, and commercialized it (well, OK, the selling was done by Steve Jobs and, in the beginning, by Paul Terrell through his BYTE SHOP). Also keep in mind that "flights of fancy" in the patent literature or one-offs done by individuals don't qualify. The example in question must have been series produced and sold as a commercial product.
Comments invited !
- Uncle Bernie