Today in Apple history: Apple introduces the doomed Apple III

May19May 19, 1980: Apple
introduces the Apple III at the National Computer Conference
(NCC) in Anaheim, California.

After two years
of development, the Apple III is the computer Apple thinks will
be the successor to its
enormously successful Apple II
. Instead, it turns out to be
the company’s first major misstep.

Apple III S.O.S.


Inside
Apple, the Apple III was developed under the codename “Sara.”
On paper, it should have been a massive success for Apple. For
the first time, this wasn’t a computer built on virtually no
budget by just Steve Wozniak. Instead, it’s created by an
entire committee of qualified experts — all of whom had their
own ideas about what it should be and do.


The result was “feature creep,” and a
project that should have lasted 10 months stretching out for a
couple of years.

From
Apple’s perspective, one of the imperatives of the Apple III
was that it should be a business computer. Although sales of
the Apple II showed no signs of slowing down, and the Macintosh
project was
just getting started
, Apple wanted a computer that would
appeal to companies. The
IBM PC
was already heavily-rumored, and Apple wanted a
machine that could shoot it down.


In terms of
spec, the original Apple III boasted a 2 MHz SynerTek 6502A
processor, whopping 2 KB of ROM and 128 KB on-board RAM, and
four slots for peripherals. It ran twice as quickly as the
Apple II and was also Apple’s first computer to come with a
built-in 5.25-inch floppy drive.


It was
capable of emulating the Apple II, but came with its own
Sophisticated Operating System operating system — supposed to
be announced “soss” (like “Apple sauce”), but was instead
referred to as S.O.S. when the full scale of the Apple III
disaster became apparent.


AppleIIIThe Apple III in all its
(relative) glory.
Photo: Apple

Mo money, mo problems

There were a few faults with the Apple III. One was production
problems, which meant that volume shipments of the computer
didn’t begin until March 1981. Another was the price, which
ranged from $4,340 to $7,800. In 2017 terms, that translates as
$12,879.06 for the base model and a massive $23,146.69 for the
fully kitted-out version.

The biggest problem, however, was that it suffered from major
faults. Steve Jobs insisted that the computer not feature a fan
and also dictated its size and shape, without concern for what
this would mean for electrical engineers.

This ability to pull of miraculous, reality-bending technical
feats worked for Jobs later in his career. In this case, it
resulted in a machine with an overheating motherboard, causing
its chips to loosen. Apple’s official solution asked users to
lift up their Apple III and drop it from a height of six
inches, thereby reseating the chips.

Apple later released a more permanent fix in the form of an
ungraded Apple III, which
launched in December 1981
. But by this point it was
too little too late. By the end of 1983, months before the
Macintosh
128K launched
, only 75,000 Apple III units had been sold.
To put that number in context, the Apple II — which the Apple
III was supposed to replace — sold close to that number every
month.

Do you remember the Apple III? Leave your comments below.




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