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.)

The Apple Tax, Circa Early 1984

"Inside Track," by John C. Dvorak, January 24th, 1984

Shortly after the announcement of the Macintosh, Dvorak says that Apple charges too much (sound familiar?) and compares its marketing and pricing strategy to that of other leading PC companies of the era:

What the automatic transmission did for the automobile is what is what the Macintosh concept will do for personal computers.

Note that I use the word concept. I think the Mac is a great computer, OK? But besides being easier to use, what does it do that a $1,500 Morrow Micro Decision can't do? And no, I don't own Morrow stock.

The fact of the matter is that we are living in a price-driven environment, and Apple continues to ignore the BSFD marketing maxim: benefits sell-features don't.

What irks me about all this is that I'm rooting for Apple to have a hit, and I do like the Mac. The simple truth is that people want single-board computers to sell for less than $2,000, and they want free software. That's all there is to it. Osborne knew this, KayPro knows this, IBM knows this, Morrow knows this, everyone knows it except Apple.

So here is the scenario: There will be a surge of interest in the Mac from people like myself who collect hardware. Then it will begin to get used in the office in a cult fashion, similar to the Apple II phenomenon. Unfortunately, it took years before the big Apple II surge took place. Apple can't afford to wait that long. IBM has a similar machine in the wings and so do the Japanese.

What happened? Osborne was bankrupt when this was written; Kaypro went bankrupt in 1992; IBM divested itself of its PC business in 2004; Morrow went bankrupt in 1986. Apple? Still in business, still catching flack for charging too much.

Dvorak's forecast of the Mac's sales trajectory was pretty accurate, except that it turned out that Apple was able to wait until the Mac got some traction. I'm not sure what the Mac-like computers were from IBM (unless Dvorak was referring to Windows 1.0) and the Japanese, though.

If Woz Says It, It Must be True

" 16-Bit Apple IIx Alive and Well ," by Christine McGeever, November 19th, 1984

An InfoWorld reporter gets a scoop from a source within Apple who's in a position to know-and who's even willing to be quoted on the record:

In an exclusive interview with InfoWorld, Apple Computer co-founder Stephen Wozniak confirmed that work has begun on the next generation Apple II machine, dubbed the IIx. The computer, which won't be available until 1986, may be targeted towards business users and won't compete with sales of the IIc, according to Wozniak.Wozniak says the 16-bit machine will have some of the features of the portable IIc, such as a built-in disk drive, and some of the features of the IIe, such as expandable memory and add-on slots. It will also use Apple's ProDOS operating system. A prototype of the computer has been built, and Wozniak reportedly has one in his office.

(snip)

The IIx has not been a secret Apple project, although it has frequently been rumored to be canceled or suspended.

What happened? The Apple IIx was real-but that's not the same thing as really being released. Wozniak and others within the company grappled with technical gremlins. This Apple IIx history says it was killed by technical gremlins, but it also says that the project was killed in March 1984, months before the InfoWorld story appeared. I'm guessing that it was at least kind of alive when InfoWorld wrote about it, though, given that other computer magazines also thought it was extant at the same time. Or perhaps the late-1984 incarnation of the IIx was the machine that shipped in 1986 as the IIGS.

Lisa to Disappear, Macs to Multiply

"From the News Desk," Michael McCarthy, December 3rd, 1984

InfoWorld thinks that the Lisa has a dicey future, and then crams an amazing quantity of rumors into one paragraph:

Our tip two weeks ago that Apple is planning to drop the Lisa line in 1985 really stirred things up. At a scheduled meeting with financial analysts, Steve Jobs and John Sculley specifically denied the claim both to the analysts and to our reporter. Lisa won't be going away, they insisted...Denials notwithstanding, analysts and observers continue to find the idea of Apple dropping Lisa very plausible. Sources inside Apple tell us the big cheeses there have been holding meetings all week after reading our Lisa item, which also mentioned the 16-bit Apple IIx that Stephen Wozniak told us he was starting on. Seems that everyone's mad at everyone else, and that Woz's IIx project may be sacrificed to propitiate the gods at Apple.

As long as we're at Apple, let's review our files for the week's collection of unsubstantiated rumors. There are enough rumored new Macintoshes to sell out the Highland Games: the color Mac, the Unix Mac, the flat-screen Mac, the Mac with the 8-1/2-by-11-inch full-page screen, and the souped-up, faster processor Mac, which may or may not be a multitasking, multiuser Mac...the color Mac, some say, may be introduced at Comdex. Others say it will be introduced at the annual meeting in January, and still others say technical difficulties mean no color for many moons to come.

What happened? Some tips are dead on-Apple discontinued the Lisa in April of 1985. Everything else mentioned in the story came to be, but it took a long time. Apple didn't release color Macs until imany moons later, when it shipped the Macintosh II (which was also the first faster-processor Mac) in 1987; it released the first Mac flavor of Unix in 1988; it released a full-page portrait display for modular Macs in 1989. As far as I can remember the first flat-screen Mac that wasn't a laptop was 1997's Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh.

Apple II Forever, or at Least Until 1993

" Apple II Shakes Controversy ," an interview with Del Yocam, April 15th, 1985

InfoWorld interviews Del Yocam, head of Apple's Apple II division, and quotes him as saying:

We really believe the Apple II can live forever...between 60 percent and 80 percent of all microcomputer users may never need any more than 8-bit technology...there are certainly those out there who feel we need to have 16-bit microprocessors, so we are certainly looking at that seriously.

What happened? Apple discontinued the 8-bit Apple IIe in 1993, ending an amazing long run given that the rest of the industry had long ago moved to 16-bit CPUs. Along the way, the company introduced one 16-bit Apple II model, the IIGS, but it died a few months before the IIe did. As for 60 to 80 percent of computer users "never" needing anything better than 8-bit technology-when was the last time you saw a computer that had fewer than 32 bits?

At Least He Lost the Bowtie and Suspenders

" Shuffle Could Aid Apple ," by Jim Forbes, June 24th, 1985

As John Sculley forces Steve Jobs out of Apple's leadership, an anonymous source at the company says it's no great loss:

I think Apple is moving from one phase of its life to the next. I don't know how the image of a leader clad in a bow tie, jeans, and suspenders would help us in the coming years.

What happened? For more than a decade, Apple tried multiple other leadership images: a would-be visionary/ex-sugar-water salesman, a hard-working German guy, and a cost-cutting chip-industry executive. Then it went back to Steve Jobs (sans foppish duds), whose image remains one of the most potent marketing tools in the history of tech.

Remember the GE Macintosh? Okay, How About the AT&T Macintosh?

Inside Track , by John C. Dvorak, July 15th, 1985

Dvorak discusses early rumors about an Apple buyout (a meme that wouldn't really heat up until the mid-1990s):

A few weeks ago I was told that General Electric's Geisco Division was making overtures to buy Apple Computer lock, stock, and (apple) barrel. Those rumors persist with a twist. First of all, I'm told that the AT&T buyout rumors were initiated by a large shareholder to keep the stock high so that the Geisco bid would be high enough for some people to make some money. Geisco, on the other hand, wants to keep the stock depressed so that it can get a good deal. These could, of course, all be bunk rumors to keep Apple stock from falling through the floor.

What happened? As of the last time I checked, Apple remained an independent company. Neither GE nor AT&T is in the PC business, unless you count the modern-day AT&T's recent foray into netbook retailing. Which doesn't mean that GE didn't think about trying to buy Apple in 1985. And Dvorak said he heard the AT&T rumor was spurious.

Steve Jobs in Spaaaaaaaaaaaace!

" News Desk ," edited by Michael McCarthy, June 29th, 1985

A story about the Apple II ends with an aside about Jobs' extracurricular interests:

Meanwhile, someone often accused of overlooking the Apple II is reported by the local press to be asking NASA for a seat on a future space shuttle flight. Apple chairman Steven P. Jobs is said to be a real space buff.

What happened? The idea of Steve Jobs in zero gravity is kind of entertaining, but he's remained earthbound. In 2007, Charles Simonyi, the father of Microsoft Office, became the first space-tourist computer billionaire.

The Fondly-Remembered Pseudo-Tramiel Era

" Apple Without Jobs " by Jim Forbes, September 30th, 1985

More speculation on post-Jobs Apple, plus exciting news about a machine in the works:

Sculley will also force line managers in Apple's Production Operations division to be more concerned with procurement and quality control issues. A horizontally integrated Apple could resemble Jack Tramiel's Atari, the vice president said. One possible Sculley project, expected in 1987, is a small, portable personal workstation, originally developed by the Apple II group, described by one Apple source as a second-generation Dynabook. The machine will accept bit-mapped graphic images over telecommunications lines, said Jean-Louis Gassée, Apple's director of product development. Such a workstation would overcome some of the current limitations of videotext, seen as a key element in bringing computers into the home.

What happened? I can't speak to whether Sculley imposed an organizational structure on Apple similar to that favored by the father of the Commodore 64, but I'm glad that Apple showed more staying power than Tramiel-era Atari ever did. As far as I know, the machine described by Jean-LouisGassée never amounted to anything-but if Apple had released it, it sounds like it could have pre-empted the whole darn World Wide Web. (Side note: Can you imagine, even for a millisecond, anyone at today's Apple discussing a device planned for release in 2011?)

Steve Jobs: A Hard Habit to Break

" The Last Steve Jobs Column-Honest ," by John C. Dvorak, October 7th, 1985

Dvorak says he's swearing off writing about Apple's founder, after one final column on the possibility of competition between Apple and Jobs' new company, NeXT:

And does Apple seriously think Jobs will be competition? Who is Apple kidding? Talk to the real man behind the Macintosh, Jef Raskin, and you'll get a different picture of Jobs. According to Raskin, Jobs "fought against the design of the Macintosh for two years." And Jobs was the promoter of the Lisa until it began to flop. So what's he going to do on his own? Spend a lot of money, that's all.

(snip)

Maybe when the smoke clears, we will have heard the last from Steve Jobs a guru, seer, visionary, and hapless victim, too. He'll just be that rich guy in the big house in Woodside. He'll go the way of the pet rock, electric carving knives, silly putty, Tiny Tim, and the three-tone paint job. Let's hope so.

What happened? Dvorak-who, despite the column's title, is still writing Steve Jobs columns a quarter-century later-was right that NeXT involved spending a lot of money without ever providing serious competition to Apple. How about Jobs going the way of the Pet Rock? Er, Dvorak didn't say it would happen-just that it might, and that he hoped it would. That's not inaccurate, technically!

Okay, that's it for now. I could go on, but Sculley-era Apple gossip has its own distinct character, and probably deserves its own story at some point.

Conclusions for now? InfoWorld reported on some rumors that didn't turn into fact, and sometimes provided analysis that was iffy at the time and wonderfully goofy in retrospect. But it got a decent amount of stuff right, and it presented rumor as rumor rather than fact. And some of the stuff it wrote about that never came to be stemmed from the tendency of multiple Apple bigwigs to blab about unreleased products. Not perfect, but not bad-especially compared to some of the sites that cover the descendants of the gizmos that Apple was making a quarter-century ago.

(Postscript/needless full disclosure: I worked at InfoWorld from 1992 until 1994, and freelanced for it for a few years beyond that. You can find everything I wrote for it at Google Books, but it doesn't make for particularly entertaining reading.)

More Cupertino-based nostalgia:

Apple Patentmania: 31 Years of Big Ideas

The Patents of Steve Jobs

A Brief YouTube History of the Steve Jobs Macworld Expo Keynote

Macintosh Portable (1989) vs. MacBook Air (2009)
Inside the Macintosh Portable

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