Apple's prediction for the future

August 25th, 2014 9:54 AM
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Noted historian Steve Weyhrich once took to speculative fiction to answer the question: What if the Apple II line had been allowed to evolve in the same way as the Macintosh line has been evolving over the past ten years? The resulting alternative history is a fascinating look at what might've been.

As it turns out, Apple had their own fantasy for a world in which support for the Apple II continued. In 1987, makeup was applied to age key employees, including Steve Wozniak and John Sculley, casting them as their 1997 selves for this video reflecting on the past decade of Apple:

The video is unintentionally hilarious, not so much in the bad acting as in the misplaced optimism. The news anchors report, "Almost all the growth in the last decade happened in one place: the desktop. And of course, that means Apple." Yet the years 1987–1997 saw Apple's market share dwindle under the leadership of several lackluster CEOs.

But you have to admire Apple's intended dedication to our favorite computing platform. "This being 1997, some people feel the Apple II concept is getting old. We don't agree. [Introducing] the Apple II V.S.O.P. (Very Smooth Old Processor) — the computer for the new millennium!" As the video was shot three years after the release of the Macintosh, I have to wonder if Apple really did see a future for the separate product line of the Apple II, or if they were just tweaking their audience with this prediction.

Another augury: "A computer that talks is no big deal. A computer that really listens — that's a breakthrough. Apple computers have always been friendly, but we've gone from friendly to understanding." Siri listens, but we're still ages from machines that actually understand human speech. I discussed in my review of the Joaquin Phoenix film Her: "Accents, background noise, and sentence structures that don't conform to expected inputs can all derail such interactions. Even when Watson competed on Jeopardy, although it could interpret natural language, that input was typed, not spoken."

But the video was worth it for two lines that had me laugh out loud: at 3:43, a Mac diagnoses a PICNIC error; and this zinger: "In other news, Jack Tramiel opened a new restaurant today."

For more historical predictions of technology's future — some of which have come true, but not quite as expected — see the 2009 blog post, "AT&T predicted the future. Can Microsoft?"

(Hat tip to Daniela Hernandez of Wired)

Steve Wozniak delivers an iMac

April 21st, 2014 12:37 PM
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Steve Wozniak is a man of the people. Whereas many celebrities elevate themselves above the consumers upon which they built their empires — or, unsure how to handle their unexpected fame, become recluses — Woz has never shied from his fans and friends. Whether it's insisting he pay to attend KansasFest 2013, or waiting in line with everyone else for the new iPhone, he's the most down-to-earth living legend you could ever meet.

A good example of Woz's nature can be seen in a video recorded a few years ago but published just recently. Emma, an Australian pre-teen whose parents were buying her a new iMac, was astonished to find the Apple representative who made the home delivery was none other than Steve Wozniak himself! Despite being younger than the Apple II, Emma had the good sense to recognize whose presence she was in, yet the wherewithal to not completely freak out.

I don't know how her father arranged this delivery, but he opens the video with the observation, "This is like having your lightbulbs delivered by Thomas Edison." It reminds me of something I believe Eric Shepherd said in 2003, when Woz was announced as the KansasFest keynote speaker: "It's like having Jesus Christ come to Easter dinner."

Who knows where Woz will pop up next?

(Hat tip to Jesus Diaz)

Meet the geeks at KansasFest

August 19th, 2013 1:18 PM
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Filed under Happenings, Mainstream coverage, Steve Wozniak;
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From 2007 through 2012, I covered KansasFest for Computerworld, a magazine and website of which I was an editor. When I left that position in early 2013, I did so on good terms, leaving open the possibility of freelance work. I solicited suggestions from other Apple II users for how I might pitch coverage of this year's KansasFest in a way that Computerworld hadn't done before. Eric Shepherd proposed a series of attendee profiles, in the style of my previous coverage of BostonFIG. My editor loved the idea but asked that, instead of photos and writeups, I produce short video interviews.

I'd long wanted to shoot video at KansasFest, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Andy Molloy helped me vet a list of attendees with unique, discrete roles who would exemplify the Apple II community. Throughout the week of KansasFest, I cornered a dozen people: programmers, historians, artists, gamers, and more.

Computerworld published eight of the videos in the slideshow, "Who goes to an Apple II convention in 2013?", which went live last Friday. This morning, KansasFest's official YouTube channel published an additional three. That makes eleven — the unpublished 12th video was one I shot of myself, as a proof of concept. No one needs to see that.

My thanks to all who contributed to this project! I hope the below videos serve as an example of the wonderful friends you can make at KansasFest. Click the thumbnails for an introduction!

Melissa Barron

The Artist

Steve Wozniak

The Founder

Randy Wigginton

The Speaker

Steve Weyhrich

The Historian

Carrington Vanston

The Podcaster

Michael Sternberg

The Gamer

Eric Shepherd

The Emulator

Kevin Savetz

The Rebel

Charles Mangin

The Inventor

Carl Knoblock

The Old-Timer

Ken Gagne

The Profiler

The Programmer

The Programmer

Game Informer interviews Steve Wozniak

July 22nd, 2013 10:34 AM
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Four months ago, Game Informer's print magazine featured an interview with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc. and inventor of the Apple II. I shared on this blog what little of the print-only interview was also published online, that being Wozniak talking about his love for Tetris.

Game Informer has now released the entirety of that interview online, with a 2,000-word transcript and several additional videos. Appropriate to the magazine's scope, the conversation focuses largely on Woz's gaming history, from how he created Breakout for Atari to what he thinks of Apple's future in the gaming industry.

Reflecting on the early days of game programming, Woz demonstrates his usual humility: "Hardware games — I'm sorry, it's not like software… I was one of the greatest designers ever; I was working on the iPhone 5 of its day — the hottest gadget product in the world."

More important, the above video once again reaffirms that the Apple II was designed to feed its creator's gaming habit:

I built paddle hardware into the Apple II deliberately for the game of Breakout. I wanted everything in there. I put in a speaker with sound so I could have beeps like games need. So, a lot of the Apple II was designed to be a game machine as well as a computer. That is the way to get it to people, to get people to start buying these machines.

Why are games so important? Easy: "Your life is all about happiness — that's how you judge it. It's not how successful you are, or how many yachts you own, or that kind of stuff — it's how much you smile."

By that standard, I wonder how happy a life Woz would feel Steve Jobs had?

The full, 48-minute interview is available after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

First reactions to Jobs movie trailer

June 24th, 2013 2:59 PM
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Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
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There was an occasion last year where I wrote a blog post for Apple II Bits but, prior to clicking "publish", realized the subject had a broader appeal. The same thing happened today when I started writing about the new trailer for the Steve Jobs film. Previously we saw only a clip of the movie, resulting in mixed receptions. Now that a two-minute trailer garnered two million views over the weekend, has public reception to the movie changed?

Find out by reading my Computerworld blog — but you can watch the trailer here, or see the film in theaters on August 16.

Watch Steve Wozniak dominate at Tetris

April 15th, 2013 11:05 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage, Steve Wozniak;
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Steve Wozniak is said to have created the Apple because he wanted to play arcade games at home. But the Apple wasn't Woz's only game machine; he was highly addicted to the Game Boy, Nintendo's handheld that came packaged with the puzzle game Tetris. For as long as the official Nintendo Power magazine printed gamers' high scores, Woz reigned supreme as Tetris champion.

Now you can watch him tell the story himself as he revisits his favorite game. The digital edition of latest issue of Game Informer magazine features a video of Steve Wozniak getting his Tetris on while he recounts his encounters with the game and his evangelization of the Game Boy to world leaders of two decades ago.

From Woz's repeated exclamations of "Uh, oh — I'm in trouble here!" and the lack of direct screen capture, it's hard to tell if Woz is still the Tetris master he was in his youth. But it's nonetheless fun to watch his boyish amusement with the world continue to shine.