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The Apple IIc was a compact version of the Apple II that eschewed internal expansion slots in favor of having the popular expansion options already built in, and saving cost and weight. Apple expected it to sell a hundred thousand units per month, but it actually sold only a hundred thousand per year. Writers then and since, have attributed the lack of sales to the market really wanting expandability.

That's a summary of the historical facts, detailed further on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIc

I'm curious about reasons. Because it seems to me that specialists and enthusiasts, the sort of people likely to be writing about computers, are also likely to care much more about expandability than the average customer; as long as the machine has the options you want, such as eighty columns, the average customer just looking for something that gets the job done, should be happy with that.

If I were considering the purchase of such a machine (admittedly a counterfactual, as teenage me couldn't have afforded a significant fraction of the price of an Apple computer), my reasoning for eschewing the Apple IIc would have been the small screen.

So Apple was of the opinion was that the IIc should sell well, the typical enthusiast writer was of the opinion that it should sell badly because of the lack of internal expansion slots, and I'm of the opinion that it should sell badly because of the small screen. And the historical outcome was that it sold badly, for whatever reason.

Is there any evidence regarding why the IIc sold badly? Customer surveys? First-hand accounts from people who sold computers at the time? Anything better than a guess at the reasons?

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    You could simply use a larger monitor, so I doubt it was that. In my answer about the number of Apple II's I link to The Digital Antiquarian who notes that "There’s some evidence to suggest that consumers, not yet conditioned to expect each new generation of computing technology to be both smaller and more powerful than the previous, took the IIc’s small size to be a sign that it was not as serious or powerful as the IIe." – Nick Westgate Apr 28 at 23:57
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    It's probably just down to unrealistic expectations. Apple only sold around 5 million 8-bit computers all told over the course of the seventeen years that they were on the market. As such, 100,000 a year for one model out of three on the market for most of its lifetime seems about par for the course. A better question might be what possessed Apple to think that the IIc would sell around ten times faster than any other Apple II model was doing at that point in history? – Matthew Barber Apr 29 at 0:07
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    Build on @MatthewBarber's point, I guess first we'd need to establish how well the IIe was doing at the time? How many of those 5m computers were sold before 1984? Famously well enough to keep the company afloat after the original Mac also flopped, but how well compared to expectations? Had Apple simply misjudged the rate at which the non-PC market and/or the 8-bit markets would contract, with the Iic happening to be the machine that coincides with that period? – Tommy Apr 29 at 1:32
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    @Tommy, the somewhat speculative sales data for each machine in each year that I used for my answer linked to above is here in a Google Sheet. – Nick Westgate Apr 29 at 4:54
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    I bought a Laser 128 circa 1985 (or 1986?), I don't ever remember even considering an Apple //c; the Laser was just too good a deal at the time. I can only guess that at some level the Laser had to cut into Apple //c sales. - Even today, I have both in my collection and I prefer the Laser 128 (but hey, that might just be nostalgia talking). – Geo... Apr 29 at 11:41
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In no particular order, some of the issues included:

  • Market Timing: The IIc was introduced near the end of the 8-bit era, after the iconic introduction of the Macintosh.
  • Competition: The IIc competed with the Apple IIe, the Apple IIGS, and the Macintosh LC with Apple IIe card.
  • Price: The IIc was $1,295 while the IIe was $995. Clones like the visually similar Laser 128 were even cheaper ($395).
  • Hardware Compatibility: Early models of the IIc would not work with certain 3rd party 1200 baud modems, and Apple did not fix all affected motherboards. "Apple would swap affected motherboards for users who could prove they had an incompatible serial device."
  • Hardware Compatibility: The IIe, IIc, and IIc Plus each had different, mutually incompatible memory expansions.
  • Software Compatibility: With no ability to fit the Z-80 SoftCard, the IIc could not run CP/M and WordStar. "People wanted their expansion slots."

Also, I never saw a IIc in a school, maybe because its portability made it too easy for a student to walk off with one.

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Someone sent me a link to this review of the two Apple II models at the time, which seems to answer the question:

https://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue50/227_1_Evolutionary_To_The_Core_The_Apple_IIc_Heads_For_Home.php

Concurrent with the announcement of the new computer, Apple cut the price of a IIe almost in half, down to $995.

I had been wondering why customers wouldn't be willing to forgo expansion slots for a lower price. But when the machine that does have the expansion slots is three hundred dollars cheaper? Mystery solved! The only remaining mystery is why Apple would expect a different result.

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    Don't forget the //c came with a built-in floppy controller/drive, which nullifies the price disparity with the //e. Also, prices of the //c fell pretty quickly due to all the competition. The //c Plus debuted for ~$600. – Brian H Apr 29 at 18:29
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    And a built-in mouse card and 2 serial cards. I wonder if a parallel card would have made a difference considering many cheap printers needed that. – Nick Westgate Apr 29 at 22:15

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