The Apple II and Apple II+ were the computers that initiated the Apple II line. Debuting at the West Coast Computer Faire in 1978, the Apple II had a hard plastic case (unheard of at the time), built-in keyboard, disk drive and color graphics. Both the Apple II and II+ possessed the MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor, ability to do hi-res and lo-res color graphics, sound, joystick input, built-in speaker and cassette tape I/O. The clock speed was a screaming 1.023 MHz and the Apple II+ had expandable RAM up to 64k. Not only was the computer fully self-contained, but it could also be expanded to accommodate a modem, printer and additional disk drives. The Apple II stole the show and marked the beginning of the home computer revolution.
Apple was aggressive about getting their computers into the classroom. The thinking was if they could get kids using them at an early age, they could build brand loyalty and have customers for life. In an early business deal, Apple allowed school equipment supplier Bell and Howell to distribute Apple II's into classrooms sporting the Bell and Howell logo. These models are unique for their all black casing as well as having their lids screwed on to keep the students' hands out of the computers' innards.
Educational software was quickly infused into the curriculum. Typing tutors, math programs and learning games such as Oregon Trail were top sellers, and educators were quick to embrace the new technology. Armed with grants from the government and local sponsoring companies, it was not uncommon to see "Computer Labs" being built at various schools. As of 2002, there is an Apple II Computer Lab still in full use at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California.
But with junior able to use a computer at school for free, what incentive did the Joe Average have to buy one for the home? Many people could not justify spending over a thousand dollars to play games or file recipes. Besides, they could play Pac-Man on their Atari 2600's for less than $200. What was missing was the "Killer Application" - the one piece of software that would make people believe they couldn't live without it. That software was "VisiCalc".
Actually, for VisiCalc to make it to the home front, it had to make a detour through big business. VisiCalc was an electronic spreadsheet, now similar to Microsoft Excel, only much more primitive. At first the consumer saw no need for such a product. They just didn't see the potential. However, when businessmen and accountants saw the hours that could be saved using this product, they knew they had to have it. Once the benefits were seen at work, it naturally trickled down into the home. Balancing checkbooks became routine, as was performing more complex accounting procedures. "What if" scenarios could now be analyzed at the press of a button. "What if my stock went up 12% in ten years?" "What if I transferred these funds to this money market? How much would I have?" It has been said that VisiCalc sold the Apple II.
What also made the Apple II unique was that the programming language, Integer Basic, was burned into the Apple II ROM. Now anyone could produce programs in the comfort of their own home and do so without special training; all it took was a bit of studying, some trial and error, and a desire to create. Consequently, the creative floodgates were opened. Corporate, as well as independent, software companies flourished and released high quality games to a much appreciative game hungry public.
Over the years, improvements were made upon the Apple II's design. Introduced in 1983, the Apple IIe took a significant technological leap and became Apple's best selling computer. By using an 80-column card and up to 128k of RAM, it allowed on screen letters to be displayed in both upper and lower case. In 1985, the Apple IIe Enhanced was introduced, which allowed the IIe to be upgraded to the Apple IIc or Apple IIgs. These features, combined with the fact it was backward compatible with all previous Apple software, allowed it to become a favorite in businesses, schools and at home. The Apple IIe gracefully took a bow from the production line in 1993, lasting longer than any other Apple model.
The Apple II has a most impressive library of games. The early '80s were truly the golden age of game design, since companies and individuals exercised their freedom to innovate new and exciting products. The home computer allowed for greater depth in gameplay than videogame consoles could deliver at the time. Games such as Lode Runner, Apple Cider Spider, Drol, Spare Change, and the Zork series prove that gameplay and originality ruled. Yet while many of the games were arcade clones, "unofficial" versions would often rival their licensed console counterparts. Taxman demonstrated that a quality Pac-Man game could be ported for the home, while Repton provided a fairly faithful rendition of Defender. Other "must play" games include: Castle Wolfenstein, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, Drol, Sammy Lightfoot, the Wizardry series, Swashbuckler and Pinball Construction Set. ~ Chris Cavanaugh, All Game Guide