Today in Apple history: Apple II brings color computing to the masses

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The Apple II was groundbreaking for its day.
Photo: Computer History Museum

April17April 17, 1977: The Apple II debuts at the West Coast Computer Faire, positioning Apple at the forefront of the looming personal computer revolution.

The company’s first mass-market computer, the Apple II boasts an attractively machined case designed by Jerry Manock (who will later design the first Macintosh), plus a keyboard, BASIC compatibility and color graphics. With some marketing savvy from Steve Jobs, its makes quite a splash at the San Francisco Bay Area’s first personal computer convention.

Apple II puts Cupertino in the spotlight

After forming the previous year, Apple had already hit several landmarks by April 17, 1977. The company had seen one of its three co-founders quit, launched its first computer and officially incorporated.

However, the West Coast Computer Faire served as a massive “coming out” party for the company. In the days before the internet, this event featured all the big players in the burgeoning PC industry, and thousands of interested customers — many of whom became early tech devotees.

Apple showed off its new corporate logo (the iconic design by Rob Janoff, which replaced an earlier logo by former Apple co-founder Ron Wayne) at the computer fair for one of the first times.

Steve Jobs makes an introduction

Right from the start of his career, Jobs realized the importance of a good product introduction. With no special media event to introduce the Apple II, he used the West Coast Computer Faire to perform the same function. (Interestingly, the event took place at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, which Apple returned to for its fall media event in 2015.)

Apple occupied the four booths directly facing the front entrance, becoming the first of 175 companies at the Faire that customers saw when they arrived. At a time when money was short, Apple splashed out on a backlit Plexiglass display featuring the new logo.

It then displayed a dozen Apple II computers for inspection. Unbeknownst to customers, these were unfinished prototypes, since the actual computers wouldn’t be ready until June.

A major money spinner

The Apple II, which was the company’s second computer, proved to be an enormously important product line. The year it debuted, it brought in $770,000 in revenue, a figure that increased to $7.9 million the following year and a massive $49 million the year after that. Apple continued producing some version of the Apple II until the early 1990s.

This computer brought a number of important players into the world of high tech, including Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corporation and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and John Carmack, the legendary coder behind smash hit games Wolfenstein 3DDoom and Quake.

The Apple II also queued up Cupertino’s first “killer app” — spreadsheet program VisiCalc.

While Apple later moved away from the Apple II product line (much to the annoyance of Steve Wozniak), this machine put Apple on the map. And the West Coast Computer Faire is where the world got its first glimpse.

  • Steven Weyhrich

    Though it was introduced at the West Coast Computer Faire, it was not available for sale until June (May if you count the motherboard-only versions). Check out the Apple II History web site for “the rest of the story”