Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Apple Macintosh LC (1990)

Introduced October 1990

The Macintosh LC helps to demonstrate the tricky situation that Apple found itself in at the beginning of the 1990s. On one hand, sales of the Macintosh were doing well with a continually evolving product line including the powerful colour Macintosh II range. On the other hand, a large slice of the their sales were still to educational markets who very much favoured the ancient Apple II platform, development of which had continued into the late 1980s with Apple IIc Plus, IIe Platinum and even a 16-bit version called the Apple IIGS.

Not unreasonably, Apple wanted to move this market on from warmed-over products of the late 1970s. Schools in particular demanded colour, but the Macintosh II platform was very expensive and the cheaper Macintosh Classic platform was monochrome-only. The challenge was to create a colour Mac that didn’t cost the earth, and the LC was created in response to that challenge.


Apple Macintosh LC
Apple Macintosh LC

Although half the price of the contemporary Macintosh IIx, the LC was crippled in performance terms by the out-of-date Motorola 68020 processor, 16-bit internal bus and a maximum of 10Mb of RAM. Graphics capabilities were more limited than the Macintosh II, leading to some compatibility problems, and internal expansion was more limited.

Still it was a Mac, and if you wanted a colour Mac but didn’t have the substantial amount of cash needed for a Mac II then the LC was the way to go. And it turned out that a lot of people wanted a colour Mac very badly, and they were prepared to put up with the performance hit that the LC came with. So despite everything, the LC was a sales success.

Although it was cheap compared to the more than $7000 demanded for the IIx, the base unit of the LC by itself had a list price of $2400, more than four times the price of an Apple II. Still, it was around the same price and same market segment that 80386SX PCs were selling into. Schools stubbornly stuck with the Apple II though, which soldiered on until 1993. After that point you would need an Apple IIe card in your Mac LC series to run Apple II programs (which was another $250).

It was always going to be a tricky transition – the LC certainly took sales away from the Mac II and it wasn’t the budget computer that could replace the Apple II. Performance was an issue, mostly because the LC could easily have been made faster for a little more money.

But perhaps the biggest problem was fragmentation… by the end of 1990 there were four different models of Macintosh II on sale, plus the Mac Classic, SE/30, the esoteric Portable and the LC. In a few year time, Apple would have 20 or more competing products which confused both consumers and showed a lack of direction within the company that nearly led to its bankruptcy in the late 90s.

The LC itself didn’t last long, replaced by the similar 68030-based LC II in 1992 and finally getting the performance it needed with the LC III in 1993. Surprisingly, prices for an original LC in decent condition can easily be a few hundred pounds whereas an equivalent model 386SX PC of the same era is basically landfill. Old Apple devices are quite collectable, but really you want to find an Apple I in a cupboard rather than a humble Mac LC…

Image credit:
Jay Tong via Flickr - CC BY-ND 2.0



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