5 Epic Apple Fails

iMac. iPod. iPhone. iPad.

Everything Apple touches turns to gold. Or does it?

Apple’s history is filled with mistakes and outright failures — products that even the most ardent fans shunned, and that Apple itself would rather pretend never happened. We can all forgive Apple its missteps, because you can’t achieve the peak of coolness without shooting some blanks along the way. But it’s still pretty fascinating to look back and see how such a powerful company can get it so very, very wrong.

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USB “Hockey Puck” Mouse

The flat, round design was supposed to be elegant and stylish, while the two-toned plastic was intended to be easy on the eyes. Instead it turned out to be one hot little mess.

The USB Mouse — or the Hockey Puck, as users dubbed it — was shipped as an accessory with the first iMacs in 1998. Its mixture of transluscence and color matched the egg-shaped iMacs that originated the line. But it was riddled with problems. It had a tendency to spin when you used it, and it was so small that it proved impractical. Adding insult to injury, the USB cord — the first for a Mac mouse — was way too short.

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Newton Message Pad

In a way, Newton was ahead of its time. It could run a wide variety of apps (sound familiar?), and even had handwriting recognition software, which is impressive for a platform that was born in 1987.

Newton-based products weren’t a failure outright. In fact, they sold quite well, and even originated the term “PDA.” An entire line of at least seven different products were produced, using the Newton operating system.

Apple hoped Newton would be a reinvention of personal computing, but it slowly faded away into obscurity because Apple kinda/sorta forgot to keep supporting it.

Oops.

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QuickTake

For a company as prolific as Apple at shaping the mass consciousness, even failures can be partial successes. A good example is the Apple QuickTake, a line of digital cameras that were manufactured by Kodak and Fujifilm, but branded and sold by Apple.

The QuickTakes were some of the very first digital cameras available on the market, which again points to Apple’s uncanny knack for meeting needs that consumers don’t yet know they have. A QuickTake camera was easy to use, had a .3 Megapixel resolution (which isn’t bad for 1994), and ranged in price from $600 to $750.

Only three QuickTake models were ever produced, and the line was discontinued in 1997. Can’t help wondering what an Apple-branded camera might look like today had they continued with this product line. I suppose they did, in a way — with the camera included in the iPhone.

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Pippin

Apple’s foray into console gaming — alongside game developer partner Bandai — was another mid-’90s failure. The thought of an Apple game console is an intriguing one, but Apple didn’t really put its whole heart into the idea. Instead of doing one thing (gaming) really well, Apple tried too hard too soon to have the Pippin do everything that modern consoles can do.

The Pippin could play games — and had the crescent-shaped controller to prove it — but it was also designed to run regular computer programs like any Mac, only through your television set. Even though it was manufactured by Bandai, Apple actually advertised it as an inexpensive home computer.

Sadly, the Pippin never caught on. The PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were ruling the gaming marketplace back in 1996, and had all of the biggest game developers in their back pocket already. Add to the lack of game titles available the super-expensive $599 pricetag, which represented an even higher value then, than what that number amounts to in today’s economy. (And remember how many balked when Sony first introduced the PS3 at that same price, just a few years ago?)

Basically, Apple was trying to do the PlayStation 3 way too early. Sometimes forward-thinking can be as much of a hindrance as an asset.

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Apple TV

Maybe it’s too soon to call this one a failure, especially since Apple doggedly refuses to give up on it. But it just doesn’t seem like the darn thing is ever going to catch on.

Apple TV seemed like a cool idea when it was first announced. Serving as middleware between Apple’s iTunes store and your television set, it’s got ports and connections aplenty, and streamlines the download-and-watch digital content experience in that trademark easy-to-use way. It only got better with subsequent upgrades and enhancements to the interface. But as smart an idea as it was, it was also as xenophobic as most of Apple’s products, only wanting to play nice with Apple-formatted content from iTunes or YouTube.

Maybe it would be more popular if they’d named it “iTV.”


About Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

Comments

  1. Well, I think “epic” is way too hard. You’re absolutely right: this are all fails – but they paved the way for Apple’s breakthrough products. It just wasn’t the right time. OK, the puck mouse really epic failed. ;)

  2. You misspelled Bandai in the second paragraph. :)

    Neat article, but what about the Lisa? Wasn’t that a big ole fat stinker as well? And the iPod, those things were just horrible failures. I’m actually surprised Apple survived releasing those things.

    • Sen McCartney says:

      The Lisa was a success because it let to a real GUI for everyone, and the iPod was a huge success, and is in part what saved the company.

      Where u livin’ cuz?

  3. ok well this list has been done before…and much better I may say…

    and the TV is not a failure…it just has not been taken to it’s full potential

    now that the Mac Mini has an HDMI port I expect to see a new different version of the TV

    watch out son

  4. I must be the only guy on Earth, except maybe for Steve himself, who actually liked the hockey puck mouse. If it were optical and had multiple buttons, I’d use one today.

  5. Apple TV actually was a revolutionary device, just 3-4 years too early. Mac Mini is the Apple TV of the future… but than built-in in a real TV.

  6. What a silly article! The fact that you don’t like something doesn’t make it a failure, much less an ‘epic fail’.

    1. Hockey Puck Mouse. Lots of people liked it. Why is their opinion worth any less than yours?

    2. Newton Message Pad. Years, if not a decade or more, ahead of its time. Newton was a great product and has a lot of fans, even today. Unfortunately, Doonesbury killed it before it had a chance to mature. Still, it was an incredible product by the standards of its time.

    3. QuickTake. Again, years ahead of the competition. Great product and widely admired. At the point that lots of other companies started making digital cameras, Apple decided it wasn’t strategic and dropped it. How does that make it a failure?

    4. Pippin. Another product that was miles ahead of its time. Sadly, Apple relied on Bandai to market it – and it was never even brought to market. At the time, the concept of a game console that would run your regular computer OS was unheard of (for that matter, it still is). Had this been marketed properly, it would have sold like hotcakes.

    5. Apple TV. Has sold millions of units. Hardly an epic failure.

    Now, pick the LEAST successful of these products. What have you ever done that even approaches the least successful product Apple delivered?

    Too bad it’s so easy for loud-mouthed bloggers who couldn’t create anything new if their lives depended no it to publish goofy articles like this. The Internet would be a lot more useful if only intelligent articles were published.

  7. @Joe: Apple was right to kill the Newton. It didn’t sell, and when Palm released the Pilot, everybody preferred its size and weight. The Newton was too big and heavy for a pda, too small and weak for a laptop replacement.

  8. @Joe,

    Why is their opinion worth any less than yours?

    Because this is our blog and not theirs. ;)

  9. Dear @Joe,

    1) This was an entertainment piece meant for kicks and giggles, not to be taken as gospel, and certainly not meant to offend the Apple faithful (which I consider myself one of — I think of my iPad as my third child).

    2) None of the opinions expressed in the article were technically “mine” per se. This was not an opinion piece; it was a retrospective. I researched the history of Apple products and picked five of the gadgets most considered to be failures by the public at large. Google any one of them if you don’t believe me.

    3) I can let the rest of your comments go, but I’m offended by this one:

    Too bad it’s so easy for loud-mouthed bloggers who couldn’t create anything new if their lives depended no it to publish goofy articles like this. The Internet would be a lot more useful if only intelligent articles were published.

    As it happens, I’m a published novelist; my fifth novel, Nightmare, just became available in stores nationwide. Look me up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, or any other book-selling website, and at your local bookstore.

    I appreciate and share your intense love for all things Apple, but taking it so personally as to resort to meaningless insults is uncalled for. Particularly when you know nothing whatsoever about the person you’re smearing across the pavement.

  10. What about iOS 4 on a 3g iPhone? Kills the thing, the OS does. Oh wait and they have no way to downgrade the iPhone because they are terrified of “jailbreaking”. That is real forethought Apple, amazing, truly… amazing.

    @joe do you work at Apple? Didn’t think so, so that makes you an expert on their products right?

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