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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”