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Apple’s Ten Biggest Product Failures

Apple’s Ten Biggest Product Failures

Nov 15, 2011

While Apple is known for having one of the best track records for success in the industry, things haven’t always been rosy in Cupertino. Apple has released more than a few dogs over the years. While many of these products were released while Steve Jobs was not with the company, Jobs’ product development choices were not perfect, either.

A product tends to fail because its high price is unjustified or because it fails to find a niche within the marketplace. This is also true of Apple’s flops; some products failed to sell because no one could afford to buy them, while others failed because Apple forgot that great design encompasses both form and function. These are Apple’s ten biggest product failures.


Apple Bandai Pippin Game System

Apple Bandai Pippin. Courtesy of

Release year: 1995.

Price: $599 (891.78 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: Half Mac and half game console, the Pippin was the result of a collaboration with Bandai that made its way to the market in 1995. The Pippin had a 66 MHz PowerPC processor, a CD-ROM drive, two front-mounted ports for controllers and 5 MB of RAM. The controller had a directional pad, embedded trackball and several buttons.

Why it failed: Cost more than contemporary game systems such as the PlayStation ($299) and had a lackluster software library in the United States, consisting mostly of educational and multimedia titles. The Pippin also wasn’t a full Mac in spite of having nearly identical hardware, and lacked a hard drive, making upgrades difficult and software installation impossible.

What the reviews said: “…stupendously slow offline and online.” PC World

Sales estimate: 42,000 units.

The aftermath: Apple stayed out of the game industry for the most part until the release of iOS devices and the iTunes Application Store. Apple now rivals Nintendo as the key player in the mobile gaming field.


Apple Lisa

Apple Lisa with 5 MB top-mounted hard drive. Courtesy of MattsMacintosh, Flickr.

Release year: 1983.

Price: $9,995 ($22,768.63 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: The first commercial computer with a GUI. Using technology pioneered at Xerox PARC, the Lisa featured a mouse-driven operating system that was revolutionary for its time. It included a 5 MHz processor and 1 MB of RAM.

Why it failed: In spite of its advanced hardware, the Lisa had difficulty with the operating system’s multitasking features and ran at a snail’s pace. To make matters worse, few could afford to buy it; the Lisa’s cost was many times that of the IBM PC, which had far more support from third-party software developers.

What the reviews said: “…the Lisa system is the most important development in computers in the last five years, easily outplacing IBM’s introduction of the Personal Computer in August, 1981.” Byte

Sales estimate: 100,000 units.

The aftermath: Many of the key people behind the Lisa went on to develop the Macintosh, which remains in Apple’s product lineup today. The Lisa interface pioneered the “desktop” paradigm that all computers still use.

Apple III

Apple III

Apple III. Courtesy of Easterbilby, Flickr.

Release year: 1980.

Price: Up to $7,800 ($21,477.36 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: Apple’s follow-up for the massively successful Apple II. Intended for business customers, the Apple III featured a 2 MHz processor and 128K of RAM.

Why it failed: The Apple III included a large internal heatsink for maximum heat dissipation and had no fan due to Steve Jobs’ insistence that the computer operate silently. The design didn’t work as intended, and customers reported frequent overheating issues. The heat caused chips on the logic board to protrude from their sockets, leading to a bizarre “fix” that required customers to lift the Apple III a few inches from their desktops and drop it to reseat the chips. The Apple III was also very expensive and had poor compatibility with existing Apple II software. Some of the computer’s issues were fixed with hardware revisions, but the machine had lost consumer goodwill by that point.

What the reviews said: “It would be dishonest for me to sit here and say it’s perfect.” Mike Markkula, Apple CEO

Sales estimate: 65,000.

The aftermath: The world never saw an Apple IV, although Apple continued to sell Apple II models until 1993. The successful release of the IBM PC in 1981 signaled the demise of Apple as the undisputed leader of the early PC industry.

Macintosh TV

Apple Macintosh TV

Apple Macintosh TV.

Release year: 1993

Price: $2,097 ($3,292.64 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: A Macintosh Performa 520 computer with a built-in 14-inch Sony Trinitron television. The television had a cable input, allowing it to operate as a TV or computer display. Featured a 32 MHz Motorola processor and 5 MB of RAM. Also was the first all-black Mac as well as the first Mac to include a remote control. Marketed as a computer, television and home stereo in a single device.

Why it failed: The biggest selling point would have been the ability to watch TV and use the computer at the same time. Unfortunately, the Macintosh TV couldn’t do both simultaneously. Because it had a 16 MHz bus, it performed more poorly than Macs with slower processors.

What the reviews said: “For that money, you’re getting neither a state-of-the-art Macintosh nor a slam-bang television.” Macworld

Sales estimate: 10,000.

The aftermath: Pulled from the market after just five months. Apple tried TV convergence again with the release of the Apple TV in 2007. The Apple TV also was not a blockbuster hit. According to Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography, Steve Jobs claimed to have “finally cracked” the Apple TV. Rumors are currently running rampant as to exactly what that means.


Apple eWorld Screenshot

Apple eWorld. Courtesy of renaissancechambara, Flickr.

Release year: 1994

Price: $8.95 per month. The subscription fee included two free hours of night and weekend service. After the two hours were up, additional hours cost $7.95 (prime time) or $4.95 (night and weekend). The basic membership fee plus 28 night and weekend hours would have cost $147.55 ($225.89 adjusted for inflation).

What it was: A graphical online portal that used images of buildings to represent the different services available. Services included online news, shopping, discussion boards, live chat and email.

Why it failed: High price drove potential subscribers away, if they were aware of eWorld at all – Apple never advertised the service, perhaps in fear of server-crushing demand that never materialized. Most people looking for an online portal chose AOL instead.

What the reviews said: “…its spirit of safe, streamlined avenues to online information and activities lives on in Apple’s modern day version, the [App] Store.” The Age

Sales estimate: 115,000 subscribers at highest point.

The aftermath: Apple never got the idea of an online portal quite right, deciding to specialize in online shopping and data synchronization services instead.

Motorola ROKR

Apple Motorola ROKR iTunes

Motorola ROKR. Courtesy of renaissancechambara, Flickr.

Release year: 2005

Price: $249.99 with two-year contract, $349.99 without ($290.42 or $406.60 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: A collaboration between Apple and Motorola to add iTunes support to a mobile phone. The ROKR was the first phone that could be synchronized with iTunes and play DRM-protected tracks purchased from Apple.

Why it failed: Slow USB 1.1 interface meant songs took an incredibly long time to transfer. The ROKR could only store 100 songs, regardless of the memory card installed. Interface was clunky, and users complained of poor sound quality in comparison to an actual iPod. People expected something that felt like an Apple product, and the ROKR didn’t.

What the reviews said: “…we just can’t enthusiastically recommend the ROKR E1. Music takes too long to transfer, and iTunes feels balky.” PC Magazine

Sales estimate:  At least 250,000 units.

The aftermath: Motorola continued developing the ROKR line, removing iTunes support from the second-generation version of the phone. Apple released the iPhone in 2007, completely changing the smartphone industry.


Apple QuickTake 100 Camera

Apple QuickTake 100 digital camera.

Release year: 1994

Price: $749 ($1,146.69 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: Apple’s attempt at a series of digital cameras. The original QuickTake 100 stored a maximum of just eight 640×480 VGA images.

Why it failed: Established photography brands began to enter the digital camera market. The QuickTake was discontinued when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.

What the reviews said: “…a simple but well-designed product which is easy and fun to use.” Digital Imaging Plus

Sales estimate: Unknown. This page claims that the QuickTake had a market share that surpassed all other digital cameras combined. However, other sources claim sales were poor.

The aftermath: While Apple remained out of the pure digital camera market, the iPhone and iPod touch eventually became some of the world’s most popular cameras.

eMate 300

Apple eMate 300 Newton

Apple eMate 300. Courtesy of Marcin Wichary, Flickr.

Year of release:  1997

Price: $800 ($1,130.91 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: A stripped-down laptop computer that ran the Newton operating system and had a touch screen and stylus. Could be thought of as something of an early netbook, but lacked built-in networking. Supported an optional dial-up modem, and some have had success installing wireless cards.

Why it failed: Steve Jobs discontinued all Newton products after returning to Apple. Although it cost significantly less than a PowerBook, potential customers may have considered the eMate 300 too costly for a product that wasn’t a full computer.

What the reviews said: “As nice as it is, the set-up just doesn’t work for me. Transitioning between typing and stylus is distracting and awkward.” The Gadgeteer

Sales estimate: Apple sold an estimated 300,000 of all Newton products. Sales totals for the eMate 300 are unknown.

The aftermath: Former Newton developers went on to create the software for the iPod, while the iPhone and iPod Touch (2007) became arguably the world’s best PDAs. As for the eMate 300, its design greatly influenced that of the iBook, an extremely successful notebook for students and home users.

Power Mac G4 Cube

Apple Power Mac G4 Cube

Apple Power Mac G4 Cube.

Year of release: 2000

Price: $1,799 ($2,370.34 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: A computer in a tiny cube-shaped chassis, 8” on each side. A slightly taller clear plastic enclosure made the G4 Cube appear suspended in midair. Base model included a 450 MHz PowerPC G4 processor and 64 MB of RAM.

Why it failed: Cost more than the full Power Mac G4, which was faster and had more options for expansion. Hairline cracks would sometimes appear in the clear enclosure, damaging the computer’s striking appearance. Had no fan, so users had to avoid keeping the computer under load for extended periods or covering the vent.

What the reviews said: “…you pay a price for this pearlescent machine, and I’m not just talking about the price tag. Gone are most of the compromises that computers make for functionality…” PC World

Sales estimate: 119,000 units.

The aftermath: The design concepts of the G4 Cube reappeared with the release of the Mac Mini in 2005. The Mac Mini was the least expensive of Apple’s desktop computers and remains in the product lineup today. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY has a G4 Cube in its industrial design collection.

Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh

20th Anniversary Macintosh TAM Apple

Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Courtesy of raneko, Flickr.

Year of release: 1997

Price: $7,499 ($10,600.88 adjusted for inflation)

What it was: A super-premium Mac with a flat vertical all-in-one design. Featured a 250 MHz PowerPC processor, 12.1-inch integrated color LCD display, vertical CD-ROM and floppy drives, custom Bose sound system and an external power supply that also contained a subwoofer. Also included a “concierge” feature that included personal delivery, setup and instruction in the buyer’s home.

Why it failed: Although the “TAM” was purposely limited to a maximum production run of 12,000 units, Apple had to slash the price repeatedly in attempts to spur interest. The TAM cost more than twice that of other high-end Macs, and people had difficulty justifying the premium price for what was mostly window dressing.

What the reviews said: “Unfortunately, the computer featured a lackluster array of internal components and offered nothing new in terms of technology.” Wired

Sales estimate: 11,601 units.

The aftermath: Steve Jobs jettisoned the remaining Twentieth Anniversary Macs in a fire sale after returning to Apple. Functioning units have become prized collectors’ items, selling for exorbitant prices on eBay.