Do the Math: 200,000-Plus Floppies Equals a Lot of Floppies

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People–especially people who are online–like reading funny factoids that show the dizzying rate of technological progress over the years. So I wasn’t completely shocked that a tweet of mine–”An iPhone 4 has more onboard memory than all the Apple II computers in the world as of 1980 put together”–turned out to be one of the most-retweeted items on Twitter today.

For those curious how I did the math:

  • In 1981, Apple published its first annual report–available here–which said that “Nearly 180,000 Apple II systems were shipped in 1981, more than twice as many as last year, increasing the installed base of Apple II systems to well over 300,000.”

  • The “1981" Apple referred to was a fiscal year from October 1980 through September 1981, so the total number of Apple II systems sold as of December 31st, 1980 was some figure (appreciably) below 300,000.

  • Apple II systems had a minimum of 4KB of memory and a maximum of 48KB. Since we don’t know the breakdown, we can err on the side of caution by assuming they all had a roomy 48KB for the sake of this exercise.

  • One 16GB iPhone has as much storage as 333,333 48KB Apple IIs–16,000,000,000/48,000–or more than existed on the planet as of the end of 1980.

  • Yes, I know that the “16GB” in a 16GB iPhone refers to flash memory, and I’m comparing it against the Apple II’s 48KB of RAM. (The iPhone 4 also has RAM–512MB of it–which I didn’t bother to factor in.) Purists, feel free to squawk…

Similar factoid, also popular on Twitter: a 32GB thumb drive stores as much data as a stack of Apple II floppy disks as tall as the Golden Gate Bridge. (That’s 228,571 140KB floppies–750 feet of ‘em–if you’re counting.)

I’ve been doing the math on new tech versus old tech for a simple reason: I was researching a story I’ve been writing for Discover Magazine‘s upcoming thirtieth anniversary issue. Fun!

This story, "Do the Math: 200,000-Plus Floppies Equals a Lot of Floppies" was originally published by Technologizer.

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