Apples and Drones, Oh My!
English Writing Online Class One
Dew doot de doo
December 12, 2011
Thesis: Each of these machines played a large role in the steady and gradual acceptance of technology into our daily lives.
I. All were made possible by chip
A. The cost of the chip was the major advance
1. Peddle’s vision enabled the creation of the home computer market
2. The reality of the chip’s potential was…
a. realized because of a simple correction.
b. PET’s Demise
B. Apple’s Gain
II. A Cooperative Spirit Within Corporations
A. Holt’s participation in multiple projects
1. Holt designed the power supply for Apple
2. Holt designed the television interface for Apple
a. Jobs: apprehensive about the price tag!
b. Jobs: Which cord connects which machine to the television? Also, BASIC
B. To Sum, so far…
III. A demand created for third party development
A. Apple won the footrace into School
1. Where my generation was waiting
2. Atari or other gaming system always on standby
a. We accept computers for everything today
b. Why not Drones? Really, why not?
Drones. Everywhere. Just like cell phones and laptops and buses. Loser? Us.
In the year I was born, 1977, the Apple ii, Commodore PET and the Atari 2600 were shown to the public and released commercially. Since then, we have become increasingly desensitized to the incredible advances made in computer technology for the home. Each of these machines played a large role in the steady and gradual acceptance of technology into our daily lives. Clearly, Apple dominated the market, and still does today, but what did they have in common? Why did the PET fail as a market force? And where do we see parallel advances today? As consumers, we brought home our new computer or gaming system intent on seeing our quality of life improve immediately. Perhaps we did not realize it, but we were opening the door to a lifestyle that will someday soon see commercial drones tracking our movements or listening in on our phones. Out of consumer demand! These three products from 1977 created a new era of computer technology, leading to many of the products in our homes today.
Cooperation between corporations to open a market for the home computer brought a number of very similar low cost products to the consumer that year. The computer was not invented in 1977, but a low cost and efficient micro processing chip was made widely available commercially for the first time. Each of those products that helped create this home computer market was made possible by that chip processor called the m6502.
An engineer named Chuck Peddle was the lead designer of that processor. The inexpensive price and dependability of his design allowed developers and hobbyists alike to build computers. Therefore, the advance made in 1977 was the lower price, because out of the lower price of this microprocessor came the exponential creation of accessible new technology. The willingness of the consumer to then eagerly accept the home computer set the stage for our acceptance of ubiquitous computer use today. A relationship between consumer and developers for third party application was created in the search for a new way to use the old technology.
Newer technology began to consistently develop at a lower price. Old technology became more accessible. Suddenly, home computers had a built-in market.
We live in that market today because of Chuck Peddle’s vision. When he left his job at Motorola and started MOS Technology, his goal was specifically to create a smaller, less expensive chip and “he got [it].” (“Interview with Chuck Peddle”). Motorola believed that the m6502 was based on the m6501 chip that Peddle designed for them, and threatened Peddle with a lawsuit. Allen Bradley, the manufacturing firm who helped fund MOS initially, wanted nothing to do with the legal nightmare of patent law. They withdrew their backing, which essentially gifted MOS technology to Peddle. A simple settlement with Motorola put an end to the issue (“Rise of the m6502”).
The reality of the price and the potential for a high return on investment is what eventually brought each of these three corporations to build their design around the m6502. Although he held the future in his hands, Peddle did not have the money to mass produce the chip. In came Jack Tramiel, owner of Commodore Business Machines, who purchased MOS technologies and solved that problem. Tramiel also tried to buy Apple when he visited with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but the pair were reluctant to sell out right and Tramiel balked at paying $150,000 for the future empire. There were functionality and longevity issues with early micro-processors, but thanks to a correction made by Peddle in the pre-manufacturing design of the chip, seventy percent of his processors were no longer “garbage” --the 6502 produced market-ready chips seventy percent of the time! At about $25 each, this was insanely cheaper than the $300 Motorola had planned on selling the chip for (Farquhar). Peddle saw his invention being used mainly for industrial or other consumer products but "not in 1 million years" did he think he would see it end up in computers (“People”).
In 1977, the Commodore PET was marketed as the world's first truly integrated home computer, but did not actually integrate into the home. Pivotal to the failure of the PET in its attempt to become the ingrained desktop or pocket device was the decision by Commodore owner Jack Tramiel to focus on cornering the European market (Freiberger & Swaine 242).
Apple, on the other hand, can “take credit for" the modern home computer (O’Grady 6). The Apple II also used the M6502 processor because it was the cheapest option available. Industry experts Freiberger and Swaine provide a vivid description of Steve Wozniak going to a west coast trade show (264). He found the room where the chip was being sold, walked in and gave twenty dollars to Mrs. Peddle in exchange for the processor. He essentially walked out with a dynasty. When creating the first Apple in 1975, Apple Corporation struggled to come up with funds. Now, having a low-cost, high yield chip to work with meant their assault on the market could begin in earnest.
In a clear example of the cooperative spirit within the corporations who paid for these designs (at least among the talent), Rod Holt was an engineer for both Atari and Apple. Holt felt like a “second string quarterback" in his job at Atari, and in his spare time helped to develop the power supply and the television interface for the Apple ii, without which that machine simply would not have worked. Steve Jobs, a key figure in Apple lore, was apprehensive about the price tag involved and the effort required in designing this particular universal television interface in accordance with FCC regulations. An edict from Jobs finally solved this problem: place the burden of following the law on the consumer (Freiberger & Swaine 242). We see exposed here a demand created for third party development. Out of that decision rose a competition to provide the best application of the technology. The last piece of the puzzle is up to us, the consumer—we all have to figure out which cord connects which machine to the television, and someone has to sell those cords!
In another plain example of cooperation, it must be mentioned that BASIC, an operating program for computers written by Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, was crucial to the function of the m6502, and was sold along with all three computers as well. This establishes the cooperation between industrial partners within Apple, Atari, and Commodore, along with Microsoft, to bring us the home computer and its antecedent technology (Freiberger & Swaine 330). It is of note that this also fulfills the Gates and Allen vision, commonly understood, “a computer in every home, and computer in every office.”
In Atari the public found a platform for what no-one yet knew would be a gaming addiction. Atari waited at home for kids from my generation to come back from school, finish their homework, and plug in. Bleak sales figures in the first two years after release hardly justified the $100 million in development costs, but in 1980, Activision, much to the chagrin of Atari, began higher quality creating titles that proved the 2600 was far more capable of supplying a satisfying gaming experience than the developers at Atari come up with. “Atari fought to keep third parties from producing these cartridges, but in 1982, they agreed to allow third-party manufacturing.” (Atariage.com). Atari was “the first successful videogame system to use plug-in cartridges instead of having one or more games built-in" (emulanium.com), but certainly would not be the last. The Nintendo, for example, was the first purchase of more than one hundred dollars that I saved all my own money for. I own an Xbox and multiple games, as well as a desktop and a laptop computer. The third party revolution began when the public realized computers could be used for more than they were intended to do. Atari merely showed the way.
Today what we see as cooperation among industry partners, at least at the talent level, was in 1977 considered a competition between the three companies to dominate the market. The goal for each company was to see who could create and successfully bring to market a product with the most use for the least price. Apple won the footrace because of their choice to spend time and money focusing on the relationship with the American educational system. For many years their mission statement “listed students and educators" as the people for whom the computers were designed. Further, "if you can judge the company based on market valuation and sales of devices and profits-- Apple won” (O’Grady 6). There was often an Apple product in the classrooms I attended going up. After school work was done, I happily took advantage of any extra time to play the numerous educational video games being offered. Apple did more than create a good relationship with the educational marketplace, though. They developed an excellent partnership with retailer CompWorld, a relationship that established them firmly in the consumer environment (Freiberger & Swaine 242).
Today, we have accepted computers into almost every area of our lives. From cell phones to online English classes, my generation would be lost without at least a desktop computer. We increasingly see warnings that our acceptance of this lifestyle is not reversible. The numbed-down acceptance of the control our computers have over us is mind-boggling. In searching for a winner, loser, and next big thing, I became increasingly aware of the outlandishness of some more recent inventions—monkey brains began moving computer cursors with the chips implanted in their brains, waaaaay back in 2003, for example (Shenoy, Krishna). My pick for winner and the next big thing, though, is the do-it-yourself drone.
Any individual with know-how and desire can take four thousand dollars, make a trip to the local hardware store, and within days build a sophisticated flying spy machine. This drone can function as “a mobile version of a cell phone tower, a video camera to monitor the ground, and internet connectivity that comes from a USB dangle that can be bought” anywhere (Emspak, Jesse). Once in the air, the drone gives the operator the capability to hijack a local wireless network, track the keystrokes of users within that network, and be invisible to radar all the while. And that’s if you are an enterprising citizen, not a criminal hacker: “This is the future of network hacking, as envisioned by security consultants Mike Tassey and Richard Perkins. They have now built such a drone to prove how easy it is.”
Some of us look forward with eager anticipation to the latest Apple or other computer product. I am just grateful to own a working computer, and will take whatever is being sold at the pawn shop. However, given the accessibility and open-ended application of technology like drones, I am left wondering what sort of world I hand off to my daughter—but no-one can know. That a do-it-yourself version is openly discussed and displayed reveals a wave of new applications for home computer technology nearly upon us. Somewhere, a third party is developing a way to make that drone seem appealing and necessary to our daily lives.
Thanks in large part to Chuck Peddle’s cheap chip, we feel obliged to “ooh” and “ahh” over every new invention, with the hope it will be replaced by a newer technology soon, so the price will drop on the one we want. Will we ever realize we cannot reboot or restart? Considering the history of technological progression, where, as Moore’s Law states, “memory chip capacity will double every eighteen months” (Freiberger & Swaine 330) This is only an observation, not an actual law of physics, but we can surely expect to see stranger inventions sooner than later. As we stray from the original intended use of these products, our mutual discovery will be: we cannot live without the drone—or its antecedent—and the loser will be us.
“Atari 2600 History.” 2011. AtariAge.com. Web. 15 November 2011.
“The Amazing Commodore PET.” Commodore.ca.com. Web. 12 November 2011.
Farquhar, Dave. “Steve Jobs and the Commodore Pet.” Dfarq.homeip.net. 5 November 2011. Web. 9 November 2011.
Freiberger and Swaine. “Fire in the Valley.” New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. Print.
“Homemade Drone to Help Phone and Wi-fi Hackers.” Emspak, Jesse. New Scientist. 17 August 2011. Print.
“History-People-Chuck Peddle.” Commodore.ca.com. Web. 13 November 2011.
O’Grady, Jason. “Apple, Inc.” Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2009. Print.
PC-History. Org “Commodore 64.” Sara’s Web Preservation Group. 4 December 2011.
“The Rise of MOS technology and the 6502.” Commodore.ca.com. 12 November 2011.
Shenoy, Krishna. “Ask the Expert- this month’s question: Can we read thoughts and are there ones we shouldn’t?” April 2010. Stanford School of Engineering. Web. 12 December 2011.
Swimm, Peter. “Retrobits Interviews Chuck Peddle.” Truechiptilldeath. 24 September, 2009. Web. 16 November 2011.
Waters, Audrey. Hacked Education “Steve Jobs, Apple, and the Failure of Education Technology.” 8 October 2011. Web. 5 December 2011.