[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple IIc Flat Panel Display

September 6th, 2010 by Benj Edwards

Apple IIc on the Cover of Popular Computing - June 1984Apple IIc and the Apple Flat Panel Display

I’ve always loved this cover shot. It bursts with vivid, colorful photography of a particularly beautiful Apple IIc.

“Particularly,” I said, because this Apple IIc is not in its usual configuration. It sports a rare and wondrous peripheral known as the Apple Flat Panel Display, an LCD monitor which initially sold for $595 (that’s about $1,205 in 2010 dollars) in 1985.

Despite being Apple’s first LCD display, the device sold poorly. Here’s why: For one thing, it was way too expensive for what you got. And what you got wasn’t that great. Sure, it displayed 80 columns by 24 lines and even high resolution graphics, but in a bizarrely squat screen ratio. In a 1985 review of the monitor, Infoworld wrote, “…characters displayed on the Flat Panel Display have the same oddly stretched appearance of writing on a fat man’s T-shirt.”

The same review notes how difficult it was to read the non-backlit display under any lighting conditions — bright light, dim light, direct light, etc. The combination of intense glare and low contrast made the monitor uncomfortable to use. Mix those elements together, and you have yourself a recipe for a genuine ahead-of-its-time Apple flop: innovative, but not quite ready for prime time yet. Sound familiar?

Still, I’d love to get my hands on an Apple Flat Panel Display and report my experiences directly to you. If anyone out there has one that they’d like to get rid of, please let me know.

[ From Popular Computing, June 1984, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you first use a computer with an LCD screen? When (if ever) did you switch to using LCD screens on your desktop PCs?

13 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple IIc Flat Panel Display”

  1. Eagles409 Says:

    In about 1997 I was working at a computer company and the NEC rep came in to show off the new LCD monitors. They had a pretty nice 13″ model that was normally $1200, but employees could purchase it for $800. At the time it was a great deal, but it was still too much for me back then. I don’t think I got an LCD until 2004 and other than using floor models, I didn’t have one at work either.

  2. Geoff V. Says:

    First use of an LCD screen on a legit computer was 1990-ish on an Air Force base in North Dakota. I made the switch to LCD on my personal desktop in 2001 for LAN parties. I think the monitor cost about as much as the rig.

  3. Geoff V. Says:

    Sorry to double post, but I saw the “adults-only computer camp” in your scan. Not that I really want to know, but what makes it adults-only?

  4. Benj Edwards Says:

    Sex and sex and sex and sex, of course, Geoff.

    But seriously, that headline caught my eye too when I first got the magazine. It’s about computer training camps geared for adults. “Computer camps” at the time were commonly focused on kids and promised to familiarize them with home computers, so it was exceptional to have a camp or two exclusively held for adults that didn’t let kids in. I doubt anyone spent the night anywhere, but then again…

  5. Donn Says:

    The old Palm Professional, if that counts as a computer; that would have been the mid to late nineties. Otherwise, I got one of those Netpliance i-openers which I hacked to run Win98 (still have it).

  6. PS3D Says:

    I think it was probably my aunt’s PowerBook where I saw an LCD screen. It was cool because it had different colors from different angles!

  7. PS3D Says:

    Also, when Googling “Popular Computing”, PC World came up as number one. Did Popular Computing shift name and focus later on?

  8. Xyzzy Says:

    It’s odd, but Apple’s squashed display looks a lot like at least some other LCD-type computer & laptop screens of its time, like the one seen here:
    So, maybe the design was because of a hardware limitation?

    The first LCD I used was on a mid-1990s Brother word processor that looked just like a laptop; it wasn’t backlit or in color, but did a decent job of showing text. (A much better job than the first laptop LCD I used, a Toshiba CDS model that wasn’t properly backlit, was useless in sunlight, etc.) I got my first external LCD in 2007 as a Christmas gift.

  9. Moondog Says:

    My first lcd experience was with a work-issued laptop, a Zenith Data Systems 286 in late 1990. It was the monochrome “super twist” panel, and the text was a shade of blue on a grayish background. It was ok under flourescent lights, but better under natural lighting in the home. I never used it outside in direct sunlight, but because it was a monichrome display, their was enough contrast between the text and the background.

    On a desktop pc, it would’ve been around year 2000.

  10. David Moisan Says:

    I never really used an LCD display until we got a Toshiba 4000 at work around 2000 or so. The displays of the day were terrible to my poor eyesight; even today there are some much beloved machines with LCD’s I can’t use anymore (HP48. )

    LCD’s didn’t get usable for me until 2003 or so when I got my Palm Tungsten E. The Model 100 had a nice screen if I could have afforded it at that time.

  11. Cody Says:

    I didn’t switch to LCDs until late in the 2000s! I think right up to 2003 I was using a behemoth (at the time, but now only 17″ or something) Mitsubishi Trinitron. My next step up was a 27″ ViewSonic, which I recently replaced with a 40″ Sony.

  12. Peter Says:

    I think I might be the oldest person (now 21) to have used LCDs all their life! My first one was on a Macintosh Portable, at age 1. Photographic evidence: http://goo.gl/UF70W. At school we used to use the Apple IIc too, along with learning LogoWriter on the Macintosh Plus. When I was in secondary school, they scrapped them, so I bought up the collection. Though I don’t have the Flat Panel Display, it still seems this is a historically significant machine!

    Incidentally, I’ve also never known life without the World Wide Web. Seriously, my dad works at CERN, and has been dialling in for as long as I remember. Personally, I remember using an LC III to connect when I was 5, but didn’t really grasp the significance at the time.

    I’m wondering about whether to write a blog about life from the perspective of a digital native, and maybe even try getting myself invited to give talks. Worthwhile, do you think?

  13. alysdexia Says:

    Early 90s fumbling with the word processors and digital organizers in Sears, another student’s Game Boy, then my Franklin Crosswords Puzzle Solver CW-50.

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