Today in Apple history: Apple IIe becomes a high-profit hit

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Apple IIe
The Apple IIe became a top-selling computer for Cupertino.
Photo: Bilby/Wikipedia CC

January 1: Today in Apple history January 1, 1983: Apple launches the Apple IIe, the third model in the Apple II series — and the last before the Macintosh will arrive a year later.

It proved a big seller for Apple, and proof positive of the Apple II brand’s sustained value.

Apple IIe: The update that was never planned

The Apple IIe took over from the Apple II Plus. Originally, Apple planned to abandon the Apple II with that model and replace the product line with the Apple III. However, the continued popularity of the Apple II, and the market failure of the Apple III — largely thanks to its high price and some glaring engineering faults — pushed Apple to upgrade its proven hit product for another go-around. (In the end, Apple continued producing some version of the Apple II until the early 1990s.)

The Apple IIe added as standard some of the functionality that Apple II enthusiasts already enjoyed, thanks to the impressive number of expansion slots the Apple IIe offered. This included 80-column text-mode support, 64KB of RAM (expandable up to 128KB) and, for the first time, lower-case letters!

It also dropped the chip count on the motherboard from more than 100 to just 31. That let Apple squeeze out more profit from each machine sold — approximately three times more than the computer cost to manufacture.

A critical and commercial success

The Apple IIe was well-received upon its release. Byte magazine described it as “like having an Apple II with all the extras built in … with a variety of exciting new features and capabilities” for little extra cost.

The computer showed strong sales in the marketplace, moving 60,000 to 70,000 units per month by May 1983. This was about twice the average sales of its predecessor, the Apple II Plus. The Apple IIe continued as the best-selling Apple II model even after Cupertino released its successor, the Apple IIc, in 1984.

At a time when Apple’s other computers, the Lisa (released the same month) and the Apple III, failed to catch on, and the Macintosh wasn’t yet a big seller, the Apple IIe stacked up as an undisputed winner for Apple.

Do you remember the Apple IIe? Did you own one? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Fred Condo

    I got my Apple //e in 1983 and still have it—although it’s not been powered on since the 1990s.