The 9 Worst Apple Products of All Time

  • The "industrial" design of the iPhone 4, introduced in mid-2010, was a favorite -- especially considering that the same design was replicated not only in the following year's iPhone 4s but (in larger-screen form) in the successor iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, and iPhone SE. But it wasn't without its problems, specifically those involving (quoting Wikipedia) its "uninsulated stainless-steel frame which doubles as an antenna".

    As GSM cellular carrier-base customers quickly learned, its received signal strength could vary widely depending on how it was held (assuming an insulating "bumper" or other case wasn't on it) and how the results were reported. And then-CEO Steve Jobs' initial response to the reports ("Just avoid holding in it that way") wasn't exactly helpful either. The antenna was redesigned in time for the CDMA-friendly version of the handset, which appeared eight months later, along with the follow-on GSM-plus-CDMA model in mid-2011.

    To be clear, the iPhone 4 ended up selling quite well, anyway. Wikipedia notes that it "had the longest lifespan of any iPhone ever produced, spanning close to four years and available in some developing countries until early 2014. But those first few months were pretty rocky, and one can only guess how much better the iPhone 4 might have performed in the market absent Antennagate.


    (Image source: By Justin14 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • In late summer 2014, Apple found itself with another consumer backlash on its hands. The iPhone 6 and larger-screen iPhone 6 Plus marked the then-latest iterations of the broader mobile handset industry's longstanding and unrelenting push to make its products ever-thinner. But in this case Apple may have gone "A Bridge Too Far." Almost immediately after the products started appearing in customers' hands (and butt pockets, apparently) in mid-September, reports started showing up online, published by folks who'd inadvertently (?) bent their new tech toys.

    To be clear, Apple's products weren't the only ones who exhibited the issue; in fact, independent testing suggested that they weren't as prone to bending as other well-known smartphones. And Apple near-immediately offered to replace bent devices, if it decided that the damage done to them was unintentional (though, in my humble opinion, accompanying statements suggesting that the company had, to date, only received nine complaints of bent devices, and that damage due to regular use was "extremely rare," were overly defensive). But Apple being Apple, the company still endured quite a bit of backlash. Not surprising, the following year's iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus were bolstered by a transition to a more robust class of aluminum chassis.


    (Image source:Rayukk at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • Upfront full disclosure: I own a G4 Cube. I bought it for the same reason that other people also collect tech-or-other antiques (the G4 Cube was introduced in mid-2000): it's rare (it was discontinued after less than one year, in mid-2001); it's iconic; it's completely silent; and I also happen to think it may be the best looking Mac Apple ever made (the The New York Museum of Modern Art, which has a G4 Cube in its collection, apparently agrees). Mine even works (or at least it did the last time I turned it on; right now it's sitting in a box in my storage room).

    But it was also underpowered, not easily upgraded, and overpriced (trust me; this isn't the last time you'll come across these words in this writeup). It also tended to overheat, as well as to spontaneously turn on and off. It suffered from cosmetic "mold lines" (i.e. "cracks") in its clear acrylic case. All of which compelled Apple, after less than one year in the market, to "suspend production" (never to return), citing low customer demand.


    (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

  • Steve Jobs' scorn for multi-button mice was well documented; at first, Mac users had to instead use the combination of a mouse-click and keyboard press to emulate right mouse button activation. The subsequent Mighty Mouse simultaneously addressed Jobs' aesthetic and users' needs by leveraging capacitive sensors that could simulate the multi-button effect.

    But more generally, Jobs was a mouse fan; after all, he "borrowed" the idea from Xerox.

    It's a bit of a surprise, therefore, that the USB mouse that accompanied the iMac G3, which marked his return to Apple after the exodus in the desert of NeXT, was such a profoundly bad design. Cynically referred to as the "hockey puck," its fundamental shortcoming may be obvious to you without me even needing to point it out. But just in case ... how can you tell just from looking at it which way is up? Apple stubbornly stuck with it for two years, in the process generating plenty of demand both for ADC-to-USB adapters that would enable continued use of prior-generation mice, as well as for add-on shells to give the "hockey puck" a more elliptical shape.


    (Image source: By Factory (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • Back in late 2006, I published a multi-part account of an Apple press event I attended earlier that same year. The first part's title was "Apple: Worst. Intro. Ever?," with part two entitled "The Sound of Silliness."

    One of the primary objects of my scorn was the iPod Hi-Fi, a speaker-plus-dock combo which was pulled only one and a half years after its unveiling. Why? I'll quote from my prescient coverage:

    "Last but not least, Jobs unveiled the iPod Hi-Fi, a $350 'portable' (translation; it runs off both AC and batteries, and has carrying handles. Note its 16.7 lb with-batteries weight, and its 6.6×17x6.9 inch dimensions.) speaker system for various iPod models. At the unveiling I couldn't help but note its cost-reducing omission of tweeters. I guess lossy-compressed audio's attenuation of high frequencies is good for something, huh? It was significantly overpriced compared to competitors' (up to that point, Apple's partners') offerings. So overpriced that it apparently prompted at least one vendor to deduce that anyone willing to drop $350 on a speaker system might also be persuaded to spend an additional $295 on a matching leather case.

    The height of the iPod Hi-Fi promotion preposterousness occurred when Jobs suggested that the product sounded so good that he'd gotten rid of all of his expensive audiophile equipment in favour of it. His exact works, captured by Wired's Cult of Mac blog, were:

    "I've been using one of these at home for the last month," he said at a special media event, which attracted a full house of journalists and TV crews. "I'm an audiophile," Jobs added. "I've had stereos that, well, I'm not saying it, that cost a lot. I'm getting rid of it. I'm using one of these."

     

    C'mon, Steve, do you really think the Reality Distortion Field is that strong?"


    (Image source: By Teófilo Ruiz Suárez (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • In retrospect, the Macintosh is largely viewed as not only a revolutionary, but also commercially successful product line. But, as the recent film Steve Jobs makes clear, its market accomplishment was by no means guaranteed at first. Hampered by high prices (detecting a trend yet, readers?), among other factors, the Macintosh likely wouldn't have been ultimately successful at all if not for the fact that it stood on the shoulders of its even more revolutionary, but most definitely not commercially successful forebear, the Lisa. Lisa, inspired by Jobs' previously mentioned Xerox PARC visit, was based on a 5 MHz Motorola 68000 32-bit processor and also contained 1 MB of DRAM. Unlike the Apple II, then available (and selling well) in the market, it also offered a mouse-centric graphical user interface.

    Development began in 1978; the first-generation Lisa was first introduced on January 19, 1983 and cost $9,995 USD. Lisa 2, which arrived one year later, roughly halved the price. But the Macintosh, which was introduced at the same time, was even less expensive, contained a faster 8 MHz version of the 68000, and had a lower bill of materials cost thanks to the use of higher capacity (therefore lower total chip count) DRAMs, among other factors. The Lisa 2 was rebranded (and re-ROMmed) as the Macintosh XL one year later, in January 1995, but the damage had already been done; the Lisa line was formally discontinued a few months later.

     


    (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

  • Take an otherwise conventional Mac and add an analog TV tuner (this was in 1993, mind you, well before ATSC), which couldn't display TV in a window but could capture TV screenshots, and a Sony TV-compatible remote control. Jack the price tag up to more than $2,000, versus TV-less Mac counterparts that were selling for around $1,500 at the time and were more upgradeable to boot. What you end up with is the Macintosh TV. Introduced in late October 1993, it was discontinued about three months later, after reportedly having shipped less than 10,000 units.


    (Image source: By Ben Boldt at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • Ah, the Newton. One of the world's first personal digital assistants (PDAs), and the first PDA (that I know of, at least) to be stylus-based (although plenty of pen-based R&D predated it in both academia and industry). Several product generations were offered by Apple itself, with additional hardware branded and sold by Digital Ocean, Harris, Motorola, Sharp, and Siemens. Development began in 1987, with the original MessagePad released in 1993; the product line was unceremoniously killed by Steve Jobs in early 1998 shortly after his return to Apple. Maybe he didn't like the stylus.

    Newton was ARM processor-based, making it one of the first "high volume" design wins for that now dominant core licensor. Unfortunately, Newton's handwriting recognition capabilities were erratic at best and more often abysmal, at least at first, a fact that the comic strip Doonesbury famously and mercilessly mocked.

    The Newton OS 2.0 software stack, launched in March 1996, made notable accuracy improvements, but the die was already cast. The platform's slow performance, poor battery life, and high price ($900 at initial introduction) didn't help, either. But then again, the company's revisit of the PDA form factor in the form of various iOS-based devices hasn't gone too badly, so the initial investment seemingly wasn't a long-term waste.


    (Image source: Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr [CeCILL (http://www.cecill.info/licences/Licence_CeCILL_V2-en.html) or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • Nowadays, Apple's gaming-on-TV efforts are focused on the arguably successful Apple TV settop box. Back in the mid-1990s, though, the company had more grandiose aspirations, in the form of the Pippin (stylized by marketing as PiPP!N) platform, developed by Apple and marketed by Bandai (in the US and Japan,shown in the above photo) and Katz Media (in Europe and Canada).

    Pippin was Mac OS-derived from a software standpoint and PowerPC-based from a hardware perspective. Formidable competitors included Sega's Saturn, the Nintendo 64, and Sony's first-generation PlayStation. Bandai was the originator of the idea, in early 1993, and launched the first Pippin-based product one year later, in March 1995 (Katz Media followed roughly one year later).

    Steve Jobs killed Pippin upon his return to Apple in 1997, along with previously-mentioned Newton. I was kidding, by the way, when I earlier suggested that the Newton's stylus was the root cause for its Jobs-induced demise (although he didn't like styli). As with Pippin (and the Macintosh clone program, for that matter), the underlying motivation in all of these cases was two-fold: 1.) A desire to focus what had become a sprawling and fragmented product line under the successive corporate leaderships of John Sculley, Michael Spindler, and Gil Amelio, coupled with; 2.) A longstanding and profound distaste for licensing Apple-developed technology to others, versus the "walled garden" closed ecosystem, vertical integration approach that preserved all profits within Cupertino even if doing so translated to smaller market share.


    (Image source:By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Apple has had an enviably high product success batting average over its 40 year-plus existence. But not everything that's come out of Cupertino, Calif. has been a home run (or even a bunt single). Then again, a few strikeouts in the overall mix are indicative of taking chances; their absence would suggest an overly conservative corporate culture, which wouldn't be a good thing either. And with more than $300 billion USD in total assets as of the company's fiscal 2016 third quarter financial results announcement , Apple can probably afford a few whiffs.

It's not yet completely clear whether Apple's actually got a car under development (although, as I suggested in my recent writeup , where there's smoke there's almost always at least a small fire). Even less clear is to what degree (if at all) an Apple car would end up being a success. It may instead end up the latest entry on Apple's list of clunkers over the decades.

No company is immune to failure. Here's an alphabetical list of Apple's greatest product failures.

 

What do you think of these products? Are there any that should be on the list? Let me know in the comments.

Brian Dipert is the principal at Sierra Media, which provides technology analysis and consulting, along with multimedia development and publishing. He is also editor-in-chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and senior analyst at BDTI (Berkeley Design Technology Inc.). Brian has a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. His professional career began at Magnavox Electronics Systems in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Brian subsequently spent eight years at Intel Corp. in Folsom, Calif.

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