Was the TRS‑80 once the top-selling computer?

written by Matthew Reed

It is often stated that the Apple II dominated the computer market from its introduction in 1977 and that the TRS‑80 and other competitors remained only minor players. Although often repeated, the numbers don’t bear out this assertion. Apple sold around six million Apple II’s between 1977 and 1993, but sales started slowly and built up over time.

Concrete figures for computer sales from that period are hard to come by, but Jeremy Reimer researched and compiled totals for his article about the subject: Personal Computer Market Share: 1975-2010. I prepared this graph representing his totals for 1977 to 1980:

Computer sales in units

Those totals clearly show the TRS‑80 ahead of the Apple II and the Atari 400/800. By most measures, not until 1982 or 1983 did Apple overtake the TRS‑80 in units sold.

Starting in 1981, Apple II sales increased dramatically, helping to build what became their massive user base. In fact, Apple sold over 100,000 Apple IIe’s in December 1983 alone.

But unit sales tell only part of the story. This graph shows the same totals from 1977 to 1980, but represented as a percentage of total computer sales:

Computer sales as a percentage of total

As an interesting side note, the TRS‑80 had close to a 70% market share in 1977 (the year it was introduced). It took until 1988 for the IBM PC to exceed that percentage.

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