That Time Apple Told Apple III Customers to Drop Their Computers
Apple’s Steve Jobs was a perfectionist, occasionally to a fault, and a great example of this double-edged sword of a personality trait is the Apple III. We were reminded this weekend by reddit user wookie4747 of the troubled Apple III computer, and the solution offered by some Apple technical reps to customers facing one of the system’s many issues: pick it up and drop it.
The Apple III was released in 1980 as the company’s answer to the desires of business users who needed more than the venerable Apple II could offer. But a design hampered by the input of the marketing department rather than Apple’s engineers, as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak explained in his 2007 autobiography iWoz, combined with unreasonable demands from Steve Jobs, produced a product with a plethora of flaws.
One such flaw was overheating, which could cause some of the system’s integrated chips to move or dislodge as they expanded. An obvious solution would be the addition of fans and adequate ventilation, but Jobs hated the relatively loud fans found on many computers of the day, and didn’t want to mar the Apple III’s design with ugly vents. So the Apple III shipped without any fans or vents, relying instead on a design that utilized a massive aluminum heat sink that formed the base of the computer.
Without proper heat dissipation, computer magazine BYTE reported in 1982, the Apple III’s “integrated circuits tended to wander out of their sockets.” Owners of affected systems would begin to see garbled data on the screen, or notice that disks inserted into the system would come out warped or even “melted.”
These problems affected Apple’s own employees, too, with one of the company’s early engineers, Daniel Kottke, picking up his Apple III and slamming it down on the desk out of frustration. To his surprise, the computer “jumped back to life.”
Apple’s support engineers offered Apple III customers a similar solution:
Apple recommended users facing problems with the Apple III lift the computer two inches and drop it, as this would set the circuits back in place.
Apple later modified the internal Apple III design to add additional heat sinks for the logic board, but the system still ran alarmingly hot.
Further design and software tweaks eventually led to a relatively stable Apple III platform, but by that point the system’s reputation was already irreversibly damaged. Apple discontinued the Apple III in April 1984, shortly after the launch of the groundbreaking Macintosh.
While we don’t recommend dropping your modern Macs or iDevices, Apple’s “try dropping it” suggestion from the early 1980s makes the company’s stance on other issues — i.e., “you’re holding it wrong” — far less surprising.