From a Hobby to an Industry

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Personal computer magazines soon flourished after the arrival of the Altair 8800 in January 1975. The old hobby electronics magazines, which occasionally offered special topics on computers, no longer could satisfy the fast growing population of personal computer hobbyists.[70] Byte, for example, published its first issue in September 1975. Together with Dr. Dobb’s Journal published by People’s Computer Company, Byte as well as some other earliest personal computer magazines remains popular to this day.

Beside their focus was solely on personal computers, personal computer magazines inherited most of the characteristics from hobby electronics magazines. First of all, “hands-on” was still the key word. For example, among the eighteen articles on video displays that Byte published in its first year, ten discussed how to construct graphics interfaces or monitors; even the two product reviews were on graphics processors and interface kits. Unlike later consumers who could simply buy a ready-made interface card or monitor, earliest owners of personal computers had to build most parts by themselves.

Therefore, advertisements played the same or even more important roles in personal computer magazines than in hobby electronics magazines. Readers could order chips and boards from the companies advertising in the magazines to improve their computers. Moreover, they got the information about the newest models of personal computers by reading advertisements. Besides the Altair 8800 from MITS, every issue of Byte had advertisements for personal computers from other companies—the SCELBI-8B, SPHERE 1 System, IMSAI VDP 80, etc. These advertisements always contained detailed, and sometimes over-promised, feature lists for their computers. While very few readers could offer to buy several personal computers in a short period of time, these advertisements at least kept them updated with related technology and products.

Further analysis on personal computer magazines shows how fast the industry of personal computers grew. When the photo of Apple I first appeared in the April 1976 issue of Byte, it looked as unattractive as most other personal computers—a single board without even a power supply or a case (Fig. 7).
 
 
Fig. 7. Photo from Apple I’s First Advertisement in Byte, April 1976
Compared with the four-page, color advertisement of Apple II that appeared just fourteen months later (Fig. 3), Apple Computer and the whole industry certainly had accomplished a lot. In fact, Apple II was a success because it strove to include most features that a personal computer should have. Enclosed by its pretty plastic box were features like keyboard, graphics interface, and tape storage interface, and it came with the basic yet necessary software support. While other personal computers might have come with one or two of these features, Apple II was the first personal computer to include all of them in a box for $1,298 (roughly equivalent to $3,863 in 2002 dollars).[71]

Moreover, Apple Computer transformed the personal computer from a hobbyist project to a consumer product. When many companies still charged extra fees for assembling, Apple I and Apple II were sold only assembled. The concept of building a computer was replaced by using one, and the advertisement of Apple II proudly announced: “Only Apple II makes it that easy. It’s a complete, ready to use computer, not a kit.”[72] While the flyer of Apple I still claimed, “it opens many new possibilities for users and systems manufacturers,” the advertisement for Apple II warned: “You’ve just run out of excuses for not owning a personal computer.”[73]



70.Popular Electronics, for example, had only two cover stories on personal computers in 1975.
71. “Introducing Apple II,” Byte, June 1977, 45.
72. Ibid., 43.
73. Steven Weyhrich, “Apple-I Advertisement,” Apple II Historical Museum, 2003 <http://apple2history.org/museum/ads/a1ad1.html> (28 April 2003); “Introducing Apple II,” Byte, June 1977, 43.