The APPLE III (often styled as APPLE ///) is a business-oriented
personal computer produced and released by Apple Computer in 1980. It
was intended as the successor to the
Apple II series , but was largely
considered a failure in the market.
Development work on the
Apple III started in late 1978 under the
guidance of Dr. Wendell Sander. It had the internal code name of
"Sara", named after Sander's daughter. The machine was first
announced and released on May 19, 1980, but due to serious stability
issues that required a design overhaul and a recall of existing
machines, it was formally reintroduced in the second half of 1981.
Development stopped and the
Apple III was discontinued on April 24,
1984, and its last successor—the III Plus, was dropped from the
Apple product line in September 1985.
Apple III could be viewed as an enhanced
Apple II – then the
newest heir to a line of
8-bit machines dating back to 1976. However,
Apple III was not part of the
Apple II line, but rather a close
cousin. The key features business users wanted in a personal computer
were a true typewriter-style upper/lowercase keyboard (as opposed to
the Apple II, which only supported uppercase letters) and 80-column
display. In addition, the machine had to pass U.S. Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) radio frequency interference (RFI)
qualifications for business equipment. In 1981, International Business
Machines (IBM) unveiled the
IBM Personal Computer
IBM Personal Computer (IBM PC) – a
16-bit design soon available in a wide range of
inexpensive clones. The business market moved rapidly towards the PC
MS-DOS platform, eventually pulling away from the Apple 8-bit
After numerous stability issues and a recall that included the first
14,000 units from the assembly line, Apple was eventually able to
produce a reliable version of the machine. However, damage to the
computer's reputation had already been done and it failed to do well
commercially as a direct result. In the end, an estimated
Apple III computers were sold. The
Apple III Plus
brought this up to approximately 120,000. Apple co-founder Steve
Wozniak stated that the primary reason for the Apple III's failure was
that the system was designed by Apple's marketing department, unlike
Apple's previous engineering-driven projects. The Apple III's failure
led to Apple reevaluating their plan to phase out the Apple II, and
eventual continuation of development of the older machine. As a
Apple II models incorporated some hardware, such as the
Apple Scribe Printer, a thermal printer, and software technologies of
the Apple III.
* 1 Timeline of
Apple II family models
* 2 Overview
* 2.1 Design
* 2.2 Software
* 2.4 Revisions
Apple III Plus
* 3 Design flaws
* 4 Reception
* 4.1 Commercial failure
* 4.2 Legacy
* 4.3 In popular culture
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 External links
TIMELINE OF APPLE II FAMILY MODELS
See also: Timeline of the
Apple II family See
Timeline of Macintosh models and Timeline of
Apple Inc. products
Apple III was designed to be a business computer and an eventual
successor for the Apple II. While the
Apple II contributed to the
inspirations of several important business products, such as VisiCalc
Apple Writer , the computer's hardware architecture,
operating system and developer environment were limited. The Apple
III addressed these weaknesses. According to
Steve Wozniak , VisiCalc
Disk II had caused the Apple II's popularity, with 90% of sales
going to businesses as opposed to the hobbyists that were its original
market. Apple management intended to clearly establish market
segmentation by designing the
Apple III to appeal to the business
market, leaving the
Apple II to home and education users. Management
believed that "once the
Apple III was out, the
Apple II would stop
selling in six months", Wozniak said.
Apple III is powered by a 1.8 MHz
Synertek 6502A or B
and, like some of the later machines in the
Apple II family, uses bank
switching techniques to address memory beyond the 6502's traditional
64KB limit, up to 256 K in the IIIs case. Third-party vendors also
produced memory upgrade kits that allow the
Apple III to reach up to
512 KB. Other
Apple III built-in features include an 80-column,
24-line display with upper and lowercase characters, a numeric keypad,
dual-speed (pressure-sensitive) cursor control keys, 6-bit (DAC)
audio, and a built-in 140 KB 5.25" floppy disk drive. Graphics modes
include 560x192 in black and white, and 280x192 with 16 colors or
shades of gray. Unlike the Apple II, the
Disk III controller is part
of the logic board.
Apple III is the first Apple product to allow the user to choose
both a screen font and a keyboard layout: either
QWERTY or Dvorak .
These choices can not be changed while programs were running, unlike
Apple IIc , which has a keyboard switch directly above the
keyboard, allowing switching on the fly.
An advertisement for access to health information through the
A major limitation of the
Apple II and DOS 3.3 is the way it
addresses resources, which makes it highly desirable for peripherals
to be installed in standardized locations (slot 5 and 6 reserved for
storage devices, slot 2 reserved for serial communication interfaces,
etc.) This forces the user to identify a peripheral by its physical
location, such as PR#6, CATALOG, D1, and so on. The Apple III
introduced an advanced operating system called
Apple SOS , pronounced
"apple sauce". Its ability to address resources by name instead of a
physical location allows the
Apple III to be more scalable than the
Apple SOS also allows the full capacity of a storage device
to be used as a single volume, such as the Apple Pro
File hard disk
Apple SOS supports a hierarchical file system (HFS). Some
of the features and code base of
Apple SOS were migrated into the
GS/OS operating systems, as well as Lisa 7/7 and
Macintosh system software .
With a starting price between $4,340 to $7,800 US, the
Apple III was
more expensive than many of the
CP/M -based business computers that
were available at the time. Little
Apple III software was available
besides VisiCalc, and because Apple did not view the
Apple III as
suitable for hobbyists, it did not provide much of the technical
software information that accompanied the Apple II. Originally
intended as a direct replacement to the
Apple II series, it was
designed to be backward compatible with
Apple II software. However,
since Apple did not want to encourage continued development of the II
Apple II compatibility existed only in a special "Apple II
Mode" which was limited in its capabilities to the emulation of a
basic 48 KB Apple II+ configuration.
Special chips were intentionally
added to prevent access to the III's advanced features such as its
Apple III has four expansion slots, a number that inCider in 1986
Apple II cards are compatible but risk violating
government RFI regulations, and require Apple III-specific device
BYTE stated that "Apple provides virtually no information on
how to write them". As with software, Apple provided little hardware
technical information with the computer but Apple III-specific
products became available, such as one that made the computer
compatible with the
Apple IIe . Several new Apple-produced
peripherals were developed for the Apple III. The original Apple III
has a built-in real-time clock, which is recognized by Apple SOS. The
clock was later removed from the "revised" model, and instead was made
available as an add-on.
Along with the built-in floppy drive, the
Apple III can also handle
up to three additional external
Disk III floppy disk drives. The Disk
III is only officially compatible with the Apple III. The Apple III
Plus requires an adaptor from Apple to use the
Disk III with its DB-25
With the introduction of the revised
Apple III a year after launch,
Apple began offering the Pro
File external hard disk system. Costing
US$3499 for 5MB, it also required a peripheral slot for the ProFile
Apple III Plus
Once the logic board design flaws were discovered, a newer logic
board design was produced – which includes a lower power
requirement, wider traces, and better designed chip sockets. The
$3,495 revised model also includes 256
KiB RAM as a standard
configuration. The 14,000 units of the original
Apple III sold were
returned and replaced with the entirely new revised model.
Apple III Plus
Apple discontinued the III in October 1983 because it violated
Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, and the FCC
required the company to change the redesigned computer's name. It
introduced the APPLE III PLUS in December 1983 at a price of US$2995.
This newer version includes a built-in clock, video interlacing,
standardized rear port connectors, 55-watt power supply, 256
as standard, and a redesigned, IIe-like keyboard.
Owners of the
Apple III could purchase individual III Plus upgrades,
like the clock and interlacing feature, and obtain the newer logic
board as a service replacement. A keyboard upgrade kit, dubbed "Apple
III Plus upgrade kit" was also made available – which included the
keyboard, cover, keyboard encoder ROM, and logo replacements. This
upgrade had to be installed by an authorized service technician.
According to Wozniak, the
Apple III "had 100 percent hardware
failures". Former Apple executive Taylor Pohlman recalled this:
There was way too short a time frame in manufacturing and
development. When the decision was made to announce, there were only
three Apple IIIs in existence, and they were all wire-wrapped boards.
The case of the
Apple III had long since been set in concrete, so
they had a certain size logic board to fit the circuits on ... They
went to three different outside houses and nobody could get a layout
that would fit on the board.
They used the smallest line circuit boards that could be used. They
ran about 1,000 of these boards as preproduction units to give to the
dealers as demonstration units. They really didn't work ... Apple
swapped out the boards. The problem was, at this point there were
other problems, things like chips that didn't fit. There were a
million problems that you would normally take care of when you do your
preproduction and pilot run. Basically, customers were shipped the
Steve Jobs insisted on the idea of no fan or air vents, in order to
make the computer run quietly. Jobs would later push this same
ideology onto almost all Apple models he had control of, from the
Apple Lisa and
Macintosh 128K to the iMac . To allow the computer to
dissipate heat, the base of the
Apple III was made of heavy cast
aluminum, which supposedly acts as a heat sink. One undeniable
advantage to the aluminum case was a reduction in RFI (Radio Frequency
Interference), a problem which had plagued the
Apple II series
throughout its history. Unlike the
Apple II series, the power supply
was mounted – without its own shell – in a compartment separate
from the logic board. The decision to use an aluminum shell ultimately
led to engineering issues which resulted in the Apple III's
reliability problems. The lead time for manufacturing the shells was
high, and this had to be done before the motherboard was finalized.
Later it was realized that there wasn't enough room on the motherboard
for all of the components unless narrow traces were used. Apple
III Plus showing the RFI shield over the floppy drive and the cast
Many Apple IIIs were thought to have failed due to their inability to
properly dissipate heat. inCider stated in 1986 that "Heat has always
been a formidable enemy of the Apple ///", and some users reported
that their Apple IIIs became so hot that the chips started dislodging
from the board, causing the screen to display garbled data or their
disk to come out of the slot "melted".
BYTE wrote, "the integrated
circuits tended to wander out of their sockets ". Apple advised
customers to tilt the front of the
Apple III six inches above the
desk, and then drop it to reseat the chips. Other analyses blame a
faulty automatic chip insertion process, not heat.
Jerry Manock denied the design flaw charges, stating
that tests proved that the unit adequately dissipated the internal
heat. The primary cause, he claimed, was a major logic board design
problem. The logic board used "fineline" technology that was not fully
mature at the time, with narrow, closely spaced traces. When chips
were "stuffed" into the board and wave-soldered , solder bridges would
form between traces that were not supposed to be connected. This
caused numerous short circuits, which required hours of costly
diagnosis and hand rework to fix. Apple designed a new circuit board,
with more layers and normal-width traces. The new logic board was laid
out by one designer on a huge drafting board, rather than using the
costly CAD -CAM system used for the previous board, and the new design
Apple III units came with a built-in real time clock. The
hardware, however, would fail after prolonged use. Assuming that
National Semiconductor would test all parts before shipping them,
Apple did not perform this level of testing. Apple was soldering chips
directly to boards, and could not easily change out a bad chip if one
was found. Eventually, Apple solved this problem by removing the
real-time clock from the Apple III's specification rather than
Apple III with the clock pre-installed, and then sold the
peripheral as a level 1 technician add-on.
The Apple III's technical problems made marketing the computer
difficult. One distributor's representative described the computer as
"a complete disaster", recalling that he "was responsible for going to
every dealership, setting up the
Apple III in their showroom, and then
explaining to them the functions of the Apple III, which in many cases
didn’t really work". Pohlman stated that Apple was only selling 500
units a month by late 1981, mostly as replacements. The company was
able to raise monthly sales to 5,000, but the
IBM PC 's successful
launch encouraged software companies to develop for it instead,
causing Apple to shift focus to the Lisa and Macintosh. By early 1984
sales were only to existing III owners, Apple itself—its 4500
employees had about 3000-4500 units—and some small businesses.
Despite formerly devoting the majority of its R -webkit-column-width:
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Apple III computer @ oldcomputers.net
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* ^ First Cool, Now Quiet
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* ^ Computer History Museum: Apple Industrial Designers Robert
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* ^ "1980:
Apple III Business Computer". The picture above is 07:31
into Side 1 of the CED movie TRON, where Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is
Apple III at home...