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According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIGS the Apple IIGS, in its year of introduction, outsold the Macintosh, without being substantially cheaper than it. This is somewhat counterintuitive: one usually expects that at close to the same price, customers will tend to prefer the newer machine.

Why was the Apple IIGS so popular? Was it because of compatibility with the large portfolio of Apple II software, or some other reason?

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    You actually trust Wikipaedia? – Chenmunka Nov 16 '17 at 10:44
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    @Chenmunka Heh :) Seriously, on topics that are not heavily politicized, I think it's accurate enough to trust by default, i.e. unless I have evidence to the contrary. – rwallace Nov 16 '17 at 11:05
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    @rwallace Not so sure if it's only politics to distrust. Especially Homecomputer entries are full of myths and asumptions. I usually try to find a second, independant source, when looking up something on Wiki. That's ofc, only it it doesn't cheerful supports my bias :) – Raffzahn Nov 16 '17 at 11:13
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    I must admit that on other sites, if I see a question that starts "According to Wikipedia..." and has no other supporting evidence, I immediately vote to close on the grounds of doing insufficient research. – Chenmunka Nov 16 '17 at 11:52
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    @Raffzahn: I always read to the end. Most questions that start that way go on to be perfectly sensible. Even this one asks a valid question about relative popularity, the Wikipedia bit is just a trigger. – Chenmunka Nov 16 '17 at 13:39
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  • For one, the II GS was the newer machine - providing a colour desktop and ADB before any Mac.
  • From a user perspective GS/OS offered everything the Mac did. Plus compatibility with an uncountable amount of existing Apple II software.
  • It was the long awaited upgrade for anyone (still) working with an Apple II - and there where many back then, while the Mac was even more a niche product than today.
  • And last but for sure not least, the Apple II was still the number 1 school computer in the US, so it not only carried over the still strong sales from the IIe, but created new.

Over most of the 80s, the whole Mac division was financed by the Apple II profits.

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    So the II GS really was popular because of the rest of the Apple II line. That makes perfect sense and is expected. The Mac was new; it must have not had a following or large software base at the time of launch of course. – Wilson Nov 16 '17 at 14:37
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    There is a really good episode of computer chronicles that explains this. I just don't remember what episode. It's nice because computer chronicles was produced when the apple ii was still popular – LateralTerminal Nov 16 '17 at 15:03
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    As an Apple IIGS owner I endorse this answer. – Arluin Nov 16 '17 at 17:03
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    I also think Apple Corps sued Apple Computer over the IIGS and its Ensoniq because sonically it was a huge leapfrog over anything Apple had put out before. So the IIGS was technologically advanced over the Mac beyond just the colour desktop. Alas, that the CPU wasn't such a dead end. – Tommy Nov 16 '17 at 20:14
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    +one million for mentioning that it was in color – Quasi_Stomach Nov 16 '17 at 20:31
8

Your question conflates two questions into one:

  1. Did the IIgs sell more than the Mac in 1986?
  2. If so, why did the IIgs sell more than the Mac?

Others have given valid reasons for (2), but there is evidence that the answer to (1) is "No".

For instance this source says the Mac sold a million units by 1987, which is about what the IIgs sold over its whole lifetime - according to a former manager of the Apple II division quoted by Brutal Deluxe in their project to collect IIgs serial numbers and estimate sales data.

The Mac number roughly matches Jeremy Reimer's sales data which he used to write this article, and which I used when answering "Over its lifetime, how many Apple II computers were sold?"

Scaling Brutal Deluxe's estimated sales data by the 1 million IIgs limit gives about 122,000 units in 1986-1987 (peaking at 305,000 in 1988) vs the Mac's 380,000 in 1986 alone (900,000 in 1988).

It was the Apple //e that funded development of the Mac - until around 1988 when Macs finally started to sell more than the whole Apple II line. The full data for Apple II's and Macs from my other answer is in this Google Docs Sheet, with various notes about assumptions etc.

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    There's no contradiction there, though, just a "maybe". The numbers from that article indicate that half a million Macs were sold in the 18 months between September '85 and March '87, so the number that were sold in a 12-month period is some unknown figure lower than that, perhaps 350k. The IIgs sold a million over about 6 years. Were more or less than a third of that million in the first year? Remains to be seen. – hobbs Nov 16 '17 at 23:42
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    The Reimer data indicate 700k sales in the "Apple II" category in 1986 and 500k in 1987 (more than Mac over the two years together). Extrapolate to 550k Apple IIs from Sep '86 - Sep '87. Were 350k of those 550k IIgses? Possible, remains to be seen. – hobbs Nov 16 '17 at 23:47
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    I've added the explicit estimate for 1986, which is 7000 units. See my data (and other answer) for details and assumptions etc. – Nick Westgate Nov 17 '17 at 0:27
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    I'm taking "during its first year in production" to mean Sep '86 - Sep '87, since the idea that there were more IIgses sold from Sep '86 until the end of the year than Macs sold in all of '86 is too silly to debate. – hobbs Nov 17 '17 at 1:20
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    It doesn't matter. According do the data available (which admittedly is poor, but it's all we have) more Macs were sold in 1986 than IIgs's in 1986-1987, and it only gets worse from there. – Nick Westgate Nov 17 '17 at 1:58
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There was a big "Apple II Forever" push encouraging users to upgrade. Also schools likely bought IIgses in bulk for their computer labs, driving up the sales figures.

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    I know I saw //gs's in school long before I saw Macs – Quasi_Stomach Nov 16 '17 at 20:46
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There are 3 main reasons:

  • there was way more software, especially games, for the Apple II than for Mac at the time; also those games were often in color

  • it was a color computer

  • it was easy to program; both schools and power users loved the easy access to the Applesoft Basic interpreter on the computer; the Mac required specialized toolkits to program and a much higher skill level

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    There were several programming languages available for the Mac before 1986, including Microsoft Basic, which required no more skill than Applesoft Basic (developed by the same company). – hotpaw2 Nov 18 '17 at 19:08
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The Apple IIgs was introduced in September 1986. The base machine list price was $999. At that time, a Mac Plus listed for $2600 and was a "closed" architecture. The first color Mac came out in March of 1987 and was the Mac II. The list price just for the Mac II itself was $3898 not including any peripherals (for example, it lacked any built-in internal video). The IIgs actually could be purchased by itself and used with MANY existing older peripherals making it a lot more cost effective (one did not need to add a video card or a floppy controller as they were built in). Not only that, the Apple IIgs had an emulation mode that allowed it to work with 90% of existing Apple II software dating back to the Apple II's inception in 1977. Combine these factors and you have a winner at that time. It took until October 1990 for Apple to release a "low cost" color Mac.

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The 8bit guy did a YouTube video about Steve Job's biggest mistakes. It was a very well done video about comparing the Macintosh vs the AppleIIGS ... and the summary was that in almost every respect the AppleIIGS was a superior machine (in terms of both performance and cost). And that the Macintosh was Steve Jobs attempt to gain more footing at Apple.

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    Welcome to Retrocomputing Stack Exchange. Please read the tour. Thanks for providing a summary of the video - we expect answers to be fully self-contained here. If you could elaborate on specifically which "respects" the Apple IIGS was superior, and the reason for the "almost" - what could the Macintosh do that the Apple IIGS not? – wizzwizz4 Nov 17 '17 at 17:23

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