There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples. Different cultivars are available for temperate and subtropical climates. One large collection of over 2100  apple cultivars is housed at the National Fruit Collection in England. Most of these cultivars are bred for eating fresh (dessert apples), though some are cultivated specifically for cooking (cooking apples) or producing cider. Cider apples are typically too tart and astringent to eat fresh, but they give the beverage a rich flavour that dessert apples cannot.
Commercially popular apple cultivars are soft but crisp. Other desired qualities in modern commercial apple breeding are a colourful skin, absence of russeting, ease of shipping, lengthy storage ability, high yields, disease resistance, typical "Red Delicious" apple shape, long stem (to allow pesticides to penetrate the top of the fruit), and popular flavour. Modern apples are generally sweeter than older cultivars, as popular tastes in apples have varied over time. Most North Americans and Europeans favour sweet, subacid apples, but tart apples have a strong minority following. Extremely sweet apples with barely any acid flavour are popular in Asia and especially India.
Old cultivars are often oddly shaped, russeted, and have a variety of textures and colours. Some find them to have a better flavour than modern cultivators, but may have other problems which make them commercially unviable, such as low yield, liability to disease, or poor tolerance for storage or transport. A few old cultivars are still produced on a large scale, but many have been kept alive by home gardeners and farmers that sell directly to local markets. Many unusual and locally important cultivars with their own unique taste and appearance exist; apple conservation campaigns have sprung up around the world to preserve such local cultivars from extinction. In the United Kingdom old cultivars such as Cox's Orange Pippin and Egremont Russet are still commercially important even though by modern standards they are low yielding and disease prone.
- Elzebroek, A.T.G.; Wind, K. (2008). Guide to Cultivated Plants. Wallingford: CAB International. p. 27. ISBN 1845933567. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YvU1XnUVxFQC&lpg=PT39&dq=apple%20cultivars%207%2C500&pg=PT39#v=onepage&q=&f=false.
- "National Fruit Collections at Brogdale", Farm Advisory Services Team, accessed 2009-10-27
- Sue Tarjan (fall 2006). "Autumn Apple Musings" (pdf). News & Notes of the UCSC Farm & Garden, Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems. pp. 1–2. http://casfs.ucsc.edu/publications/news%20and%20notes/Fall_06_N&N.pdf. Retrieved 24 January 2008.
- "Apple - Malus domestica". Natural England. http://www.plantpress.com/wildlife/o523-apple.php. Retrieved 22 January 2008.
- "World apple situation". http://www.fas.usda.gov/htp2/circular/1998/98-03/applefea.html. Retrieved 24 January 2008.
- "Origin, History of cultivation". University of Georgia. http://www.uga.edu/fruit/apple.html. Retrieved 22 J a n u a r y 2008.