19 of Apple’s biggest tech blunders
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Apple iPod U2 Special Edition (2004)
Apple iPod U2 Special Edition (2004)
The largest company in the world has had more than its share of embarrassingly bad product launches. Here are Apple’s worst of the worst.
First up: During the height of the iPod personal music player craze, Apple partnered with U2 to create a special edition signed (etched) by members of the band. The device also included “30 minutes of exclusive U2 video content downloadable from the iTunes Music Store.”
Those features weren’t enough to justify a $50 premium over the non-U2 iPod. Sales were so poor that the flop is now a collector’s item, fetching $90,000 in a 2014 eBay auction.
Apple Maps launch (2012)
After pre-installing Google Maps on the iPhone for years, Apple replaced it in 2012 with its own Maps software. Its launch was nothing short of a disaster.
Early users of Apple Maps complained of mislabeled businesses, wonky “3D” graphics, towns that were inexplicably missing or incorrectly located, and more.
In one case, a farm in Ireland named “Airfield” was incorrectly listed as an airport; in another, the program routed drivers in Alaska onto an active airport runway.
Apple III (1980)
The Apple III was meant to be a more powerful, business-oriented version of the company’s popular Apple II computer. But the ultra-expensive line was doomed from the start for reasons that went well beyond its $4,340 starting price.
The first batch of Apple III computers were faulty enough to merit a recall, in part because it was designed without heat exhaust fans. This caused chips to become unseated during use, and similarly caused plastic data storage disks to warp. Curiously, Apple advised owners to slam their computers against their desks to reseat the chips.
The Apple III computer line never bounced back from the initial bad press. It wound up being abandoned after 5 years’ worth of mediocre sales.
iPod Hi-Fi (2006)
Apple’s attempt to create a premium speaker system for the iPod was a rare design failure for the company during a time when it could seemingly do no wrong. It was plagued with problems.
At $349, the iPod Hi-Fi was priced higher than the superior Bose SoundDock. It worked only with some iPods, and the included remote control could not navigate between playlists.
Further, given that the low quality of compressed digital music generally doesn’t warrant audiophile-grade speakers in the first place, this was a doomed product from the jump.
Apple Twentieth Anniversary Mac (1997)
Apple overestimated the market for collectible computers when it released its Twentieth Anniversary Mac (TAM) to celebrate Apple’s 20th birthday in 1997. It was a unique-looking, powerful computer, but with a launch price of $7,499, it found few buyers.
Steve Jobs made the decision to discontinue the TAM in 1998. Apple then dropped its price to $1,995 to clear out unsold stock, angering many who bought it at full price.
Apple TAM: Popular on TV
Though the Apple TAM had poor sales, its incredibly unique design made it a favorite of movie and TV set designers.
Jerry Seinfeld, for example, upgraded his desktop computer to an Apple TAM in the ninth season of his hit NBC sitcom. An Apple TAM appeared behind Matthew Perry’s desk in Friends, as well.
Apple Lisa (1983)
Large price tags seem to be a common thread among Apple’s many mass-market failures. Certainly that was a problem with the Apple Lisa, a 1983 personal computer that cost a staggering $9,995.
The computer wasn’t necessarily bad to use — it’s the first Apple computer ever made with a graphical user interface. But with a price point higher than most cars being sold at the time, Lisa just couldn’t compete with less-expensive IBM PCs on the market. The coming 1984 launch of the superior (and incompatible) Macintosh also hurt sales.
The Apple Lisa was discontinued in 1985.
Apple eWorld (1994)
Apple’s eWorld was an early 1990s online service that offered email, news, and a bulletin board system, all wrapped up in a graphical “town hall”-esque interface.
The price of the service was exorbitantly high — your $8.95 monthly fee only bought you two free nighttime hours of surfing; daytime use cost an extra $7.95 per hour. It simply couldn’t compete with AOL, and was shut down on March 31, 1996.
The infamous free U2 album (2014)
It likely never occurred to Apple that public reception to getting a free U2 album would be anything but positive. After all, U2 is a worldwide phenomenon.
Of course, a countless number of iPhone owners were frustrated and outraged to find the album gobbling up space on their devices when they never wanted it in the first place — the equivalent of musical junk mail. This was exacerbated by the fact that there was no easy way to remove the songs from your iTunes account at first.
The incident left such a bad taste in peoples’ mouths that U2 lead singer Bono publicly apologized for the marketing stunt.
Apple QuickTake (1994)
Built for Apple by Kodak, the QuickTake was one of the first consumer digital cameras.
The QuickTake was significantly restrained by its hardware. The entry-level model could only store eight 640 x 480 photos (24-bit), and there was no way to delete individual pictures without uploading them to a computer.
The biggest problem, though, was the camera’s $749 price tag. The price came down slightly over the next couple years to $600 before being discontinued in 1997.
Power Mac G4 Cube (2000)
Apple’s Power Mac G4 Cube was designed, primarily, to look good. It came inside an acrylic glass enclosure and took up precious little desk space.
It had problems, though. The $1,799 device was priced $200 higher than the standard Power Mac G4 with the same internals. And unlike the Power Mac G4, the Cube version didn’t come with a monitor.
The higher price hurt sales, while problems with cracks and mold lines in the acrylic glass hurt aesthetics. Apple discontinued the computer after just one year of sales.
Apple Bandai Pippin
An Apple-branded video game system — what could go wrong?
Unfortunately, just about everything went wrong for the Pippin, a 1996 joint effort between Apple and Bandai to enter the growing video game market. The $600 console was a huge flop, selling just 42,000 units — a fraction of the number actually manufactured.
The fact that there were just 18 lackluster games and applications for the console, including Anime Designer: Dragon Ball Z and Mr. Potato Head Saves Veggie Valley, certainly didn’t help sales.
Buttonless iPod Shuffle (2009)
Here’s a riddle for you: How do you control an iPod Shuffle that doesn’t have any buttons? The unsatisfying answer is that you largely couldn’t — not without Apple’s own headphones.
The iPod Shuffle’s button-free design lasted only a year before Apple added physical buttons back onto the device.
Apple eMate 300 (1997)
One of Apple’s many failures without Steve Jobs at the helm, the Apple eMate 300 was a low-cost laptop offered to schools at $799 each.
The colorful device — really a glorified PDA running the Newton operating system — was built tough enough to handle daily use by kids. But sales to schools were lukewarm. And it was never offered to the general public, sealing its fate.
The Apple eMate was discontinued less than a year after its March 1997 launch.
Apple Newton MessagePad (1993)
Apple’s first attempt at handwriting recognition rendered the company a laughingstock.
The $900 Apple Newton MessagePad was offered as a powerful PDA device when it first hit store shelves in 1993. But its ability to recognize users’ handwriting was so poor that the device was lampooned in a 1995 episode of The Simpsons.
Thankfully, handwriting recognition technology is much better these days.
iTunes Ping social network (2010)
With Facebook and Twitter still growing in popularity in 2010, Apple wanted a social network of its own. So it created Ping, a social network for music tied to iTunes.
“It is not Facebook,” explained Steve Jobs at its launch. “It is not Twitter. It is something else we’ve come up with.”
What it wound up being, actually, was a nightmare for users. There was no spam filter set up, so the service was quickly overtaken by “free iPhone” scam links. Facebook, meanwhile, blocked Ping from integrating with its own social network, keeping Ping users from being able to find their friends.
Ping wasn’t capable of seriously competing for users. It was quietly discontinued in 2012.
The Apple USB Mouse (1998)
The first Apple USB Mouse was designed as a colorful complement to the company’s 1990s-era iMac.
The round shape and unusually short cord made it difficult for people to hold and use the device, leading Apple to discontinue it after two years.
iPhone Smart Battery Case (2015)
Is the officially branded Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case a flop? It’s still too early to say for sure on the sales side, but design-wise, the verdict is already in.
Our sister site ZDNet called the accessory “Apple’s ugliest product to date,” arguing that it is “literally nothing more than a rectangular battery back shoved into a silicone skin.” CNET, while more positive about the device, still likened its rear lump to a tumor.
The Smart Battery Case also has a higher price than its streamlined competitor, Mophie.
Apple iPod Photo (2004)
Apple created the iPod Photo as a high-end alternative to its then-monochrome iPod in 2004. It featured a 220 x 176 color screen capable of viewing picture files.
The $499 device was priced significantly higher than the entry-level iPod, and many found the ability to view still pictures to not be worth the premium. The iPod Photo was cut from Apple’s lineup a year later, when more affordable color screens — and video playback — were added to the fifth-generation iPod.