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Apple's 12 biggest failures

AppleApple has developed a reputation over the years that's almost on the level of religious faith: if Apple builds it, they say, it will be a success. But that isn't always the case...

While Mac OS X, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and many other Apple releases have set the standard, the firm's successes don't cover the whole story. Apple's's periodic failings of arrogance, in-fighting and shortsightedness have also played a key role in the company's long and complex history.

Here, in chronological order, are Apple's 12 worst failures to date.

1. Apple Lisa (1983-1985)

The first commercial PC to use a graphical interface and then-cutting-edge concepts such as pre-emptive multitasking, the Lisa was supposed to reinvent the new field of PCs. The baby of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, the resulting $10,000 (about £6,000) Lisa was slow, ungainly, and amazingly expensive.

Subsequent models (the Lisa 2 and Macintosh XL) improved and were cheaper, but the damage was done: in 1986, Apple offered to let Lisa and Mac XL owners trade them in and buy a normally $4,100 Mac Plus for $1,500.

However, Lisa's failure drove Jobs in 1982 to take over the other Apple PC under development. This led to 1984's Macintosh, which took the same GUI and other cutting-edge concepts and delivered them for less. The Mac did reinvent PCs, causing other companies to use the same concepts, with Windows 3.0 finally emerging as the most popular, though less sophisticated GUI.

2. Macintosh Portable (1989-1991)

The 7kg behemoth had many cutting-edge technologies for the time, such as its active matrix LCD screen, but its weight and the fact that it often wouldn't turn on even when plugged in because of its battery design kept it off users' desks.

While comparably bulky "luggables" such as the Compaq Deskpro were acceptable in 1986, by 1989 Toshiba and others were shipping the 2.7kg notebook form we still use today, making the Macintosh Portable a whale in a market of dolphins. The PowerBook series introduced in 1991 didn't suffer from the Mac Portable's flaws, and soon became one of Apple's most successful product lines ever, with its current descendant, the MacBook Pro, reigning as Apple's top-selling computer.

3. Apple Newton MessagePad (1993-1998)

Apple usually pushes the technology envelope and pioneers many technologies. But sometimes it overreaches, as in the case of the Newton MessagePad, a tablet-PDA hybrid with handwriting recognition.

There was nothing else like it, but its ungainly size, woeful battery life, and hard-to-read screen relegated it to technology-cult status. As is often true with Apple, however, its innovations lived on, with its handwriting recognition still used in the Mac OS X's Ink control panel that appears when a pen tablet is connected and that helped form the gesture technology used in the iPhone. The Newton also inspired 1996's Palm Pilot, which used many of the Newton's ideas in a size that made it easy to carry around.

4. PowerBook Duo series (1992-1992)

Although the PowerBook was highly regarded, Apple typically followed the lead of PC notebook makers and lagged months behind the competition. In the early 1990s, PC makers started creating executive-class, lightweight but lower-performance 'subnotebooks', and Apple followed suit with its PowerBook Duo.

But it sacrificed too much to make the Duo really usable. For example, the small keyboard (88 percent of standard size) was hard to type on, and the passive-matrix screen was difficult to view. There was no ethernet port (Wi-Fi didn't exist back then); instead, you had to use a pricey dialup modem that made data exchange painful or by a separate dock. The multiple dock types confused buyers and often forced them to own multiple docks (for home, office, and travel); users also complained that they brought the wrong dock with them when on the road.

The thin-and-light MacBook Air is the closest thing to an Apple subnotebook today, and like the Duo it skimps on ports. But it offers far fewer compromises than the Duo.

Next page: Copland, Pippin and more >>

See also:

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