Apple 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 >>
5. Macintosh Performa series (1992-1997)
Long criticised as a purveyor of elitist, pricey computers and facing increased competition from DOS- and Windows-based PC makers, Apple's then-CEO Michael Spindler decided to sell a line of cheap Macs, called the Performa. And they felt cheap: flimsy, prone to failure and underpowered - yet they were still costlier than a cheap PC. Worse, they cannibalised the sales of pricier Macs for a while, rather than expand the market.
When Apple allowed other PC makers to develop and sell Mac clones, the Performas suffered even more, as those clone systems tended to match the features of the top Mac models at Performa prices.
If you want to know why Steve Jobs won't let Apple sell cheap Macs, refer to the Performa experience; it was one of the first projects Jobs killed when he ousted embattled CEO Gil Amelio to return as Apple CEO in early 1997. Jobs put Apple back on the track to producing only high-quality products, a strategy that has served Apple well ever since.
6. eWorld (1994-1996)
It's hard to remember now, but for a while, America Online almost owned the internet. Most users went through AOL to find and access web content, rather than via a browser to get to the internet directly, and AOL made a fortune charging publications and service providers to get a space on its service. Apple, having aspirations to be a monopoly, cloned the idea for the Mac community and named its proprietary, "avoid the scary web" destination eWorld.
The cartoonish service looked silly, and Apple was in the midst of a corporate management drama that almost killed the company. Then-CEO Michael Spindler withheld marketing support and ultimately decided that Apple couldn't compete with AOL and pulled the plug on eWorld. Instead, Apple helped AOL develop a Mac client for AOL and got out of the online-service business.
Ironically, AOL's Steve Case first got his start in the world of online services by managing Quantum, the provider behind eWorld's predecessor, AppleLink. But Apple and Case had a falling out, and Case went on to develop AOL, while Apple turned to GE Information Services to run eWorld.
7. Pippin (1995-1996)
In the mid-1990s, Apple was consumed by corporate drama, confronted by a resurgent Microsoft fuelled by Windows 95, and struggling to keep up its mystique of quality and innovation. Engineering groups had masses of pet projects under development, with many wanting to take Apple into new markets. (Around this time, Apple also sold QuickTake cameras, but these were relabeled products produced by others.) Plus, Apple has a strong reputation in Japan, which it wanted to deepen.
The result of all this was a project called the Pippin, a multimedia PC aimed more at gaming and CD playback than traditional computing - more like what a PlayStation or Xbox is today. Apple didn't make the Pippin; it licensed the design to companies such as Bandai and Katz Media that created gaming consoles from it. But the PlayStation, Nintendo, and Sega consoles were already out and more popular, so game developers and users ignored the Pippin. Pundits also considered the Pippin to be yet another distraction for an already distracted Apple.
8. Copland OS (1994-1996)
In 1991, Mac OS was getting long in the tooth, and Windows 3.1 was providing the first real competition to Apple's innovative System 7 Mac OS in years. Then-CEO John Sculley focused more on marketing than investing in a new OS to support capabilities such as multitasking and protected memory that were becoming critical as applications got more sophisticated.
When Gil Amelio took over in 1994, he made the development of a new OS, which was code-named Copland, a priority. But the engineering team at Apple quickly began expanding the scope, developing a string of technologies such as OpenDoc and QuickDraw GX, but failing to get the core features to work.
Apple demoed Copland at its WWDC show in 1995, but its primitive microkernel didn't even support symmetric multiprocessing and the proto-Copland OS was highly unstable. The promised developer build kept getting delayed, and the few developers who viewed working demos saw how unstable and unsophisticated it actually was. Amelio brought in the respected Ellen Hancock from National Semiconductor to try to save Copland, but her investigations showed it was hopeless, so Amelio killed Copland in summer 1996. The project to save Apple's future looked as if it might hasten its demise instead.
So Amelio, in desperation, began shopping outside Apple for a replacement. He came close to buying the Be OS from former Apple Mac development chief Jean-Louis Gassée, but Gassée wanted more money than Apple would pay. Amelio then turned to Steve Jobs, hoping to adopt his NextStep OS as the basis for the new Mac OS.
Over the Christmas holidays, the deal was done, and just five weeks after that, Jobs ousted Amelio and returned as CEO. NextStep did, in fact, form the basis for the new Mac OS, called Mac OS X, that more than a decade later is considered the best PC OS available.
Next page: Mac clones, Apple TV and more >>
9. Macintosh clones (1995-1997)
In the mid-1990s, Apple was falling apart. CEO John Sculley departed in spectacular fashion after the board lost confidence in the ex-PepsiCo executive's hype-heavy style, and new CEO Michael Spindler was trying to refashion Apple as a typical PC maker, which had Apple's engineering staff in open revolt.
At the same time, IBM and Motorola were trying to stop the 'Wintel' juggernaut, so they proposed that they and Apple develop a computer that could run Mac OS, IBM's OS/2, and Microsoft Windows NT, using IBM's and Motorola's PowerPC chips. Microsoft killed the NT for PowerPC edition, but the so-called AIM alliance opened the door for Apple to consider letting other companies make and sell Macs.
Motorola offered a few StarMax models, but the main clone maker was Power Computing, whose founder Stephen Kahng started the wildly successful Korean PC maker Leading Edge. With IBM's encouragement, Kahng was willing to start up Power Computing to produce Mac clones.
Power Computing was very successful, outselling Dell for a while, as Apple stuck to its traditional sales of mail order and computer stores. Power Computing's clones cost less and soon surpassed Apple's own Macs in ratings by Macworld and MacUser magazines. Their designs were PC-like, but Apple's visual flair was at a low point, and Power Computing offered the same customisation services as then-top PC seller Dell. Apple was losing to its own licensees, which further demoralised the company.
For some, the clones were a safety bet - if Apple couldn't stop its implosion, the technology would live on elsewhere. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 2007, he decided he could fix Apple without outside help and quickly killed the clone experiment by releasing Mac OS 9, which the clone licensing deals didn't include. (Although Mac OS 9 was a minor update to Mac OS 8.6, its number change was meant to end, by de facto, the clone deals.) Apple bought Power Computing and shut it down that year.
10. Apple USB Mouse (1998-2000)
After taking back control of Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs went about redefining the look and feel of the Mac itself, and his design team created the coloured iMac line that contrasted dramatically with the traditional beige box. When Apple began supporting the then-new USB connection standard, it also decided to reinvent the look and feel of the mouse. The result was the circular USB Mouse, commonly called the hockey puck.
The disc design certainly got attention, but for the wrong reasons: it was hard to hold, as it didn't fit most people's hands. A thriving business soon emerged selling snap-on covers that made them fit your grip.
Apple at this time was in full-arrogance mode, with Jobs and other executives carrying about like prima donna fashion designers who simply couldn't understand why anyone would question their design sensibilities. But in 2000, the company released the soapbar-shaped Apple Pro mouse, whose elongated yet still simple curves could be held comfortably and securely by humans.
11. Power Mac G4 Cube (2000-2001)
Apple's fashionista kick also resulted in the G4 Cube, a crystal-box-style computer that was eerily reminiscent of the black Next Cube workstations that Steve Jobs was selling between 1990 and 1993. But as in much of fashion, function took a backseat to form.
The G4 Cube had no room for full-length expansion cards, its acrylic enclosure and lack of fans (to keep it quiet) meant that it tended to overheat, and it lacked audio input. But its spare styling lives on, now in burnished aluminum, in the Mac mini, which came out in 2005.
The G4 Cube wasn't Apple's first foray into fashionista designs; the 1998 iMac was the first to play with translucent plastic and unconventional shapes. But even before that, in the final days of Gil Amelio's regime, came the $9,000 (£5,400) Twentieth Anniversary Mac, whose sophisticated style mimicked that of Bang & Olufsen's high-end stereo equipment. The TAM was hardly a success, but it was a one-time 'art gallery' product never intended to be a mass-market hit (only 12,000 were made), so we don't include it as one of our top 12 failures.
12. Apple TV (2007-present)
In recent years, Apple has deprived us of spectacular failures it supplied so generously from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Although its Mac minis have been criticised as overpriced, they sell decently, and Apple's desktop Macs fall into the category of competent. Instead of failures, the decade has instead been one of major hits such as the MacBook, MacBook Pro, iPod, iTunes and iPhone. There's been one exception so far: the Apple TV.
Apple's networked media player box was supposed to be the new TiVo, but it's not even as well liked as Windows-based media-center PCs. That's because the Apple TV is fairly limited: You can use it to play music and photos onto your TV from other computers or through iTunes - which many AV receivers can also do - as well as play videos from Flickr, YouTube, and the iTunes Store. But you can do the same plugging your computer into many HDTVs using its HDMI or USB port.
Apple TV isn't connected to the vast video libraries of Netflix or Blockbuster, so you're stuck with the iTunes Store's offerings, which many television and movie studios have avoided supporting for fear of suffering the same loss of control as the music industry experienced with iTunes. In other words, Apple TV isn't that innovative or that capable - in contrast to Apple's recent history.