When Apple flops: The worst Apple products of all time

Not every gadget Apple produces is a golden delicious, some product ideas go over like sour grapes.

Thanks to the wild popularity of the iPod and iPhone, Apple has become celebrated for its sleek devices that fly off the shelves.  But deep in the annals of Apple history are a number of products that were abysmal commercial flops and some of them were design failures, too.

While some of Apple's products bombed because they were overpriced, some were arguably ahead of their time, while others were simply ill conceived products that were horribly executed and poorly thought out. With all eyes now focusing on the potential release of an Apple tablet, it might be a good time to take a look back at some of Apple's product disasters. Here is my list of Apple's worst products.

To thumb through this list quickly, and see a photos of each product, checkout the Apple Disasters Slideshow.

1. Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh

20th Anniversary Macintosh
In 1997, Apple unveiled a special edition Macintosh to commemorate the company's 20th year anniversary. Originally introduced by then Apple CEO Gil Amelio at the 2007 Macworld Expo, the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, or TAM, featured a slick all-in-one design that measured only 2.5 inches deep, a LCD display with side-mounted Bose speakers and a vertically mounted CD-ROM drive.  It was released in March 2007 with a lot of fanfare. Aesthetically, the machine was stunning, but its astonishingly high price tag of $7,499 didn't make it sell well. It didn't help that the machines specs were completely underwhelming relative to its asking price.

In the 12 months following its release, Apple kept lowering the price of TAM in an effort coax people to buy it. Right off the bat, Apple cut the asking price by over 50% to $3,500, but, when that wasn't enough to entice users, Apple dropped the price to $1,995. The company discontinued the product shortly after, just one year after it was released.  Not surprisingly, the drastic price cuts upset the few consumers who actually paid full price for TAM and Apple subsequently gave them PowerBook laptop computers to appease them.  Sound familiar? A similar backlash happened when Apple lowered the price of the original iPhone shortly after its release.

And in another interesting piece of trivia, the TAM's biggest claim to fame was that one of them was on Jerry Seinfeld’s desk during the entire last season of Seinfeld.

2. Pippin

In 1996, Apple released a video game console called Pippin. Pippin was positioned as a network computer that also had the ability to play games (though it was largely thought of as a video game console).  It was a complete dud with an abysmal selection of games (fewer than 20 when the product was released). It featured a 14.4kbps modem and a three-year-old processor that loaded up games at an aggravatingly slow pace.  

In the end, Apple was simply unable to compete with the more established, and affordable, video game consoles at the time, such as the Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64. The Pippin initially sold for $599 and, though specific figures are hard to come buy, it is estimated that of the 100,000-plus Pippin machines produced, only 42,000 were actually sold.

3. Apple Lisa

Apple's history of releasing overpriced hardware dates back to the early 1980's when it released the Apple Lisa computer.  Technology wise, the Apple Lisa delivered the goods as it was the first personal computer to come equipped with a mouse and GUI.  But with an original sticker price of $9,995 in 1983, Lisa computers didn't exactly fly off the shelves.  To put things into perspective, $9,995 in 1983 is the equivalent of over $21,000 in today’s dollars.

Apple went on to release 2 updated models of the Lisa at significantly lower prices, but by that time, Apple was all about the Macintosh. Apple was said to have buried a ton of unsold Lisa computers at a Utah landfill as a tax write-off.

4. Macintosh TV

Macintosh TV
The Macintosh TV was released in 1993 and was designed as a mix between an Apple Performa and a TV monitor. It sported a 14-inch CRT screen and came with a cable ready TV tuner card. In its attempt to integrate a computer with a TV, the Macintosh TV ended up being the worst of both worlds.  As a computer, its specs were lackluster, and as a TV, it was way too expensive.

The biggest knock against the Macintosh TV was its inability to display TV shows within a desktop window, thought it also didn’t help that its graphics performance was relatively sluggish.  Not surprisingly, the Macintosh TV didn't take the world by storm, and Apple ultimately produced only 10,000 units in the five months the machine was in production.

Interestingly, the Macintosh TV was the first Apple product to ever ship draped in all black, perhaps a fitting achievement for a product that was essentially dead on arrival.

5.  G4 CUBE

The award-winning Apple G4 Cube was the handiwork of Apple design guru Jonathan Ive, and provided users with a full-powered Mac in an extremely small 8 x 8 x 8-inch shaped cube.  Steve Jobs reportedly loved the simplistic design of the Cube, and critics were impressed that Apple engineers were able to fit so much computing power into such a small space. But in typical Apple fashion, its high price tag of $1,599 prevented it from actually generating a significant amount of sales.

The Cube was in production from 2000 to 2001 before Apple decided to lay it down to rest, and much like the Twentieth Anniversary Mac, the design was the recipient of a number of professional accolades, and even earned Jonathan Ive a number of design awards.

6. Apple Hockey puck mouse

Long before the iPod, the original Bondi Blue iMac was the hit product that cemented Steve Jobs' successful return to Apple and served the catalyst for Apple's eventual return to profitability.

The original iMac's all-in-one design and unique translucent blue exterior signaled that under Jobs' command, Apple would indeed be thinking different.  But sometimes, it's better to keep things the way they are, a point that was quite evident when users first put the "hockey puck" mouse that came with the original iMac to use.

While Steve Jobs exclaimed that it was the best mouse ever created, it was in reality ergonomically uncomfortable and functionally inefficient to use.  Thankfully, the circular form factor of the “hockey puck” mouse has disappeared, yet the mouse still makes cameo appearances in a variety of “Worst Tech Products in History” lists.

7. Macintosh Portable

Macintosh Portable

In 1989, long before Apple released the ultra-thin and lightweight MacBook Air, Apple put out the Macintosh Portable, its first attempt to produce a portable laptop computer."Portable" however, might be a misnomer as the device checked in at an astonishingly heavy 16 pounds (in part due to heavy lead-acid batteries) and was as big as briefcase.

When first released, the Macintosh Portable came with 1MB of RAM, a black and white LCD screen and a full keyboard. With an initial asking price of $6,500, the Macintosh Portable was not a successful product by any means, and Apple eventually re-designed its notion of a portable computer when it released the PowerBook just two years later in 1991.

Looking back at the Macintosh Portable, Apple's head was clearly in the right place. It was a product that may have been just a little bit ahead of its time and just a few pounds too heavy.

8. Newton

Also considered ahead of its time, Apple's line of Newton OS products were supposed to revolutionize the PDA market when first released in 1993. Newton products were able to send e-mails and faxes and also included applications that helped organize daily schedules and contact information.  But the Newton's chief selling point was its handwriting recognition software, a feature that famously didn't always deliver accurate results and was subsequently lampooned in a famous "Donnesbury" cartoon and later on in The Simpsons

While the Newton's ability to "translate" handwritten notes into text significantly improved with later product releases, it was never quite able to recover from its early reputation as a dud of a device.  And coupled with an expensive $1,000 price tag and a somewhat bulky form factor, sales of Newton devices never took off. 

Steve Jobs ultimately axed the Newton group when he returned to Apple in 1997, but the Newton still maintains a devoted cult following of users to this day.  Interestingly, when discussing typing on the iPhone prior to its release, Steve Jobs noted that the Apple team kept the “Doonesbury” cartoon in the back of the minds and knew that they couldn’t afford to deliver what was perceived to be a sub-par and laughable typing experience.

9. iPod Hi-Fi

Perhaps in an effort to cash in on the successful iPod accessory market, Apple introduced a Bose-developed stereo speaker system in 2006.  Called the "iPod Hi-Fi", the stereo system played music directly off of users' iPods but was quickly discontinued after lackluster reviews, a high asking price of $349, and disappointing sales.

While the iPod Hi-Fi was certainly a decent stereo, the iPod Hi-Fi ultimately bombed because Apple priced it as a premium stereo system that wasn't quite up to par with similarly priced systems on the market.  Even though Apple originally advertised the iPod Hi-Fi as possessing superior sound quality, audiophiles were quick to disagree and pointed out a number of flaws in the stereos design.

Apple abruptly discontinued production a little over a year and a half after it was first released. With an exceedingly large ecosystem of iPod accessories already in existence at the time, it's a wonder that Apple even decided to enter the market in the first place.

Why not include the Apple TV?

One conspicuously absent product from the list is the Apple TV. While some are quick to dismiss it as a failure, and indeed, Steve Jobs only refers to it as a "hobby," Apple is still tinkering with its functionality and it's probably a bit soon to declare it a failure. Apple might have a trick up it's sleeve as it attempts to win the digital battle for living room supremacy.

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Apple website circa 1983

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