Apple Rumors: Oldies but Goodies

We live in an, um, golden age of Apple gossip. Thanks to the blogosphere, a surging sea of sites cover an endless array of rumors about the company, from ones that are right on the money to ones that are partially right to ones that aren't right at all. The conversation spawned by the scuttlebutt has helped many a site fill time during slow news days: No other company can set off a frenzy of speculation about matters as mundane as the quantity of USB ports a new machine might sport.

The sheer quantity of Apple scuttlebutt has never been higher. But the company has been a powerful engine for the rumor mill for as long as there's been an Apple and tech journalists to cover it. And Google Books' recent addition of the entire run of InfoWorld provides us with the opportunity to revisit the first golden age of Apple rumors-which, uncoincidentally, ended when Steve Jobs was forced out of the company he cofounded in mid-1985.

Today's InfoWorld may be a Web site for IT professionals, but in the early 1980s it was a weekly publication for microcomputer users, and its pages are as good a record as you'll find of the era's industry chatter-including lots and lots of stuff about Apple. So in this second installment in our once-in-awhile series on Apple rumors and predictions, we'll check out tidbits from InfoWorld stories (1980-1985). My goal is not to mock, but simply to see what folks thought Apple would do, what they thought it meant...and whether any of it came to pass.

Ready? Swell. Return with us now to April of 1980. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, only one Star Wars movie had been released, and tech nerds were already hungry for Apple scoops...

The Apple III Revealed

Untitled and unbylined story , April 14th, 1980

The earliest interesting Apple gossip I found in InfoWorld concerned the first machine the company released after the publication's founding:

It appears that rumors concerning the eventual unveiling of the Apple III are getting closer to the mark, since sources in a position to know are increasingly agreeing. The word is that Apple will debut its new machine in May at the National Computer Conference, in Anaheim, California. Rumors about Apple's activities have been confused both because Apple is currently working on more than one machine, and because the company has changed its mind about design goals several times. For example, at one time, the company was planning to use a custom-designed processor, but abandoned this idea in favor of the 6502C.

Tight-lipped, taciturn, closed-mouth, reticent-all appropriately describe Apple Computer's policy regarding release of information about the company or its products. Rumor has it there is a sign in one of their lobbies stating, "Stop talking about business outside of business." While other companies attempt to maintain secrecy, information leaks inevitable occur, but not so with Apple.

What happened? InfoWorld's Apple III tipsters knew what they were talking about. This is also an early mention of Apple's reputation for effective secrecy-although it's a tad odd to give Apple credit for foiling leaks in a story which correctly quotes unnamed sources providing accurate information about the company's plans.

Amazing Apple Mystery Machine

"Editorial," by Richard Milewski, February 2nd, 1981

InfoWorld's editor speculates about a secret Apple product:

Rumors have been circulating around Silicon Valley about a "new kind" of machine to be released in between the Apple III and the Apple IV. Speculation has centered around hand-held and small table-top machines that will compete with the latest offerings from Radio Shack. But events in and around Apple seem to suggest that Apple has chosen to leave the under $1000 market to others.

(snip)

The Apple mystery machine is likely to be entirely bus-less. Look for a design in which multiple Apple mystery machines, printers, disk storage devices, and other peripherals all communicate by a network protocol. For cost reasons, use of the Ethernet protocol is not likely, but an Ethernet interface peripheral likely is. The machine itself is likely to contain more than one processor, and the basic machine may not be user-programmable without additional hardware.

Does this presage Apple's exit from the personal-computer market? Probably not.

What happened? By 1981, Apple was working on both the ill-fated Lisa and the Mac, and the machine described here is vague enough that it might have been either of them (or, for that matter, neither of them). In any event, Apple didn't get out of the PC business (whew!) but didn't turn its attention to handheld devices until it began work on the Newton in 1989.

Apple V Has a Nice Ring to It

"Inside Track," by John C. Dvorak, November 8th, 1982

A pre-PC Magazine John Dvorak is already on the Apple beat:

Apple, meanwhile, is going to roll out the Lisa on January 19th, 1983. You heard it here first...There has been so much prepublicity for the name Lisa that the company may keep it! It will more than likely be called the Apple IV or Apple V, though.

(snip)

The product is pretty much what everyone thinks it is-a 68000 machine with a hi-resolution display, window and a mouse for cursor control.

What is interesting about the story is some of the infighting that has been happening at the company. I've been told that there is a battle royale going on between the MacIntosh group headed by Steve Jobs and the Lisa group (the Personal Office Systems division)..the Mac people think the Lisa will be overpriced and yet offer little advantage over the Mac.

What happened? Dvorak was right on the Lisa's release date and right on what the machine was. And let's give him partial credit for raising the possibility of it being named the Lisa even though he thought it probably wouldn't be. He was also correct about squabbling between the Lisa and "MacIntosh" teams, and the Lisa did indeed turn out to be not much more than a much pricier Mac.

Hey, a Computer With a Handle is a Portable, Right?

"Inside Track," by John C. Dvorak, February 14th, 1983

More early Mac tidbits (and commentary on Steve Jobs' facial hair) from Dvorak:

I've been getting two rumors about MacIntosh, the low-end Lisa from Apple. One guy tells me it's a portable and that Apple is working on a plasma display for the thing.

The latest gossip is that it isn't a portable. In fact, I'm told that Steve Jobs isn't sold on portables (hear that, Adam [Osborne]). This month someone will present to Jobs a proposal to come up with a portable.

"Inside Track" went to the latest Apple shareholders meeting to see the new nonmustachioed Steve Jobs. I tell you, without that hairy upper lip, he's a dead ringer for Hugh Hefner. Now if he'd only take up pipe smoking.

What happened? In 1983, portable computers weren't a well-defined category, and the Mac's petite size, all-in-one case, and handle made it far more mobile than an Apple II or an IBM PC. But it didn't have a plasma screen (offhand, the only computer I can remember with one was the Grid Compass). Apple didn't release a true portable computer until the Macintosh Portable, years after Jobs left the company the first time. As for a cleanshaven, mid-1980s Jobs looking like Hef?


Judge for yourself. (I guess I sort of see it.)

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments