Forbes catalogs Apple's flops

Forbes has posted a gallery of ten of Apple's more ignominious flops. There's a good chunk of the usual suspects here: the Lisa, named after Steve Jobs daughter, buried en masse in a Utah landfill, the Pippin, the Newton. But there's also some forgotten gems, like Apple's vaporware "Taligent" OS. I also found this observation on why the G4 PowerMac Cube failed to be interesting:
The PC's unique shape, a cube with a top-loading toaster-style CD drive, seemed poised to create a PC design revolution. Instead, Apple announced it was putting the machine "on ice," in a press release a year after the Cube's launch. Apple's mistake in that case, says Kay, was depending more on Jobs' personal taste than market research. In a study Kay worked on as an analyst at IDC a year before the Cube's launch, researchers gave users blocks of foam in various shapes and surveyed them on which blocks they preferred and why. Kay found that users opted for "dramatic" shapes--those that had at least one dimension very different from the others. The Macbook Air, for instance, with one extremely thin dimension, would have scored highly. But by the same measure, the G4 Cube "was exactly the wrong product," Kay says.
Apple Product Flops [Forbes]
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12 Responses to Forbes catalogs Apple's flops

  1. Defiant1 says:


  2. SC_Wolf says:

    No mention of the Apple III, which had a problem with socketted chips popping loose during the heating/cooling of power-up and power-down cycles? The official fix for this, by the way, was to hold the Apple III case 6 inches to 1 foot above a hard surface and drop it. The force of impact would re-seat the loose chips.

  3. rachel says:

    What about Kaleida? It was multimedia development platform in a joint venture with IBM. I still have the mousemat that came with the developer kit, but I’m pretty sure we were one of only about a dozen or so developers worldwide.

  4. dimmer says:

    Storytelling: we had the ACL’s for our firewall stored on a Shiner (Apple Network Server), which worked OK but IBM stopped supporting AIX on the platform around 1999.

    We got through Y2K fine.

    But Y2K+1 was another thing. The “revisioning” system we had in place decided that **01 was less than **99, so our firewall (such as it was) went into total tits up mode. Did we have backups? Yes! But also on Shiners, so we were pretty much effyoukayeedee.

    Thankfully, our main guy had taken backup copies onto his Sun workstation, so we could recover everything (except the DMZ to Internal ACL’s) with just a little effort. Rebuilding the DMZ to Internal ACL’s took months (during which time, if you could get access to a DMZ machine, you had free reign everywhere within Apple other than the CEOnet, which had it’s own protection.)

    Not the best weeks of my life.

  5. dimmer says:

    Hey, no grieving on the AAUI port! At the time, there wasn’t a confirmed standard for Ethernet ports: think, thin or twisted pair: the AAUI connector effectively abstracted the hardware connection while using a small and simple connector which could be adapted as required, and fit on most any desktop or laptop system. Twisted pair did eventually win the day, but the AAUI port worked fine for it’s time.

    Probably more esoteric failures would be:

    Apple VITAL (Virtually Integrated Technology Assurance Lifespan — if memory serves me well): a concept that attempted to embrace existing mini-computer and mainframe systems into a workable systems integration platform. Made it as far as a five volume book set, then quickly faded.

    AOCE: Apple Open Collaboration Environment: a mail system with a powerful, rich client and the clunkiest server component imaginable. Probably best remembered as the final kick into the trash of CE’s QuickMail.

    The AIM Alliance: Apple/IBM/Motorola’s attempt to create a single chip POWER architecture. So successful that after the PowerPC G3 made it into systems, the Alliance was dissolved and future versions of the chip started in steady decline.

    PIN: (Processor Independent Netware) more a Novell failure than an Apple one, but a major drain on the server-side activities at Apple that produced nothing of worth.

    GeoPort: a geewhiz serial port implementation that was supposed to allow for progressive advances in the telecom space. Never made progress beyond the 14,400 baud modem and ISDN capabilities, and used resources on the host computer that sucked the life out of even a decent CPU.

    OpenDoc: you’d think by the time this was being developed (by Apple, IBM, and Novell) that the company would have clued in that these “alliance” projects never really worked out. Cool technology in principal, and once a major focus for IBM, it ended badly — including the demise of the ClarisWorks suite, which up until then had been kicking some major ass.

    Claris: or, more correctly, the butchery thereof. Deciding more or less on a whim to kill off every application bar FileMaker… Made no sense!

    Lotus 1-2-3/Mac: again, not an Apple fault per sey, but when your software arm just announced it’s new spreadsheet (Claris Resolve) making big press announcements that 1-2-3 was the “best Mac spreadsheet software EVER!” was probably not the smartest idea. 1-2-3 did make it to a version 1.1, which could print charts at something better than 72dpi.

    xServe RAID. Here today, gone tomorrow: just what you need to make enterprise customers rely on you.

    Don’t get me wrong, Apple has had many more hits than misses, and they are not afraid of making bold future-looking decisions. A list of stuff done right would be around 10x as long as things done, well, not so goodly.

  6. snej says:

    I only made it through the first page before giving up.

    “Pippin’s processor, a Motorola 603PowerPC that was already three years old when the console was released”

    —Ridiculous. It was less than a year old. The Pippin came out in mid-’96. The first PowerPC 601-based Macs shipped in ’94, and the 603e-based ones in, I believe, ’95. The 603e was a totally mainstream chip at the time, used in all of Apple’s consumer Macs.

    “[some] CD ROM games took as long as three minutes to load”

    Hey, that didn’t seem to hurt the PS2 any ;-) And if so, that would have been due to a slow CD drive, not the CPU.

    “The device’s modem … transmitted data at a laughable 14.4 kilobytes per second. Using the Pippin to send a message to someone in Japan and receive a response, for instance, took around 10 minutes.”

    WTF? 14.4 (kiloBITS, not bytes) was slow for the time, about 1/4 the speed of the new 56k modems, but in five minutes it could still send 400kbytes; so what kind of “message” are they talking about? I did plenty of email and chat over modems that speed or slower, and the speed was fine for plain text.

    The Pippin was undeniably a total failure, though fortunately not a high-profile one, but this “tech researcher” obviously has no idea why. I spent ten seconds googling and found much better answers:
    The real killer issues were that the thing could only run Mac programs that had been specially adapted for it, the text was too hard to read on TV screens, and of course it was too expensive (same thing that sunk the 3DO.)

    As for the Newton — yes, it wasn’t a palm-sized device. Good eyes. But nowadays that form factor still makes geeks hyperventilate under the name “UMPC”.

  7. Malus Malum says:

    This is a pretty sad list of failures. The Newton was not a failure, and many of our school accounts howled when the eMate, based on the Newton OS was discontinued.

    There are some much better examples of failures.
    The Apple Network Server 700 was a much bigger failure. <>

    It didn’t even run Mac OS, it ran IBM’s A/IX. People bought them and said WTF! is this thing. We sold 9 of them in Canada.

    Apple’s Intel based 486 DOS Compatibility Card made an enourmous sucking sound.

    The cube didn’t fail because of the design, it failed because of the price. It was not expandable, and cost as much as a tower Mac. I paid more for mine at the Apple employee price than it eventually sold for at retail. It was crazy expensive in the beginning and never recovered.

    I still have the “My dog ate my homepage” Cyberdog T-Shirt. That was a browser that went nowhere.

    eWorld sucked pretty hard. Doing all the ground work for AOL, and then not going ehead with it, and then trying to introduce eWorld after AOL was a hit. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb. OpenDoc was a nice idea but they killed it. TrueType anyone?

    I’d have to put all of Apple’s proprietary connectors on this list. Everytime Apple tries to introduce monitors with the HDI-45 AV Connector, DAV or ADC Connector monitor sales start to tank.
    If you had a 6100, you remember the first time Steve made this mistake. If you bought a NeXT machine you got burned again. If you buy one of the new monitors with the Mini Display port, maybe you just aren’t capable of learning :-)

    AAUI Connector anyone? How about 15 Pin monitor connectors on the MacII, Ci, CX FX? When you plugged a real AUI 15 Pin connector into your monitor port, it blew up your logic board.

    I’d put .mac on the list of failures as well.

    Someone should make a list of all the really cool stuff Apple did, and then killed off.

    OpenDoc, TrueType, HyperCard, WebObjects (tomorrow’s HyperCard) Newton, eMate, the list goes on.

    Apple’s list of cool things they killed would be a far more interesting list. There are hundreds and hundreds of lists of stuff Apple did sucked.

  8. bibulb says:

    As Linzmayer points out, the Newton was paying for itself at the end. It wasn’t a spectacular success, but it had an actual demand.

    Everyone perceives it based on the OMP’s release with “Eat up Martha”, and thus it was a “flop” – a “flop” that went for five years and was self-sustaining there at the end before it was Steved. I mean, sure, it wasn’t an iPod, but there’s plenty of other stuff out there to point at. There’s the PowerCD, frex. (A kinda neat idea if you didn’t bother to think too hard about it…) Or let’s ask about the iPod Hi-Fi – or eWorld!

  9. davevontexas says:

    As long as we’re all discussing various kinds of Apple hardware that weren’t actually failures if you just squint hard enough, I’d like to point out that not only was Yellow Dog Linux eventually ported to the Apple Network Server (which was a pretty cool piece of hardware), they were the *perfect* size and shape for bedside tables.

  10. dimmer says:

    Rachel: I think you win the first place on this one!

  11. dimmer says:

    Dylan and Apple Media Tool also qualify, although Dylan is being kept alive somewhat.

  12. johninsapporo says:

    The Newton was NOT a flop. It was ahead of its time. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple there just wasn’t any extra money to support it. So it had to go. The OS was superb. The nearest thing is the iPod touch, but in some ways I prefer the Newton.


    But in no way was it a flop.

    John Davis

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