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, Woz always seemed happier when Apple was a small company. Unlike Jobs, whose skill was as a negotiator, marketer and editor of ideas, Woz worked best in small teams of engineers crafting one- or two-man creations like the Apple II or Disk II disk drive.
As he saw Apple changing — particularly with ill-judged, committee-driven creations like the Apple III — Woz felt less at home in Cupertino. Having made his fortune when Apple went public, Woz had been turning his attention toward non-Apple activities like the ambitious music gathering, the US Festival.
Woz was particularly indignant about the lack of respect the Apple II division was receiving. Apple’s first mass-market computer, the Apple II continued to be Apple’s workhorse in terms of sales 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, the Apple II was looked at as last-gen technology that would inevitably be phased out over time. (Some version of the Apple II continued to be produced until 1990!)
Steve Wozniak leaves Apple for CL 9
Woz wasn’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 — an idea that in some ways prefigures the concept of futuristic centralized platforms like HomeKit.
Working alongside an engineer friend named Joe Ennis, Woz called his new company, CL 9 (standing for “Cloud Nine”). It produced the 6502-based CL 9 CORE remote control in 1987, although the company wound up going out of business the following year.
Woz also enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to complete his degree. Because the name “Steve Wozniak” was well-known in tech circles, Woz enrolled under the name 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 this was the end of his official tenure as a regular Apple employee (if that phrase can be used regarding a co-founder).