Watch a TV news report on the wacky Apple II knockoffs of the 1980s

Back in the 1980s, a lot of people wanted to own an Apple II, the first blockbuster product from the company cofounded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. But certain electronics manufacturers based in Taiwan hoped that some folks would be willing to settle for a Pineapple. Or an Orange or a Banana.

In early 1985, The New Tech Times, a public TV show about consumer electronics, turned its attention to the scourge of imitation Apple IIs, which stole Apple’s ROM software and then built a cheap computer around it. Here’s the segment—introduced by New Tech Times host Mort Grim and with Hall and Oates’ Yacht Rock anthem “Private Eyes” on the soundtrack:

Some of the rouge machines came in cheesy knockoffs of industrial designer Jerry Manock’s iconic Apple II case; others apparently stuffed ripoffs of Apple’s innards into whatever case the pirates had handy. The bad guys also helped themselves to Apple’s documentation, making crude edits where necessary. (I love the bit in the report showing the manual for the Golden II, whose pirated manual claimed the Golden had been invented by Steve Wozniak himself.)

You’ve got to assume that at least some U.S. purchasers were aware they were buying a computer of questionable origin. They presumably paid well under the asking price for a real Apple IIe, which cost around $1,500 at the time with two floppy disk drives and a green-screen display.

Even if purchasers knew the computers weren’t from Apple, that wouldn’t have made the situation any more tolerable for the company. As the segment reports, it worked closely with the feds to try and shut down the distribution channels that let the fakes into the U.S. It even wrote an app used by investigators to determine what percentage of an illicit machine’s ROM had been cloned from the Apple II.

Grim ends his report by recommending that viewers avoid buying any computer from Taiwan, on the grounds that there are no legitimate PC brands from the country. That seems a bit sweeping. And the show ignores the fact that the U.S.’s highest-profile Apple II clone was marketed by an American company, Franklin, which battled Apple in the courts for years before finally being vanquished in 1988.

The stance that there was no such thing as a legitimate Taiwanese PC brand didn’t age well. The Microprofessor computer shown in the New Tech Times report was produced by a company named Multitech. A couple of years after the show aired, Multitech changed its name to Acer, and went on to become a giant of the industry. In 2020, it was the 6th largest computer manufacturer in the world, wedged between Apple and another Taiwanese brand, Asus.

Apple, meanwhile, continues to fight those who would plagiarize its products. (Some of that activity still involves Taiwanese pirates.) Just as Mort Grim advised against the imitation Apples of his day, I would not recommend buying a fake iPhone 12 Pro Max running a version of Android masquerading as iOS. They do, however, make for great YouTube fodder.

Source: Watch a TV news report on the wacky Apple II knockoffs of the 1980s

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