What PC most broadened the market relative to its time?
December 12, 2008 9:12 AM   Subscribe

What PC most broadened the market relative to its time?

Commenting in an "old Radio Shack catalog" appreciation thread here, it occurred to me that while the Apple II is more affectionately remembered, that other alumnus of the Class of '77 - the unglamorous TRS-80 - may actually have introduced more people to PCs, relative to the number that were then using them. [While the IBM PC may have introduced more people altogether, it was starting with a wider base.]

Is my history flawed?
posted by Joe Beese to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The TRS-80 outsold the Apple II something like 5-1 in the first few years.
posted by Jairus at 9:21 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Trash-80 was mostly an enthusiast product.

What really introduced people to computers was not the IBM PC, but IBM PC Clones.
posted by wfrgms at 9:22 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I had both at my school (and PETS), but the ones I & people my age had at home were Commodores & Atari's... Next came Amiga's then Tandy's, then the diaspora.

I honestly think that the Vic20 or the c64 opened the market widest. Heck, even in 1990 I still had people walking into the store asking for Commodore software.
posted by jkaczor at 9:30 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If by "PC", you mean any of the myriad home computers of the late 70s and early 80s, an argument can be made for the Commodore VIC-20, and later the C64.
posted by jquinby at 9:32 AM on December 12, 2008

This page by Jeremy Reimer is the authoritative list of market shares of the 1970s and 1980s.

The x86 clones did in fact take off in the mid and late 80s and never looked back, but the TRS-80 was apparently first to market, selling 200,000 units/yr before Apple and Atari got going in 1978.

But I think the 1980s graph shows that it was the C-64 ca. 1983 that really broadened the market -- the C-64 was outselling the PC in the early 80s and didn't give up the unit sales crown until ca. 1985.

As for personal history, I was first exposed to the TRS-80 in Junior High ca. 1980. Later I saw an Apple II at a library. Magical times, sigh.
posted by troy at 9:34 AM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Well crap, I was coming in here to say how the Apple II was the one, but then you had to go and bring up the TRS-80. In my particular case, at my high school, we had enough TRS-80's for each student, but only one or two Apple II's. But those Apple machines ran Ultima III, and many, many after school hours were spent roaming Britannia.

So in my case, growing up in rural western Colorado, the TRS-80 was more ubiquitous, but the Apple was more coveted. So for me and most of my classmates, the TRS-80 was the introductory computer, as much as I might wish otherwise. Also, thinking back it reminds me of how computers used to be so uncool back then, and the eye rolls we'd get for staying late in the computer lab.

Also, on preview, I think there were two distinct historical events. One was the TRS-80/Apple market in the late 70's/early 80s. This was followed by the IBM Clones/Commodore 64 systems of the early-mid 80s. I think in the first case, I'd give the nod to the TRS-80, it may have been less capable, but it probably touched more people. In the second case, the IBM Clones definitely get the nod for the business space, pretty much dominant as I recall. The clones didn't do as well in the home market, but in my opinion they probably would win out over the Commodore in overall broadening of the market (even though my first computer I owned was a Commodore 64).
posted by forforf at 9:36 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Definitely the Commodore 64, and to a lesser extent Vic-20... but it was as much due to its distribution channels (toy stores, department stores). Prior to that point, PCs were for businesses, Apple ]['s were for hobbyists, TRS-80s were for ham radio operators/engineers. And all of them were sold in electronics shops.

Commodores were (inexpensive) machines for the family room, and you could buy them at Toys R. Us. It's no wonder they sold 30 million of them (still the highest number of any one model of computer sold), over an astonishingly long lifespan: 1983-1995.

The great majority of those machines were sold as a first "home" computer. If that doesn't define broadening the market, I don't know what does.
posted by toxic at 9:37 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Should have previewed a second time, seems like troy has the data on the C-64/PC story.
posted by forforf at 9:38 AM on December 12, 2008

Agreeing with most of the above... the Vic20 and especially C64 were what most of the poorer kids (and their school computer labs) had first, with the Apple II's only for the better-off kids and their schools. Nobody except the geeky kids had TRS-80's.... and I think they were mostly toys for dad.

I worked in a computer store in the Midwest in the early 1980's (I'm old) and the C-64 section was biggest, followed by Apple II, and then PC, and then "all other". I'd guess now that the shelves for software were about 40-30-20-10%.

PC grew and eventually passed the others, with Amiga and Mac carving out teeny little slots beside their older brothers.
posted by rokusan at 9:38 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

The C64 in the US, the ZX Spectrum in the UK (and Europe). The 8-bit wars were superseded by the 16-bit rivalry of Amiga and Atari ST in the late 80; Amstrad made a cheapish PC clone, but it was still priced outside the comfort zone for most families.

If you look at the first generation of people to have "a computer" in their homes, that computer is likely to have been either a Spectrum or C64.
posted by holgate at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well the very first computer broadened the market from 0 potential customers to 1, an increase of infinity percent. So I'd say the abacus.
posted by nomad at 10:37 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

The mid-ninety's pairing of AOL and a Packard Bell *shudder* 486 or Pentium 75mhz helped bring the Internet into the mainstream.
posted by ijoyner at 2:04 PM on December 12, 2008

TRS-80 was the first computer I had access too in the "gifted" classroom at my elementary school in the 6th grade. I'm not sure I ever knew of a TRS-80 in private hands. A friend had an Apple ][ soon after, my Jr High had an Apple ][ in the library, but it was only available to the honor roll students, and I think it sat unused because pretty much none of them had any interest. I managed to talk my father into an Atari 800 and then spring for more RAM and a floppy a year or so later. Some other kids got C64s. Later my father had an IBM PC, and then a Compaq portable through work, before ending up with an IBM PC-XT, and one of my friends swung a Mac.

Of the people I've known since, it seems that among those of the right age to have been some of the first kids to actually have a personal computer at home, a large number of them had C64s, which isn't surprising given the data troy linked to. By virtue of sales channel and price-point, they really broadened the market, and even after the IBM and then PC clones (and better backwards compatibility) helped really drive market growth, the C64 did healthy volume as a low cost option.
posted by Good Brain at 12:38 AM on December 13, 2008

I agree with the answers here, but I'll put in a qualified vote for the original Compaq. Prior to Compaq, every computer was in it's own computing "universe". Compaq made the first PC clone by reverse engineering the IBM PC, won the lawsuit, and personal computing never turned back- the x86 was born. Manufacturing and software could start focusing on features instead of porting their stuff to 8 different platforms.

Apple was fairly revolutionary in a different way. By making themselves the education brand, they got their brand into the hands of kids, and now (along with their history and committment to cool design) they are reaping the rewards.

I grew up with Texas Instruments computers, and I thought they did a great job of creating a true "family" computer by making it both a real computer (you could do a LOT with their BASIC) and making it a game console. I believe it took the $99 hardware it had and made the absolute most out of it. My family had diverse interests, skills and talents- and we all were able to use it easily. A three year old could figure out how to load a game cartridge and play a game. Not so with the Commodore. Even as a 9 year old, I though it was silly to have to know what command to type to get Winter Games to run.
posted by gjc at 8:10 AM on December 13, 2008

« Older Scrabble on Lexulous?   |   what medical tests to have for prevention? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.