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Apple Watch: Fun, spirited and not intimidating

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The Colossus was kept top secret until the 70s, although Winston Churchill, above, gave hints of advanced computing knowledge during WWII with his famous 'binary signal'.
The Colossus was kept top secret until the 70s, although Winston Churchill, above, gave hints of advanced computing knowledge during WWII with his famous 'binary signal'.

That was the name of a talk I presented to SeniorNet Mac Christchurch last week at the society's end-of-year function, subtitled 'The history of computing ... (totally skewed towards Apple)'.

'Fun, spirited and not intimidating' was what Steve Jobs eventually cited as the reason for choosing the name 'Apple' for his company.

It started with 'The Fall' from the Bible: an early awareness that an apple imparts knowledge when the serpent tempted Eve to 'eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden'. This is widely held to have been an apple. Somehow Eve's bites, then Adam's, let them realise they were naked.

Around 100BC, the Antikythera mechanism was used ... for something. The ancient analogue computer may have been designed to calculate astronomical positions. There are hints in ancient sources of similar devices used from 300BC. But this is supposition - it may have just been an over-engineered olive dispenser.

Whatever its purpose, it was beautifully made and complex, using interconnected wheels turned by handles. It took another 1000 years for technology approaching the Antikythera mechanism's complexity and workmanship to appear in mechanical astronomical clocks built in Western Europe, in the 1300s.

In 1613 was the first recorded use of the word 'computer', used to describe a person who performed calculations or computations. So I am not a computer, but you might be.

In 1822, Englishman Charles Babbage began developing the Difference Engine - it was never completed due to lack of funds but in 1991, the London Science Museum built his Difference Engine No 2. In 1837, Babbage proposed the first general mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine which contained an Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU), basic flow control, and integrated memory.

During the early part of the 20th Century, innovation shifted to the Germans. The Enigma machine was an electro-mechanical rotor-cipher machine used for enciphering and deciphering secret messages. It was invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War One.

Konrad Zuse built the Z1 from 1936-38 in his parents living room. It is considered the first electro-mechanical binary programmable (modern) computer and really the first functional - and programmable - computer ever.

Computer theory was proposed by English mathematical genius Alan Turing in 1936. This became the foundation for theories about computing and computers.

In the US, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer started being developed by Professor John Vincent Atanasoff and graduate student Cliff Berry in 1937 and continued in development until 1942. The ABC was electrical and used vacuum tubes for digital computation including binary math and Boolean logic - but had no CPU.

Tommy Flowers of Poplar, London (where my mum's from) created the first-ever electronic computer. Up till his 1500-vacuum-tube Colossus, the most complicated previous electronic device had used 150.

The Mk1 operated five times faster and was more flexible than the previous electro-mechanical system and ran from late 1943 to early 1944. This had a massive impact on British wartime code-breaking activities. The Mk2 (1944>) had 2400 valves and two served the British government into the 1960s.

The Colossus was kept top secret until the 1970s, and some aspects remain classified to this day, although Winston Churchill gave hints of advanced computing knowledge during WWII with his famous 'binary signal'.

That means the affable and hard-working Flowers was never given the credit he deserved for his invention.

Construction began in 1943 of EDSAC, built by Eckert and Mauchly. It was completed in 1946. EDSAC was the first programmable electronic computer and the first with a graphical computer game. This led to the massive UNIVAC computers used by government agencies which could store and run programs from memory.

In 1953 IBM introduced the 701, its first electric, and first mass-produced, computer. It had an 8088 processor, 16KB of memory expandable to 256 and ran a Disk Operating System. You didn't put this in a room so much as this was a room.

MIT introduced the Whirlwind machine on March 8, 1955. This was revolutionary as it was the first digital computer with magnetic-core RAM and real-time graphics.

[I digressed at this point to explain what RAM is and what a hard drive is, how they work and how they affect computer use, going on to explain Solid State Drives.]

The first transistor computer was the TX-0 of 1956; the first 'mini-computer' was in 1960; the first mass-market PC was the Hewlett Packard in 1968; the first microprocessor was Intel's 4004 1971; the first 'workstation' was built by Xerox in 1974 and this had windows and menus, plus a mouse but it wasn't used outside Xerox.

The first 'Personal Computer' arrived in 1971 (the Kenback-1), but the phrase wasn't coined until 1975.

This brings us to 1976: Steve Wozniak designed the first Apple I computer. Apple was founded April 1st, 1976 by Steve Jobs (aged 21), Steve Wozniak (26) and Ronald Wayne. Jobs and Wayne had worked at Atari; Wozniak for HP.

The Apple I was sold as a motherboard with CPU, RAM and basic textual-video chips. Wayne sold his share of the newly created Apple for just $800 three months after its inception. The Apple II of 1977 had character cell-based colour graphics and an open architecture. At first it used cassette tape storage, but this was superseded by the 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drive.

The first home computer with a graphical user interface was the Apple Lisa of 1983, but the first GUI had been developed by the Xerox Corporation at its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s. Steve Jobs had visited PARC in 1979 and was impressed and influenced by the Xerox Alto.

The GUI is great - the Graphical User Interface meant files looked like files, folders like folders etc. The GUI makes computers usable by mere mortals and not just rocket surgeons - critically, it meant that no coding knowledge was required by the user
The Apple Macintosh of 1984 was being developed alongside the Apple Lisa but didn't really become viable until Jobs moved to the project. It eventually led to the end of the Lisa.

"The Mac I'm presenting on has a 2.6GHz 4-core CPU and 16GB RAM.

The first Mac had an 8MHz 1-core CPU and 128k of RAM..."

In 1985, the Macintosh computer line received a big sales boost with the introduction of Apple's LaserWriter printer and Aldus PageMaker. This changed the publishing world completely. But ... Steve Jobs was fired by CEO (and former Pepsi's CEO) John Scully, and Wozniak left Apple to go back to university.

In the 1990s, Apple did well for a while, introducing fresh new products and increasing its profits: 1989 to 1991 was the 'first golden age of the Macintosh'. But then model proliferation led to consumer confusion ... and Microsoft's Windows was rising fast. Apple went into decline.

Bill Gates had appeared on the first Macintosh brochure in 1984, endorsing the new Apple. Microsoft Word was available for Mac computers as a WYSIWYG program from 1985 and its sales were higher than its MS-DOS counterpart for four years. Excel appeared on Mac in 1985 ... on Windows in 1987 - Word for Windows arrived only in 1989. But the two companies fell out and relations became acrimonious.

Apple's original logo had a picture of Isaac Newton; the Newton Portable Digital Assistant was developed by Apple Inc from 1987 and officially ended only in 1998. Of course, Newton was inspired by an apple falling from a tree.

Interestingly, if you held a Newton PDA up to your head, you might notice it had a speaker and a mic placed where they would be for a phone.

While Jobs was away from Apple, he founded NeXT Computer and developed Pixar out of the Computer Graphics Division he bought from George Lucas. (Pixar is now owned by Disney.) The World Wide Web was invented on a NeXT at CERN in Switzerland by Tim Berners Lee. The world's first web browser was also built on this NeXT. The NeXT operating system eventually became the the foundation of Mac OS X.

Jobs was invited back to Apple in 1996, when the company was struggling, having lost huge market share, roughly from 12 per cent of PC use in countries where Macs were available, to under 3 per cent.

In 1998, the first iMac appeared, causing a sensation. The 'i' stood for 'internet'. First defining, then redefining the all-in-one personal computer as a powerful object of style, the iMac has since been through eight distinct variations.

In 2001, the first iPod appeared with the tagline '1000 songs in your pocket'.

In January 2007 Steve Jobs announced the iPhone at the Macworld convention. On June 29 it was released. The following year, the iPhone 3G was released in 22 countries including New Zealand.

January 2010, the iPad was announced. Apple had actually been playing around with the idea of a tablet as far back as 1979, when it released the Apple Graphics Tablet as an accessory to the Apple II.

Nowadays, the Macintosh computer only forms a small part of Apple's hardware sales: in the last quarter. Apple sold 33.8 million iPhones, 14.1 million iPads - and 4.6 million Macs.

How far we have come: in 1963, a computer guided Apollo space missions to the moon. It ran at 2.048MHz, and had a tiny amount of RAM (capable of 2048x16-bit words) and weighed 32kgs. The current iPad Air starts with 16GB RAM, runs at 1.37GHz (one processor, two cores) and has 976MB RAM. It weighs 469 or 478 grams, depending whether it's the wifi or wifi + cellular version.

The current iPad Air has almost the same power as a 2007 Apple desktop iMac. [I digressed at this point to explain units of storage in layman's terms, using Tolstoy's War and Peace as an analogy.]

Apple's future: the up to 12-core Xeon CPU-driven Mac Pro is on sale this month, with its dual FirePro Graphics Processing Units, ultrafast ECC memory, new PCIe flash storage and Thunderbolt 2 expandability. The design is stunning, revolutionary and yet just one eighth the volume of the Mac Pro tower it replaces. Apple's ethos seems, currently, to be faster, smaller, and better devices; more parity between iDevices and Macs and even more usability.

If Steve Jobs conceived of the iPhone 25 years ago, as co-founder Steve Wozniak has asserted, what has Apple in mind for 25 years from now? Apple CEO Tim Cook has hinted of more 'new product categories'.

Finally, Steve Jobs declared the 'end of the PC era', an era he was such a big part of. It's coming true.

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