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Apple created the first widely successful personal computer with the Apple II, which sparked a lineage of great Macs and PCs. But on this day in 1986, the company released its final iteration, called the Apple IIGS. It was the family's most powerful computer and had already been on the market for six years, so why did Apple abandon its claim to fame at a time when it arguably had the most potential? It had to do with Apple's direction not only in the personal computing space but as a technology company as a whole.

Apple has never shied away from introducing new products that might threaten its current market success. When Apple unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, the market for iPods was at an all-time high. Nobody was really looking for smartphones with that kind of functionality, but Apple had a vision for what the best iPhone could be. Even though the original iPhone was mocked and ridiculed at launch, Apple confidently risked the success of iPods to bet on its smartphone. This same strategy can be seen with the Apple II lineup, which was ditched in favor of a competing product line.

Apple II: The world's first mass-production PC

Apple II computer with floppy drives and a monitor.
Source: Rama & Musée Bolo via Wikimedia Commons

When the first Apple II was released in 1977, most computing goliaths were focused on the business and enterprise markets. Neither corporations nor individual consumers were convinced that people needed computers in their homes, but the success of Apple's first consumer-oriented PC, along with the Commodore PET and the TRS-80, changed the market forever. It also cemented Apple as a formidable technology company, with sales growing to $118 million by 1990.

Three more iterations of the Apple II line would come before the Apple IIGS was released on Sept. 15, 1986. It was the Apple II series' first 16-bit computer, replacing the 8-bit systems of old. It had a processor clocked at 2.8 MHz and could be configured with either 256KB or 1MB of memory, but it could also be upgraded to up to 8MB by the end user. Apple had high ambitions when designing the Apple IIGS, but those resulted in a canceled Apple IIx project and the ill-fated Apple III in 1980. Although those projects were unsuccessful, the research and development conducted for those systems helped create the Apple IIGS.

Why did Apple move on from Apple II?

Apple never really gave the Apple IIGS a chance to succeed because it was focused on the Macintosh, which debuted in 1984. Though the first 65C816 processor found in the Apple IIGS could be clocked as high as 4MHz, Apple chose not to max out the microprocessor so as not to hurt Macintosh sales. Since the original Macintosh 128K had a Motorola 6800 chip that could hit 7.8336 MHz clock speeds, people who wanted the most performance had to choose the Macintosh over the Apple IIGS. Notably, the Macintosh shipped with just 128KB of memory, which was considerably less than the Apple IIGS.

So, while the Apple IIGS's release in 1986 sparked an impressive six-year run for the final Apple II machine, it was doomed to fail from the start. Apple had a preference for all-in-ones and wanted the Macintosh to become its most successful computer. Despite some initial struggles through Apple's low points, it did achieve that feat later on with the Macintosh lineup.