Back in the early 1980s, home video game consoles and home computers were competing for consumer dollars. Home computers, Commodore's in particular were advertising that they could do so many more things than just play games, which they could do very well. Dad could do the home finances, mom could keep her recipes, and the kids can learn with educational programs and write out their reports on a word processing program. Thus the consumer saw home computers on retail shelves. The most consumer friendly in terms of features and price included at first the Atari 400 and (barely) 800, the Commodore VIC-20 and 64, the TI 99/4A and the Tandy Color Computer. Apple's expensive computers were mainstays of the hobbyists, educators and some small businesses, while IBM's even more expensive computers were almost exclusively purchased by business users and software development companies.
Even home consoles began getting into the act. The Odyssey2 had a full set of keyboard keys. The keyboard was a membrane keyboard and utterly useless for serious work. The Intellivision and Colecovision and 5200 had numberpads. Mattel developed two keyboard peripherals but failed to market them properly. Mattel also released the underpowered Aquarius computer, which had little success. The 2600 gave some lip service to programming by releasing a pair of programming controllers and a BASIC carrtridge. The results were unimpressive due to the severe limitations of the 2600 hardware. Coleco also released the Adam computer, which was a Colecovision upgraded with a keyboard and cassette drives. It was not a success.
Unfortunately, the idea never of the all-in-one computing device quite meshed with the reality. All of these systems were designed to display on home TVs. None had an 80-column text mode, making it difficult for people to do serious word processing. All IBM PCs had 80 column text and Apple's machines either had it built-in or was upgradeable. The keyboards on many of these machines were far from typewriter quality, and none had a built-in numberpad.
Once the novelty of typing a book report wore off, little Johnny probably went back to handwriting them. It must have been no joy to have to type a report on these mushy keyboards connected, via an RF switch, to a fuzzy TV. As this took time, his work would probably have been relegated to the small secondary TV if the family had one. Back in the early 80s, having two color TVs in an average American family was something of a luxury, so he would have to do his work on the smaller B&W TV. Often this would occur on the kitchen table or on a small desk not designed for a computer. Printing the thing in quality sufficiently legible for the teacher would often be a slow, noisy and frustrating effort with the dot matrix printers of the day. If he got a disk read error or the power went out, his draft report would be gone in an instant! Did I mention the slow speeds of the disk drives and tape drives available for the 8-bit machines?
Business software of any quality was slow to be released on these machines. VisiCalc and WordStar were seldom seen. RAM expansions beyond 48 or 64K was unsupported due to the lack of a standardized method IBM's PCs could expand themselves naturally to 640KB, and once Lotus 1-2-3 became popular this became very important. The Apple IIe could officially expand itself to 128K and unofficially (but simply) could enjoy much more RAM.
One great advantage that many of these computers had over IBM and Apple were in their graphics and sound capabilities. Apple's graphics were born of the 70s and IBM's CGA didn't impress anyone. The Atari machines could produce 256 colors, and Commodore and Texas Instruments computers produced sixteen solid and distinct colors. For arcade-like games, these machines also supported hardware sprites. With these 8-bit CPUs, having hardware sprites really improved performance in games with moving objects on the screen compared with the more business oriented computers.
Another advantage was that these machines had sound chips built in. The sounds of the arcades, including background noise, sound effects and short themes could be reproduced much better than the internal speaker of the IBM and Apple machines. Lengthy music in computer games only became widespread in the late 80s, but music teaching and composing programs like Music Construction Set and Bank Street Music Writer were very popular.
Finally, these machines usually shared some peripheral compatibility. The joysticks of the Atari 2600 worked in all Atari machines and in Commodore's VIC-20 and 64 and the TI 99/4A. Except for the CoCo, which used analog joysticks, joysticks were a well-supported and easy to program for interface. IBM and Apple did not release standard joysticks for most of their systems, and they were analog when most games released at that time preferred digital controls.
Even if the promise of the computer as a the universal appliance remained elusive, the more affordable computers were great for playing games. Companies like Activision survived the home video game crash by turning their development efforts from video game consoles to computer systems. Electronic Arts fully embraced the Atari 8-bit machines and later the Commodore 64 and were very successful. Most companies had ports for most of their games for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, IBM PC, and later the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and the Apple Macintosh. In the United States, however, by the late 1980s all the game developers knew that the IBM would be the future and devoted their development efforts firmly or solely on that platform.