Apple False Advertising History

My first computer was an Apple //c. I have been an off again/on again fanboy of Apple several times through my life. They are my go-to mobile device manufacturer right now. In the past couple decades though I learned to take their advertising claims with great skeptecism though. I’m reading through this 1978 Byte Magazine special Pascal issue . One of the things I love doing while reading this old magazines is look at the ads. When I ran across this ad from Apple Is was admittedly taken aback by how brazen their claims as market leader were. It seems that exaggerating beyond the usual marketing schtick and outright lying goes back to Apple’s earliest days.

Top of the 1978 Apple Ad with the headline reading: Why Apple II is the world's best selling personal computer.

Let’s start right off the bat with the headline. This was the thing that I found most egregious.

Full first page of the Apple II ad

There is a lot of modern mythology around Apple. That mythology is that they created the personal computer market. You can see some of the mythology in the making here as well. Byte magazine in 1977 called it the first “appliance computer” even though at CES Commodore had already shown off the PET which was an all-in-one computer (monitor included) and the TRS-80 Model I was milling around. Even these were preceded by the Sol-20 Computer that was released in 1976. Action Retro did a great video on this computer . It is certainly true that Apple was at the leading edge of the personal computer market. The idea that they were the first ones there or even drove the market with others trailing though is complete fiction.

Ars Technica highlighted in this article about the history of computer market share both this ad and the fallacious numbers claim as well. You can see a graph of the sales figures from the article below:

Ars Technica's Graph of 1970s computer market share showing it dominated by Commodore, Tandy, and others.

As one can see, and this data was available albeit harder to come by back then, Apple wasn’t moving anywhere near as many units as Tandy or Commodore ever did. So the top level claim is bunk. But they take it one step further in the smaller print:

Apple ad intro text that says they sold more personal computers than everyone else combined.

As was pointed out in the Ars Technica article, this was at a time when Apple only sold 600 computers in 1977. Further down in the ad they use some other weird language to imply capabilities beyond what they had such as calling it a “mainframe computer”. This was when these were called “microcomputers” to distinguish it from the much larger “minicomputers” which were smaller versions of “mainframe computers”. I’m not sure why they would use that language except perhaps that they were targeting a broader consumer market that they thought would be impressed with such a claim. They also boasted the ability to have 3D graphics and exaggerated the sound capabilities as well.

What is interesting is that compared to the PET and TRS-80 Model I it did have some truly impressive capabilities. Neither of those computers shipped with color while the Apple II did. Neither of those shipped with the ability to put anywhere near as much memory on the motherboard. The TRS-80 had some expansion capability through slots but Apple’s was better at the time. That was what Apple was using to justify its substantially higher price point. Some of these things were highlighted in the ad as well.

Apple was at the leading edge of the personal computer market. The mythology that has built up around it, perhaps because they were the only ones to survive through the 1990s, is beyond parody at this point. The amount of mythology building they were doing at the time in their ads though, by evidence of this one from 1978, is probably a factor as well.