These days basically everything that Apple touches turns to rose gold. They’ve seemingly had the Midas touch ever since they re-hired Steve Jobs as their CEO in the 90’s after an acrimonious split in the 80’s. Jobs returned and brought Apple from near bankruptcy to a record-breaking company that is now the largest corporation in the entire world.
It has been reported that Apple has more cash on hand than the government of the United States and that it has a chance to reach a $1 trillion dollar valuation — currently sits around $850 billion dollars. The upcoming iPhone X is being billed as the phone that’ll dictate the next decade — as the original iPhone did 10 years ago, hence the ‘X.’
With that in mind, let’s look back at some of the products that flopped. Here are the top 10 Apple gadgets that were epic fails.
10. The Apple III (1980 – 1981)
There may be no more iconic actual computer than the Apple II. It was what turned Apple into… Apple. From the Steve Jobs’ garage — with the help/genius of Steve Wozniak — they changed the entire computer game.
So, considering the Apple III was the first computer created by Apple that was not designed by Wozniak shows that this thing was pretty much doomed from the start. The work on the III, which was intended to be the successor to the hyper popular Apple II, began in late 1978 by a team that was lead by Dr. Wendell Sanders.
The III was codenamed ‘Sara’ after Dr. Sanders’ daughter. While the machine was plagued with issues — including but not limited to the fact that it overheated, was plagued with bugs and crashed regularly — the main problem was its 8-bit CPU.
IBM, which was Apple’s largest competition at the time — and originally stated that it didn’t see the point of going into the personal computer industry — released a 16-bit machine shortly after the release of the Apple III and thus made it relatively outdated a few months after its release. Perhaps they should’ve asked Woz what he thought about things?
9. The Apple Lisa (1983 – 1985)
Speaking of computers that were named after the daughters of people at Apple, Lisa was the name of Steve Jobs’ daughter. Because of the issues Jobs had with the girl’s mother, he denied he was Lisa’s father for many years. He often refused to help pay for anything despite the fact he was a millionaire multiple times over after Apple went public.
Jobs was a perfectionist when it came to his work. He spent a ton of time and money on the Lisa and because of that the board of directors became concerned. They took him off the project altogether. Jobs ended up on a mostly mothballed project — the Macintosh.
Jobs had promised that they would sell two million units in the first two years but the machine only ended up selling 100,000 units total. Jobs blamed that on the fact that the board priced the machine at a ridiculous $10,000 — in 1983. That’s the equivalent of almost $25,000 today!
A corporation could afford it but most people couldn’t. The machine was also considered to have relatively low performance and unreliable “twiggy” floppy disks. However, despite the epic failure of the Lisa, it did introduce a lot of advanced features that Jobs integrated into the Macintosh.
8. The Macintosh Portable (1989 – 1991)
Before the term “laptop” was coined people called them a “portable computer”. The Macintosh Portable was the first battery powered portable PC created by Apple and it was released in September of 1989. Personal computers were still, not a novelty but definitely a lot more niche than they are now.
Without the internet and decent games, there wasn’t a huge need for computers besides work — or early versions of paint. Perhaps that’s why while critics raved about the Portable, the sales were actually pretty low.
Rocking an LCD screen that was called “fast, sharp and expensive” — perhaps another reason for it’s sales issues — the Portable was cutting edge at the time. It was one of the first consumer laptops that had an “active matrix panel”, an expensive upgrade for the Powerbook line.
Despite that technology the Portable did have some issues, as well, especially when it came to its battery. Computer geeks even today shouldn’t be surprised that the first Apple laptop had battery issues. Sometimes the Portable failed to turn on even when plugged in, despite the fact that the battery was huge.
The entire unit weighed a hilarious 16 pounds — compared to the average laptop weight which is under 2 pounds. Despite its expensive price tag it was reliable computer with a long life expectancy — which reduced the cost of ownership. In spite of that, it was rated as the 17th worst tech product of all time by PC World in 2006.
7. Apple Newton (1993 – 1998)
The Apple Newton may be the most notorious failure in Apple’s repertoire. It was even referenced on The Simpsons. Outside of that, though, it was plagued with problems and the public’s response was one of the reasons Apple went crawling back to Steve Jobs in the early-to-mid 90’s.
The Newtown lasted five years and was an early series of personal digital assistants (PDA’s) and was actually responsible for coining the term. It was ahead of it’s time, but its features made it buggy and ironically turned people against it. The best example was the handwriting recognition software — that was the butt of jokes on The Simpsons.
The idea was that you could use the built-in stylus to write on the screen and it would be converted to text. However, the recognition had a ton of issues and ended up misinterpreting what people were writing to the point that it became essentially useless.
Like many things on this list — and the upcoming iPhone X — the price point was also a huge reason the Newton failed. However, its operating system was a positive and inspired a lot of features and aspects of future Apple OS designs.
The Newton took the negative of being a massive failure and turned it into future OS that are considered some of the best in the industry.
6. Apple Pippin (1995-1996)
The Apple Pippin is one confusing device that was way ahead of its time. It looked like a video game console and is described as such by many articles and lists online. It is a video game console, sure, but it’s a lot more than that. As Apple described it:
“An integral part of the consumer audiovisual, stereo, and television environment.”
New consoles like the Xbox 1 and PlayStation 4 are only recently offering this feature. For a console to be able to control basically everything in one’s television and music room in 1995, it was just too much, too soon.
Japanese toy maker Bandai — known for the Tamagotchi — approached Apple in 1993. They hope to partner on a game console based on a scaled-down version of Apple’s Macintosh CD-ROM system. Apple was to handle the internal components while Bandai handled the casing and packaging.
The console was one of the first to offer internet connectivity — other consoles that connected to the dial-up internet like the Sega Dreamcast came out in 1999. Yet, the new innovation required a complete overhaul of what Apple had been planning to use and raised costs.
The system cost a smooth $600 back when consoles were worth about $250. The Pippin was released in June of 1996. Bandai predicted that 200,000 systems would be sold in Japan and 300,000 in the United States in the first year.
However, the system was so unpopular — especially in the US — that most of the units had to be returned by 1997. When the Wikipedia article for your product has a section titled “Marketing Failure” — which describes how Apple made zero effort to market the Pippin for some reason — you know you have problems.
5. 20th Anniversary Mac (1996 – 1997)
Some of these failed products are rare because very few people bought them. Thus, they are highly sought by computer and Apple collectors today. The 20th Anniversary Mac is probably the best example on this list because it was a limited edition in the first place and then sold very few units afterwards.
To celebrate… You guessed it, the 20th anniversary of Macintosh, Apple released this objectively strange — but sort of cool — looking computer that cost a whopping $8,000 back in 1996! Sure, in the 90’s, the economy was thriving but for a computer that was pretty slick.
It was created for the “executive market” — hence the price and limited availability — and was considered one of the best showcases of technology at the time. The “normal” timespan to create a new Mac was a year and a half but Apple executives thought of the “anniversary” idea with less than 18 months to go before the April, 1st 1996 deadline.
Luckily, their design teams had been working on numerous completely outrageous — or as it’s been labeled “Dream” — concepts for technologically advanced computers. Apple executives decided to go with the most cost-effective version of those concepts, an — almost — “all-in-one” design with an LCD screen.
It was originally intended to be a “mainstream” product but the marketing group decided to turn it into a pricey special edition for some reason. If you did purchase the 20th Anniversary Mac — as apparently, Seinfeld did during the 9th season of the show — you got a “direct-to-door” concierge delivery service.
The price was reduced from $9k to $7,500 almost immediately, and then further reduced to less than half that ($3,500) in the middle of its sales lifespan. Towards the end of its run, the price was dropped again, to $1,995, which didn’t help sales — and really, really bothered the people who paid full price.
4. Apple eMate (1997 – 1998)
While the Newton was mostly a failure, its operating system was pretty good. It was leased out to other hardware companies and utilized on other devices in the Apple family. One of those devices was the e-Mate, a sort of the anti-Newton — and really anti-Apple — device that was marketed as a low-cost laptop. Low cost? Apple? What reality is this?
The only Newton device with a built-in keyboard, the eMate was designed as a quasi-PDA/laptop hybrid that was supposed to be marketed to the education industry.
Like the 20th Anniversary Mac, whomever thought it a good idea to create hardware for a super niche market probably had a hand in Steve Jobs’ return to the company that fired him. The e-Mate featured a nearly seven-inch screen and a whopping 16-shade grayscale display with a backlight and stylus.
3. Apple “Hockey Puck” Mouse (1998 – 2000)
The Apple USB Mouse, which was named the “Hockey Puck” by users, is the first item on this list that was designed under the second Steve Jobs era. When Jobs returned, he released the iMac, which was an amazing success. It saved Apple and put it on track to become the behemoth that it is today.
Called “One of Apple’s Worst Mistakes” by Wikipedia, the Puck was originally included with the Bondi Blue iMac G3 then all desktop Macs for the following two years. Perhaps the only completely round mouse, it only had a single button at the “top” — or the part of the circle closest to the USB cord — like previous Apple Macs.
The Puck had a tendency to get tangled up during its use because the round shape lends itself to accidental rotation. On top of that, the cord was very short. When you combine that with rotation and tangling, it was just a constant thought in the back of users’ minds.
At least it came in a bunch of different colors. From Bondi Blue to Grape, Lime and Tangerine. That very well could’ve sunk the iMac and Jobs’ return to the company but people overlooked the Puck and an entire generation of children grew up learning Apple OS.
2. The Power Mac G4 Cube (2000-2001)
After Jobs was let go from Apple he started another company that focused on creating relatively expensive computers for the education industry. That company was named NeXT and for the most part never created any products, or rather never sold any, but rather created an operating system and held demos.
Those demos were essentially gigantic sales pitches and an opportunity for Jobs to have just enough to show Apple that they needed to bring him back. The OS was great but Jobs would spend his demos showing off a cube-like computer that didn’t really do anything. That cube computer got Jobs his… job back though.
It’s probably not a huge surprise that Apple ended up creating a cube computer. It was a beautiful machine, aesthetically, so much so that the New York Museum of Modern Art has a G4 Cube in one of its collections. Many consumers balked at the price of the Cube though. Especially considering that it just came by itself without a monitor!
On top of that, the early models had a manufacturing issue and ended up with tons of cracks in the clear plastic case that surrounded the Cube. If you dropped thousands of dollars on the Cube and were justifying it by saying, “but look how cool it looks!”, you’d lose that rationalization after a month or so when the beauty was replaced with cracked plastic.
After getting this far into the list, you may be surprised that Apple made it through the late 80’s to early 2000’s and kept a stellar reputation for quality and aesthetics. That just shows you what a remarkable salesperson Jobs was… And how amazing the iPod/iPhone were/are, respectively.
1. The U2 iPod
In the mockumentary Pop Star: Never Stop Stopping, Andy Samberg plays a rapper named Conor For Real. At one point before he releases his second album For Real, Conor tells his friend there’s no such thing as selling out after meeting with a company that makes kitchen appliances.
That company wanted their appliances to all start playing Conor’s new album at midnight the day of its release. While his friend is hesitant as he feels like people will react negatively to receiving music they don’t want, didn’t ask for and can’t get rid of, Conor states that if you don’t sell out people will think no one asked you to.
Of course, it’s a huge disaster and people hate it so much they destroy their toasters, fridges and microwaves. It’s funny because they were making fun of what CBS News called “Apple’s $100 Million Dollar U2 Mistake” from 2014. At the time, U2 was the biggest rock band in the world but hadn’t released an album in 5 years.
Apple, now run by CEO Tim Cook, thought they had an amazing opportunity. They decided to give away U2’s newest album in a marketing move Cook called “The biggest album release of all time” to Apple’s 500 million iTunes customers. People with Apple devices with iTunes suddenly awoke to find a U2 album on their devices.
Because the album was free, it cost Apple upwards of $100 million dollars. Assuming people would be appreciative of free music from the most beloved band alive, it seemed like a good move. But because people could NOT remove the album from their iTunes accounts, the responses were both furious and hilarious.
One person said that “Apple owes me a new iPhone because I had to purify this one with fire after finding a U2 album on it.” Another person who wasn’t trying to be funny said that the move was a “completely indefensible expansion by Apple beyond its operational purview” that was it was “worse than spam.”
Apple quickly put together a website that allowed people to remove the album from their iTunes accounts. They found out they paid U2 $50 per album as only two million people decided to proactively download or keep the album. Apple later out claimed that 33 million people “experienced” the album — whatever that means.
In the end, less than 7 per cent of users listened to it. Even though Apple is a gigantic company, it wasn’t a sustainable move. And that’s why it got the top spot on this list.