CL 9 was a universal remote control company started by Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple I and Apple II computers. The company was in business for three years, from 1985 to 1988, coming out with the 6502-based CL 9 CORE remote control in 1987, the first universal programmable remote control.
Wozniak was working at Apple Computer as an Apple II engineer. While he enjoyed his work, he didn't feel he was making a valuable contribution since he was pulled out of the office so often to act as an Apple spokesperson. And Apple had become a big company, as Wozniak says:
|“||Apple was a large company, and it wasn't and still isn't the love in my life. The love in my life is starting small companies with small groups of friends. Bringing new ideas out and trying to build them.||”|
At the same time, Wozniak had a myriad of electronic entertainment devices in his Santa Cruz mountain home, each controlled with a different remote control. Having to fiddle with so many remotes frustrated him, and he came up with the idea of inventing what is now known as a universal remote. While such a device has become commonplace, it was unheard of in the mid-1980s. The idea stuck with him, and after getting some friends interested, he decided to start a new company to build the device.
Wozniak decided to leave Apple to pursue his new venture, but stated that he "never felt like I was turning my back on my own company [Apple]." He told his boss' boss, Wayne Rosing, about his decision to leave, but not Apple co-founder and friend, Steve Jobs. In fact, the first Jobs heard about him leaving was from a piece in The Wall Street Journal. When Wozniak spoke to the reporter for the piece, he was very direct in pointing out that he wasn't leaving because he was disgruntled with Apple, but that he just wanted to build this exciting remote control. But the reporter nevertheless included some of his criticisms of Apple, which created some bad feelings. Wozniak says "it was an accident, but it's been picked up by every book and every bit of history [since]." Despite his leaving Apple, Wozniak remained a paid employee of Apple and remains one to this day, though he states he makes as little as a full-time employee can make at Apple; he continues to admire Apple products.
Wozniak lived in the Summit Road area of the Santa Cruz mountains. At that time, there were two restaurants, the Summit Inn and Cloud 9. He heard Cloud 9 was going out of business, so he suggested that as a site for the new company. Two weeks later, they instead settled into an older area of nearby Los Gatos. The name "Cloud 9", caught the attention of co-founder Joe Ennis and he investigated the availability of the name. It was taken, so the name CL 9 was chosen.
While Wozniak was talking to an early investor in Apple, he mentioned his new company and he asked to be allowed to invest. Wozniak resisted, saying they weren't looking for investors. But the investor begged, so Wozniak let him invest. As a result, several of the investor's friends invested also, bringing in two to three million dollars. About this time, Wozniak asked an old friend from Commodore, Sam Bernstein, to be president.
The company went through a great deal of research and engineering to develop the remote. They were frustrated in some of their early efforts by interference from Apple co-founder, Jobs: the enclosure was originally by FROG Design, but they also worked for Apple and Jobs would not allow them to do work for CL 9. They overcame these setbacks and came up with a successful design for the innovative device. When it was near completion, with just the programming by Wozniak left to do, he pulled back. He decided to hire another programmer to do the work so he could spend more time with his children.
Sale of the business, technology and patents was negotiated in 1988. "CL 9's product, called Core, can operate stereo, television and other video equipment from a single, hand-held unit, but sales have been slow because of lower-priced units from established consumer electronics companies." Wozniak planned to pursue a career teaching elementary school. Martin Spergel was CL 9's president and chief executive at the time of the sale.
CORE remote control
The CORE generic universal remote control was able to learn (i.e. record) IR signal patterns from other remote controls. It had an LCD, a 4-bit and an 8-bit 6502-based microprocessor, and 16 keys (plus a few more control buttons). Sixteen pages of codes were available, for a total of 256 keyable codes; each of these 256 keys could reference any other combination of keys, allowing full macros. The device also had its own time clock, allowing codes to be sent at any future time. A serial interface was included for connecting to a computer.
Because the device had a completely generic numeric keypad, it could readily handle any remote-control task, but was not very attractive to ordinary users, who were more comfortable with specialized TV and VCR keys.
The CORE uses both AAA batteries and a special internal battery soldered to the circuit board. If the internal battery runs down, the firmware is lost. After replacing the internal battery, the firmware has to be re-loaded using the serial interface.
Trademark and marketing problem
The product's name Core caused confusion in the marketplace with electronic and software from another well known company – "Core" is a domestic and international registered trademark of Core International, Inc (now owned by Sony) for computers, computer peripherals and computer programs. After a legal settlement, the product was to be renamed and already manufactured items were to carry a disclaimer notice informing users it was not from Core International, Inc.
The CORE remote control was marketed by Robert Retzlaff and David Peters of Celadon. "The Celadon company later took over the CORE in 1991 and renamed it the PIC-100 after CL 9 closed its doors in 1988. It marketed the PIC-100 until they updated it as the PIC-200—this used FLASH technology."
The technology for CORE was patented by Wozniak and Charles H. Van Dusen, a CL 9 employee, for CL 9. The United States Patent number is 4918439. It was filed on October 5, 1988, thus, officially, the patent expired in 2005.
Due to its place in the history of technology, and the connection to Steve Wozniak and Apple Computers, intact CL 9 CORE remote controls are sought after by collectors. When listed on auction sites such as eBay, they attract a price far in excess of the original retail value, sometimes fetching hundreds of dollars.
- Wozniak, S. G.; Smith, G. (2006), iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-06143-4.
- "Wozniak Unit To Sell Assets" from The New York Times
- Answer to another reader letter from Woz.org
- Article on the CORE from KTronics, LC
- "Core Trademark" owned by Core International, Inc
- The CL9 technology patent from FreePatentsOnline.com