updated 09:00 pm EDT, Tue July 9, 2013
One of the earliest surviving units, but non-functional
A rare Apple I computer, hand-assembled by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, was sold on Tuesday for $387,750 at auction -- less than auctioneer Christie's had hoped for but well above the minimum bid, and still representing an increase in value for a non-functional unit. The bidding on this unit started at $300,000, and is believed to be the 25th model ever assembled, according to an ink inscription on the unit. Originally designed by Wozniak, the unit originally sold for $666.66. A working Apple I was bought in Germany earlier this year for $671,400.
As has been his habit in recent years, Wozniak added his signature to the unit prior to it going up for auction. Only 200 of the original kits were ever made, and only between 30 and 50 are thought to still exist. Of that number only a handful -- perhaps six -- are still in working order.
The Apple I is believed to be the very first fully-assembled personal computer available for an affordable amount. Prior to its introduction, enthusiasts would pay dearly for kits and assembly tools need to build their own. Apple was founded when Steve Jobs was able to convince a local electronics dealer to pre-order 50 of the assembled Apple I units.
The computer is also notable for the sheer number of design innovations created by Wozniak, including its own version of BASIC and greater efficiency than other computer kits of the era. Wozniak was driven by economic necessity to find a design that could use the fewest parts possible, a talent he had demonstrated while working with Jobs at Atari and HP.
The Apple I consisted of a fully-assembled circuit board, to which users would only need to add a case, power supply, keyboard and monitor (the original ad for the Apple I is reproduced below). By comparison, units like the Altair 8800 used front-mounted toggle switches and red LEDs for output requiring it to be hooked to an expensive teletype or terminal, making the Apple I a "ready-to-go" budget solution by comparison.
Apple has maintained something of the spirit of the original Apple I with its Mac mini product -- which while far more complete a unit is designed to be central processing hub -- requiring users to supply their own keyboard, mouse and monitor to complete the setup. The original Apple I later offered an optional board to connect cassette-based storage. Today's Mac mini offers USB and Thunderbolt to attach storage, peripherals and other devices to the computer.