Last weekend I was pondering Charles Babbage's Difference Engine in the Science Museum, London. Now that was a vintage computer. Surprise, then, to find something that looks almost as ancient, has the Apple name, but is only 34 years old.
It's the Apple-1 in an old tea chest and knocked together by Steve Jobs in his parents' garage. At first glance it's a cross between a 1935 telephone switchboard and an 1895 Bell phone. Yet in this modest box lay the first chips of what is today the world's largest technology company. Originally sold for $666.66 – a price no doubt influenced by the film "The Omen" which was published the same year – the Apple 1 could perform only the most basic functions. For storage there was an external cassette drive for an extra $75. All this, of course, was an enormous amount of money in 1976, no less than $3,000 in today's cash. Would you pay three grand for this Apple? It does prove the theory though: At any point in time the most desirable computer with all the latest bells and whistles will set you back $3,000.
Now, with its rarity value and history, one of the few remaining examples is on sale at Christie's and is expected to top $200,000. It comes with a 1976 letter from the great Jobs and with "original printed wrappers, stapled, with original company logo to upper wrapper and warranty within decorative border to inside rear wrapper (short split at food of spine) – double-sided illustrated advertisement sheet with prices – original typed invoice for Apple-1 and Apple cassette interface totalling £741.66 dated 12/7/76, with salesman named as Steven." So just like today's Apple retail stores.
The description of the computer: "APPLE-1 – Personal computer. An Apple-1 motherbord, number 82, printed label to reserse, with a few slightly later additions including a 6502 microprocessor, labeled R6502P R6502-11 8145, printed circuit board with 4 rows A-D and columns 1-18, three capacitors, heatsink, cassette board connector, 8k bytes of RAM, keyboard interface, firmware in PROMS, low-profile sockets on all integrated circuits, video terminal, breadboard area with slightly later connector, with later soldering, wires and electrical tape to reverse, printed to obverse Apple Computer 1 Palo Alto. Ca. Copyright 1976."
The difficult thing to grasp about all this is the age. Only 34 years, not 134 as you might imagine. It's a graphic illustration of the speed of development of technology in the last few decades. It has taken motor cars 120 years to progress as far as technology has advanced in a third of that time. And the rate of progress just gets faster every year.