February 6, 1985: Frustrated by Apple’s shifting priorities, co-founder Steve Wozniak leaves the company to pursue outside interests.
His departure from Apple — which comes the same year that Steve Jobs leaves to form NeXT — represents a big change for the company. It is brought about by Woz’s dissatisfaction at how the Apple II division is treated, and his desire to start a new company.
In contrast to Jobs — whose skill set made him a masterful negotiator, marketer and editor of ideas — Woz always seemed happier before Apple’s expansion. He worked best in small teams of engineers crafting one- or two-person creations like the Apple II or Disk II disk drive.
As he saw Apple changing, particularly with committee-driven boondoggles like the Apple III, Woz felt less at home in Cupertino. Having made his fortune when Apple went public, he increasingly turned his attention toward non-Apple activities like an ambitious music event called the US Festival.
Apple II gets no respect
The lack of respect the Apple II division received made Woz particularly indignant. Apple’s first mass-market computer, the Apple II served as a sales workhorse even after the launch of the Macintosh.
For instance, the day Jobs publicly revealed that the first-gen Macintosh 128K sold 50,000 units in its first three months, Apple sold 52,000 Apple IIc units in a 24-hour period.
Despite this, Apple leadership viewed the Apple II as last-gen technology to phase out over time. (Cupertino continued to produce some version of the Apple II until 1990!)
Steve Wozniak leaves Apple for CL 9
Woz didn’t leaving Apple to do nothing, however. He had a new concept for a universal programmable remote control capable of operating everything from a VCR to a hi-fi system. Working alongside an engineer friend named Joe Ennis, Woz called his new company CL 9 (standing for “Cloud Nine”).
Started in 1985, the company produced the 6502-based CL 9 Core remote control within two years. And, in some ways, the concept prefigured futuristic platforms like HomeKit. However, CL 9 went out of business in 1988.
Woz also went back to school at the University of California, Berkeley, to complete his computer science degree. Because his name was well-known in tech circles, he enrolled under the pseudonym “Rocky Raccoon Clark.”
Despite leaving Apple, Woz remained a shareholder and continued to receive a salary. Eventually he came back as an adviser after Gil Amelio became CEO in the mid-1990s. But his departure on this day in 1985 marked the end of his official tenure as a regular Apple employee (if you can even use that phrase with regard to a co-founder).