The 11 worst Apple products of all time

Not every Apple product is amazing. From terrible designs to noble but ill-advised commercial failures, and from the Apple III to the 12-inch MacBook, take a look at the 11 worst Apple products to ever come out of Cupertino

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  • Apple failures
  • Apple III
  • Macintosh TV
  • Performa
  • Pippin
  • TAM
  • Hockey Puck
  • G4 Cube
  • Mighty Mouse
  • iPod Shuffle
  • 12-inch MacBook
  • Apple bag
  • More stories
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Worst Apple products: Howlers in Apple's back catalogue

Generally speaking, the phrase 'Designed by Apple in California', neatly inscribed on the back or bottom of a tech product, is as near as you're going to get to a cast-iron guarantee of quality. But that's not always been the case. There are more than a few howlers in Apple's back catalogue - and even a few dodgy devices that have been launched more recently.

From the Hockey Puck mouse to the G4 cube, there are no shortage of Apple products that in retrospect didn't meet the company's high standards, whether technologically, artistically or commercially.

If you're a fan of Apple history then you should get to know these products. You can learn an awful lot about where Apple is today by looking at some of the things that didn't work in the past; you can also see Apple's tenaciousness in making an idea (like fanless computers) work even after they've bombed.

In this article we look at the 11 biggest flops, failures and missteps to come from Apple.

Read next: History of Apple, 1976-2016

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Generally speaking, the phrase 'Designed by Apple in California', neatly inscribed on the back or bottom of a tech product, is as near as you're going to get to a cast-iron guarantee of quality. But that's not always been the case. There are more than a few howlers in Apple's back catalogue - and even a few dodgy devices that have been launched more recently.

From the Hockey Puck mouse to the G4 cube, there are no shortage of Apple products that in retrospect didn't meet the company's high standards, whether technologically, artistically or commercially.

If you're a fan of Apple history then you should get to know these products. You can learn an awful lot about where Apple is today by looking at some of the things that didn't work in the past; you can also see Apple's tenaciousness in making an idea (like fanless computers) work even after they've bombed.

In this article we look at the 11 biggest flops, failures and missteps to come from Apple.

Read next: History of Apple, 1976-2016

 

Worst Apple products: Apple III (1980)

The Apple II was the computer that built Apple, whereas the Apple III damn near killed it. The Apple III was designed to be a serious business machine. A lot of great business software had been made for the Apple II such as VisiCalc, and Apple wanted to build a machine that addressed this. (This was before the Macintosh, so Apple wasn't seen as the company for creatives yet).

There was just one problem: the Apple III had, according to Steve Wozniak himself, a 100 per cent failure rate. Every single machine Apple sold had to be repaired.

Jobs had insisted on no fans or air vents to ensure it ran quietly; so engineers made the case from aluminium (to dissipate heat). But they hadn't calculated the logic board and case properly, and the Apple III would overheat which screwed with the logic board. The screen would display garbled text, the solder would melt to form connections between chips, and some users reported floppy disks showing signs of heat damage. Chips would melt out of their sockets.

One famous fix involved lifting the machine three inches in the air and dropping it so the chips would slam back in to their sockets. This was Apple's official solution. Frankly we're amazed Apple was ever taken seriously ever again.

Anything else? Sure... the Apple III was far more expensive than rival CP/M business computers, and had very little software available for it, so even if it had worked there wasn't much demand for it.

To call the Apple III a commercial flop is a gargantuan understatement. Steve Jobs said Apple lost "infinite, incalculable amounts" of money on the Apple III (see: Steve Jobs Playboy interview, 1985), although this wasn't quite right: it was all too calculable, indeed, with the numbers adding up to $60m. To its credit Apple fixed every single machine, and kept fixing the design until it worked.

Image: Martin Deutsch

 

Worst Apple products: Macintosh TV (1993)

In 1993 Apple released a computer called the Macintosh TV, aimed at bridging the ever decreasing gap between computers and television sets. It was essentially a Performa 520 with a television screen attached. There was no real integration between the two, you could switch between watching television, or using the computer, but you couldn't watch television inside a window so it was little different to using a computer with a television screen instead of a monitor.

Hindsight is always a glorious thing, but it's obvious now that people had been connecting computers to television screens for years, and this was a good option for budget computing (the Sinclair Spectrum connected to a television, for example).

So a computer with a TV screen wasn't exactly a unique experience - but one that cost over $2,000 was, and not in a good way. To be fair, the Macintosh TV had a CD-ROM drive, but there wasn't really much digital video around at that point (this was pre-DVD). Apple - perhaps sensing a flop - only made 10,000 of them.

 

Worst Apple products: Macintosh Performa x200 series (1995)

The Macintosh Performa turns up on many 'worst Apple product' lists. It's not a bad-looking machine, and there's no design 'curveballs' like the 20th Anniversary Mac or iPod Shuffle (3rd Generation). On the outside it looks like a good computer for the time. But the inside was a mess.

Apple placed a 75MHz 64-bit CPU in a motherboard designed for a 25MHz 32-bit 68040 CPU; the RAM was one-half to one-third the CPU speed (which meant it took four CPU cycles to load a 64-bit word); Apple used an IDE drive instead of SCSI. As Low End Mac says: "The poor benchmark performance of this series gave the PowerPC 603 chip a black eye... it was the horrible architecture of this system that made the 603 a chip-non-grata."

What you're looking at here is one reason why people claimed (and often believed) for over a decade that Macs were inherently slower than Windows PC computers.

Image: Ken Fager

 

Worst Apple products: Apple Bandai Pippin (1996)

You know Apple made a games console, right? Most Apple fans have heard of the Pippin (released in 1996) but few have ever used one. Bandai is reported to have made 100,000 units, but sold less than half of that.

It's another product here that's a commercial rather than a technical flop. There was nothing wrong with the Pippin's design and components, but many other companies were creating more or less the same thing; big names like the Commodore CDTV, NEX PCFX, Philips 3DO and many others were trying to enter a market that Sony would eventually own with the PlayStation.

Like Sega's Dreamcast console, the Pippin could simply have been ahead of its time. It was an online console that enabled gamers to play against each other online, and even launched with a game called Super Marathon by Bungie (the predecessor to the Halo franchise that made Microsoft Xbox a household name). But nobody had a connection good enough to play online, and the Pippin was too expensive ($599) to buy on a whim.

Image: Tiziano LU Caviglia

 

Worst Apple products: 20th Anniversary Mac (1997)

On a superficial level this is actually a really well-thought out machine. The 20th Anniversary Mac (TAM) was one of the first Macs to be designed by Jony Ive, and it paved the way for the vertical design of computer that forms today's iMac. It wasn't a terrible machine in terms of specifications (although not amazing by any stretch) and it had a built-in TV and FM tuner.

The TAM was almost comically expensive, though. It cost $7,499 at launch, although it had specs similar to the PowerMac 6500 (which was $2,999). Apple killed it off within a year and Jony Ive moved on to the iMac.

Image: Jose Izquierdo

 

Worst Apple products: Apple USB Mouse, AKA 'Hockey Puck' (1998)

The mouse is a pretty simple device; you use it to move the cursor around and click things. It's hard to get it wrong. But Apple achieved exactly that with this, the Apple USB Mouse (also known as the "Hockey Puck" mouse). The edition of the mouse released with the iMac was perfectly circular, which looks neat but makes it difficult to hold and orient correctly; which in turn makes it difficult to achieve pixel precision.

The Apple Mac was predominantly used by graphic designers at the time who universally loathed this mouse. It's a pretty obvious candidate for inclusion.

Image: Emi Yañez

Read next: Best Mac mice

 

Worst Apple products: Apple G4 Cube (2000)

Oh, what a beautiful-looking machine the Apple G4 Cube was. With its clear case and small inside computer square you can be forgiven for wanting it to do well. To this day we don't like putting it amongst Apple's failures: it was simply too nice to be on a 'worst' list.

There were some reports of failures, but nothing like the Apple III and it wasn't badly designed like the Performa PowerPC (x200 series). Despite reports of cracks from heating we don't really think there was anything technically wrong with the G4 Cube (many early-run products have a few cracks while production line issues were being ironed out).

The G4 Cube just didn't sell. Apple reportedly sold a third of what it was expecting. It sat on the shelves and sat there unsold until Apple canned it.

Just why so few people bought the G4 Cube is a bit of a mystery. It was expensive, for sure, and it didn't have much upgrade potential (both well-trod and seemingly unimportant issues for other successful Apple products).

It may simply have been that the G4 didn't look powerful enough, and that companies simply weren't prepared (at that point in time) to pay for a serious machine that didn't look earnestly like a beige computer. So while consumers bought the iMac in droves, the G4 Cube remained unsold.

The G4 Cube is still a looker, though: it's the best flop we've ever seen.

 

Worst Apple products: Mighty Mouse (2005)

Apple replaced the 'Hockey Puck' with a cracking mouse called the Apple Pro Mouse. Stylish and vertical with a clear shell and a small white inside part. It was beautiful!

The whole surface of the Apple Pro Mouse was a single button that moved down. The story goes that Steve Jobs saw a dummy shell (that didn't have a button) and insisted that Apple make a mouse without a button. If we were writing the reverse of this list, titled "The best and most beautiful Apple products ever", then the Apple Pro Mouse would be on it.

Somehow, Apple managed to go from that piece of art to this absolute monstrosity.

Here's what happened: some people in Apple really thought the company should at least look into a two-button mouse; Steve Jobs wasn't one of them. After much internal fracas the result was an Apple Pro Mouse with a touch-sensitive surface. Touch the left side, get a left-click; touch right, get a right-click; push down on the middle ball for a third click; squeeze the sides for a fourth click. It confused the hell out of everyone, so much so that Apple eventually (and still to this day) uses a single button mouse as the default setting.

That wasn't the reason the Mighty Mouse was a failure. The Mighty Mouse's scroll ball routinely stopped working as it clogged up with gunk (Apple suggested you turn the mouse upside down and clean with a cloth). The side buttons started out so firm that you needed to pick the mouse up and crush it, and eventually they became so sensitive that you would spend all day with Dashboard bouncing in and out of the screen.

Everybody breathed a sigh of relief when the Magic Mouse came out. (Well, almost everybody - the acting editor, discussing the design shared by that device and the near-identical Magic Mouse 2, felt that "minimalism has been achieved at the expense of usability".)

Image: Markus Schöpke

 

Worst Apple products: iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation (2009)

Apple's iPod shuffle was, and still is, a great low-cost portable music player. The first two editions were a USB stick with the same button layout as the current model. But somewhere between the original, and the current model Apple decided to release a buttonless version. Instead of controls you would just use the single remote button on the headphone to navigate tracks.

To go to the next track you would double-click the Centre button, to fast forward you would double click and hold the Centre button; to go to the Previous track you would "Triple-click the Center button within 6 seconds of the track". It was chaos. The iPod shuffle (3rd generation) is the prime example of Apple's obsession with reduction taking it to a bad place. By far the least intuitive Apple product ever made.

Read more: Third-generation iPod shuffle review | iPod buying guide

Image: Veronica Belmont

 

Worst Apple products: 12-inch MacBook (2015)

We're a little ambivalent about adding the 12-inch MacBook to this list because it looks so utterly lovely; and it's entirely possible that updates to this line will end up producing the best and most future-looking laptop in Apple's stable. But in its first (and, as of April 2016, second) iteration, it's an overpriced, underpowered, luxury laptop with only one port that a lot of people have made fun of.

While my colleague Karen feels that having just that lone USB-C port to cover both accessories and power isn't the disaster some have called it, we still struggle to recommend this to any but the richest and most portability-obsessed laptop buyers. For power the Pro or even Air is a better option; on value for money the Air is clearly ahead. And both of those lines let you plug in multiple accessories and charge at the same time without gouging additional money for adaptors.

The 2016 update improved processing power and battery life by installing Intel's Skylake chips, and it comes in an unexpectedly charming pink now, but the central issue - that there are faster, cheaper laptops available elsewhere in Apple's own store - hasn't been solved.

(Macworld is not united in its dislike of the 12-inch MacBook, however. Another colleague has reviewed the second-gen model - 12-inch MacBook 2016 review - and characterises it as "a truly outstanding laptop that will be wrongly categorised as a luxury technological item". We will agree to disagree on this one.)

Read next: MacBook buying guide

 

Worst Apple products: Apple's retail store bag

We revisited this article especially to add in this last failure, after paying a visit to an Apple Retail Store, and coming away with a wonderful MacBook Pro but still feeling frustrated. Why? Because of the terrible Apple carrier bag that we had to cart our MacBook around in until we made it home.

Yes, it's not exactly a product failure, but for a company that's so focused on design as well as the experience you get when you visit its stores, it seems like a bit of an oversight. With fiddly, tangly string that doesn't even fit over your shoulder when you go beyond the small iPhone-sized bags, we found ourselves struggling to carry our MacBook Pro home.

The MacBook-sized bag is so big that without being able to fit it over your shoulder it begins to drag along the ground, particularly when you're a bit on the short side. Plus, they're pretty much see-through, so if anyone had any doubt that you were carrying around an expensive piece of kit, it would be immediately eradicated by a second glance.

Here's hoping Apple will redesign its retail carrier bags soon. (Update - maybe someone was listening! Apple is switching over to paper bags, for environmental rather than 'dangling on the ground' reasons, we think.)

Image: Houston Culture Map

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