Apple III

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Apple III IF.png
Apple III
CPU: 2 MHz Synertek 6502
Maximum RAM: 256 KiB (Apple), 512 KiB (Actual)
Expansion slots: 4 (Apple ][ compatible)
Supported OS: Apple Sophisticated OS (SOS) 1.1 - 1.3
Introduced:May 19 1980
Discontinued:April 24 1984
MSRP:$2995 - $8000 (US)
Full Specifications


Designed as Apple's business alternative to the groundbreaking Apple ][, the Apple /// may have featured better graphics, a built-in floppy drive and more memory than the Apple ][ could ever dream of, but it wasn't without its problems and proved that Apple weren't the infallible computer manufacturer that many thought they were.

History

Steve Wozniak's original Apple I may have only been produced in limited numbers (about 200 in total) but its successor, the Apple ][, had gone on to smash record after record and had turned Apple from being an operation run by two guys in a garage, into an industry giant that could seemingly do no wrong. The Apple ][ was, simply put, amazing and had become the de facto standard against which all other home computers were compared. It had even managed to work itself into the business world through the release of the groundbreaking VisiCalc. Apple should have rejoiced but instead they eyed another market opportunity.

The differences between the home market and the business market were massive. Business users demanded more, needed more and, most importantly for dynamic sales people, had more money to spend. The Apple ][ was great at what it did but it wasn't what business users were supposed to want. The solution was to create a machine specifically designed for business. The Lisa project would provide all that business users would want but Lisa was years away and Apple needed a solution now. The answer was the Apple ///.

Rather than using the Apple ][ as a starting point, Apple decided to design the new machine from the ground up. Yes, it would still be based on the 6502 processor seen in the Apple ][ but it would be far more powerful, be able to address more memory, have better graphics and be everything that a business user would want. It had to be...the marketing department said so.

Unlike the Apple I and Apple][, which had been the work of Wozniak working (mainly) on his own, the Apple /// was designed not only by commitee but by a committee of non-engineers. These people knew business better than engineers so who better to design a business computer? It was a disaster waiting to happen.

Housed in an aluminium case designed by Jerry Manock (required due to FCC regulations regarding electromagnetic shielding - an issue side-stepped by the Apple ][ as it didn't come with a monitor or the ability to output to a TV...unless a TV modulator was purchased separately), the hardware had to fit around the case (rather than the other way around) and this instantly caused problems. Rather than re-design the case , Apple opted to cram components into every available space, giving no thought to air flow or cooling. None of this was helped by Steve Jobs' insistence that the Apple ///, just like Apple ][ and the later Macintosh should not have an internal fan – a feature that Jobs considered industrial and inelegant.

This immediately caused the Apple /// to run hot as the heat generated by the circuitry literally had nowhere to go (the team's hope that the aluminium chassis would be sufficient was woefully wide of the mark). Not only could this cause disks to melt in the internal floppy drive but could also cause chips to work their way out of their sockets through heat expansion and cause the machine to just stop dead. The solution? According to Apple's support line users were advised to lift the front of the machine three to six inches off the desk and drop it in the vain hope that the chips would reseat themselves. This was bad enough but problems with the Apple ///'s much heralded real-time clock only added to the machine's woes and in total 14,000 units would have to be replaced.

Despite having been announced in May 1980, the Apple /// only started to reach users in November of the same year—production problems caused a major delay but they weren't helped any by Jobs making last minute design changes—and immediately the engineering problems became apparent.

Apple tried to respond and, as well as replacing faulty machines, set about re-designing the system to eliminate the bugs. The real-time clock was ditched and the almost experimental FineLine process used to manufacture the motherboard was replaced with a more conventional approach. It helped...but not enough, as even by March 1981 approximately 20% of Apple ///s were dead on arrival due to chips falling out during shipping. What was worse was that often the machine sent out as a replacement would also fail. For a machine that cost anywhere from $4500 (consisting of an Apple /// with a Trendcom silent 80-column dot-matrix thermal printer; 96 KiB RAM, black-and-white monitor; a special version of VisiCalc, called VisiCalc III; SOS; and Extended BASIC) up to $8000 (which included a word processing package featuring a letter-quality printer; an extra disk drive; a high-quality monitor; and a training course offered through Apple dealers) it was not a happy situation.

Given more time, Apple finally managed to solve the Apple ///'s problems and, in 1982, re-released the machine. The bugs had been dealt with—new sockets held chips in place, the real-time clock had been ditched and the over-heating problems had been addressed—and the new machine featured 256 KiB of RAM instead of the 128 KiB seen on the earlier versions. Even the processor was changed from the 6502A to the 6502B (which extended the older chip's instruction set). There was also the most audacious of upgrades ever seen on a machine of its class: an external 5 MiB ProFile hard drive.

One thing that hadn't been fixed, though, was the Apple ][. The Apple /// was supposed to include a fully-functional Apple ][ emulator and in a sense it did. Yet in another sense it didn't. Having realised that having overlapping products wasn't necessarily a good thing in terms of sales, the Apple /// engineers were ordered to deliberately cripple the ///'s emulation (to the extent that they actually added chips to stop the machine from being 100% backwards compatible). It could do a lot of what the Apple ][ could do but it couldn't do everything.

In spite of the above, there were plus points to the ///; not only could it accept up to 4 Apple ][ expansion cards but its 80 column display was definitely streets ahead of the Apple ][ in terms of display—the ][ would remain at 40 columns until the release of the Apple ][e) and the high resolution graphics (560×192 in monochrome or a very impressive 140×192 in 4-bit colour) showed what the /// could have been.

With its own Sophisticated Operating System (SOS), the Apple /// was actually a very good machine...once the bugs had been ironed out. The built-in floppy drive was a first (a further three external drives could also be added), the display was brilliant, there were plenty of sockets and ports and there was on board support for printing.

Even with all of this, sales were poor and prompted the 1983 release of the Apple ///+ at the bargain price of $2995. This latest revision not only fixed all of the problems (aside from the Apple ][ emulation), but also re-introduced the real-time clock (except this one actually worked!), added video interlacing and was backed by a new 'allow me to re-introduce myself' advertising campaign. It didn't help. Not only had the reputation of the machine grown to the point where it couldn't be salvaged but the release of the IBM PC was the final nail in the coffin. While hardly technologically brilliant, the 16-bit PC quickly gained market share over the 8-bit Apple ///.

The Apple /// had proven to the I.T. world that the fruit-logoed company wasn't infallible, as Apple had its first taste of failure.

Full Specifications

  • General
    • CPU: 2 MHz Synertek 6502
    • ROM: 4 KiB
    • Bus Speed: 2 MHz
    • Data Path: 8-bit
    • Standard RAM: 128 KiB (256 KiB in revised and ///+)
    • Maximum RAM(Apple): 256 KiB
    • Maximum RAM(Actual): 512 KiB
  • I/O & Expansion
    • Serial: 2
    • Floppy Connector: 1
    • Audio Out: Mini-jack
    • Built-in Speaker: Mono
    • Other Slots: 4 (Apple ][ compatible)
  • Storage
    • Hard Drive: 5 MiB (Optional)
    • Hard Drive Type: Profile
    • Floppy Drive: 1x 140 KiB 5.25" Shugart
  • Video
    • Max Resolution: 80×24 chars, 140×192 (4-bit), 560×192 (1-bit)
    • Video Out: DB-15, Composite
  • Miscellaneous
    • Codename: Sara
    • Case Style: Apple ///
    • Other OS Support: Apple Sophisticated OS (SOS) 1.1 - 1.3
    • Introduced: May 19 1980
    • Introduced: April 24 1984
    • MSRP: $2995 - $8000 (US)