Nearly 40 Years Later, Steve Wozniak Still Brainstorms Ways The Apple II Could Have Been Better

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The Apple II may be one of the most important systems in the history of personal computing — but that doesn’t mean it was perfect. Nearly 40 years later, Steve Wozniak is still coming up with ways he could have done it better.

The detail comes from a bit of communication between Woz and a deeply devoted Apple I reproduction expert, Mike W.

Mike (who hosts what is almost certainly the world’s most detailed registry of remaining Apple I systems), noticed a slight flaw in the Apple I’s design: A quirk in the power supply would occasionally make the system’s memory “unreliable.” So he did the only reasonable thing: he emailed Woz about it.

Turns out, Woz had no idea that there was such an issue with the Apple I; by the time the I was even close to shipping, Apple was showing off the Apple II, and Woz’s focus was on that machine.

Writes Woz:

Still, had we at Apple been aware of such an issue while selling maybe 150 Apple I’s, we could and would easily and quickly have rectified it. But we didn’t test fully a product that was a temporary place-holder before the big product. We did try to buy back every Apple I in exchange for Apple II’s.

We had more luck than anyone deserves with things working out just enough to suffice and do what we did.

Perhaps even more interesting is that Woz still wakes up in the middle of the night with thoughts of how his decades-old designs could’ve been done better. On the Apple II:

I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it’s 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.

If you’re wondering what Woz means by “the 2 grays” — the Apple II could display 16 different colors. Two of those 16 colors were different shades of gray, at least at a software level. But due to limitations of the original design, the two shades were indistinguishable when actually displayed. Some Apple II emulators will show them as different colors.

You can read Woz’s full reply here.