Apple Computer cloned counterparts, bits and pieces, Taiwan and Hong Kong rising.
The success of the Apple II brought many clones to the market. Almost all of them caught Apple off guard, as they had been reverse engineered and manufactured in such an astonishingly short time. The prominent clones, such as Franklin, Unitron, Multitech Micro, and Vtech (Laser) were the machines most Apple II users became familiar with. These were the main stream of the clones and the facade of the efforts that various marketing groups within these companies had created to promote their products. It was these machines that Apple could see, and pursued. However, behind the scenes was a plethora of other Apple clones. Manufactured in small yet modern factories in convoluted industrial parks and laneways. Numbering in their hundreds, it was these determined manufacturers that channelled their products carefully into demanding markets with all of them vying for quality discreet business opportunities.
This was the overnight result of the mature manufacturing capabilities of Hong Kong and Taiwan moving in on an opportunity, who set about cloning and supplying parts and modules to future Apple clone distributors. They were in a position to supply all the resources Apple clone suppliers would ever need at highly cost effective prices. Mainboards, floppy drives, monitors, keyboards, video modulators, cables, joysticks, power supply manuals and the popular, forever expanding Apple II peripheral card line. These companies had comprehensive catalogues of cloned parts and modules to suit every aspect of keeping the Apple II clone suppliers and distributors delivering. Highly competitive prices that even by today's standards are still considered cost effective. The variety and effort they offered were very tempting to investors who could see an opportunity in selling Apple compatible machines to the newly created personal computer market. Apple clone parts manufacturers used various methods of contacting potential investors and suppliers. Sometimes by mail directly, but more commonly by inviting potential business partners who were already in country for other business purposes on tours of their private factories and facilities. Many advertisements for clone resources were worded with the Western businesses in mind. Although they often had spelling errors and used 'creative' grammar, all ensured the right key words were included to get the "Apple compatible" message across.
The interesting thing about the clone market to the soft apple FPGA engineer is the fact that we are in essence doing what the cloners were doing back in 1982, however rather than a factory floor with R&D and assembly lines, it's now a high tech desktop approach based on a programmable logic platform. It's for this reason that the clones are included in our projects. We are able to learn how they went about reverse engineering the Apple all those years ago. We can leverage the information from their manuals and schematics to provide cross checks and comparisons. We can see how far they got with their product offerings and what they achieved, as well as study their examples of how to accomplish a particular task differently.
Although identical clones of Apple II's were the most popular, many new innovative compatible systems were born from this industry. The more capable reverse engineers, rather than copy the Apple identically, designed Apple compatible systems with far greater capability than the original systems they were endeavouring to copy. The CAT400 for example has a comprehensive motherboard with all the fully expanded services of a fully configured Apple II; 128k memory, RGB on board, serial ports and disk controller. Its structure and build have all the complexity and characteristics of the Apple III mainboard, a complex design which Apple themselves struggled to achieve reliably. DDT produced an Apple II motherboard with Plug and Plug style color coded slots 10 years before PnP for the PC had even been thought of. Davison produced an Apple II which had three processors, the 6502, Z80 and a copy of the Titan 6809 card on the main board, which could be optionally populated with the 6809E processor. The Pineapple had 64k onboard. The Laser also came with most peripherals on board. And the CEC was a IIe clone, complete with cloned Apple ASIC's. Even the MOS CPU itself, the 6502, was being produced in house by HKE (Hua Ko Electronics). By 1982, Time Magazine had already published articles, such as "Asian Orchards" and "Pirate Kingdom", regarding the activities of the cloning issues in Asia. Apple had always held the opinion that the cloning industry would not pose a threat, as Apple's leading technology would make these copies obsolete. However as the problem became worse, Apple began to co-ordinate a response.
Although reliability and to a lesser extent compatibility were an issue, most of these novel Apple clones performed just as well as the classic Apple II's did. However many were only able to be sold in small quantities. Others never saw the light of day at all. They had been designed too late in the Apple era. Although the cloners began to feel the pressure from Apple, they didn't really know what was needed to be done to protect themselves from being in Apple's legal focus. Although Franklin and Vtech (after many years) won court cases against the cloning industry for copying Apple's products, almost all Asian cloners failed to or simply did not know how to adopt the same techniques Franklin and Vtech used to protect themselves; which was to go with ASIC's and to simulate Apple firmware, rather than copy it.
Advertisements of the era (circa 1983) reveal signs of potential legal threats stressing the market, with some manufacturers advertising that they had already "won" court cases against Apple, giving the impression that their product was now considered legal. These claims were rarely true, and were only to serve the purpose of making their product offerings more attractive to potential suppliers not wanting to wade into a looming legal battle with Apple. Other techniques to protect their business involved a "red herring" approach. Apple clones would place the names of large American or Japanese companies on the PCB's of their products. This approach was very effective. One example was the "Tektronix" build. The name "Tektronix" was included in the copper on the main PCB of an Apple clone, giving the impression it was made by Tektronix. However, the PCB failed to have other standard Tektronix identifiers, such as manufacture data, PCB plant, Plant Identification, or series numbers. The PCBs were literally void of any text identifiers except component designators. Another example was the clone ASIC manufacturers who would use the prefix of other semiconductor companies on their cloned semiconductor devices, giving the impression they were made by that company. This concept bought these cloners a lot of time. It took months to get responses from Tektronix, longer if it was anything associated with a potential legal matter. And for the semiconductor companies, it was usually organisations like Hitachi, Sanyo or Mitsubishi that the printed prefix would represent, which resulted in exactly the same problem when pursued. It could well be that this approach of "throw Apple off the trail" bought them a lot of time to continue trading, but for a lot of cloning companies and businesses, this wasn't enough to save them.
In 1984 Apple moved to decimate the clone markets in Asia, specifically Hong Kong and Taiwan. Apple initiated comprehensive organised legal strikes in both countries with very effective results. Even the technical advisors to Apple's legal firms, Lee and Li, Taiwan, were in awe at the number of clone manufacturing sites they had discovered and shut down.
By 1985, Apple had successfully engaged both country's government officials to actively stop the Apple cloning outfits, which they did. However, behind the scenes, their local governments held talks with the massive technology manufacturing sectors to attempt to broker a win-win proposition for their now floundering companies. They did this successfully by providing concessions and financial initiatives to any manufacturing site interested in moving their production to the new IBM PC, which IBM had openly expressed little interest in. The IBM PC at that time was almost a hobby project for the large-sized business main frame machine maker, who focused on its primary customers, banks, governments, educational institutes and the military, all of whom were buyers of multimillion dollar super computer products. An American company, Compaq, had already cloned the IBM PC. The IBM name and logo were the only aspect of the XT "personal computer" design concept that was protected. Their PC product in general was given no IP protection support from IBM, which IBM were already considering selling. This was pretty much the green light for the PC cloners to begin, ending a short yet intensive four years of Apple II cloning in Asia, and the beginning of mega PC companies like ACER, who would move from the Microprofessor II and III, being Apple II, and IIe clones respectively, to become one of the worlds largest IBM PC manufacturers. With government support, the PC design was adopted quickly, and would soon go on to become a world de facto standard for computing platforms. The PC market soon took up the slack of the shut down Apple clone industry to eventually become one of Hong Kong and Taiwan's greatest exports, right up to the modern day, which also inadvertently created the very foundations that up and coming Microsoft needed to build one of the world's largest corporations on.
Although Apple gained additional sales by removing a lot of Apple II cloned products from the market, in the long run it may have affected their ability to achieve a de facto standard; though it may be questionable as to what value this would have represented for Apple. When the Macintosh line arrived, Apple lost interest in protecting the Apple II series, and proactively began to cease its existence themselves for the second time in the company's history. Once again, the Apple II market refused to die and after years of persistance, by mid 1994 the last Apple II model, the IIgs, was removed from the Apple price list, with no replacement.
Steve Wozniak's Apple II design has survived over 40 years since its inception, re-captured in thousands of CAD documents in hundreds of different shapes and forms of PCBs, ASICs and now FPGAs. The design has played a major role in three leading country's technology industries, partially responsible for the creation of the PC industry, and is considered one of the most influential product designs in the world of modern technology, manfacturing and personal computing.