Today we all know Apple as a hugely successful company and it’s hard to imagine any of its current products flopping. However, their road to becoming the biggest tech company in the world was not all roses, Apple has had a number of product failures in the past, some real flops in fact. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Following the popularity of the Apple II, the release of Apple III was expected to be the company’s initial entry into the mainstream of business computer manufacturing. Instead, the Apple III was one of the biggest flops and jeopardized the very existence of the company.
When the project began in the late 1970s, Apple III was the first machine which was not designed by Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple). You see, Steve was a stickler for good engineering, but since he was not the one developing Apple III, the product strayed from the engineering greatness and ended up being designed more from the marketing perspective.
The first clue that the new product may not do so well was the fact that Apple wanted the project to be completed within 10 months but the process was extended to two years. Then, after all that wait, only two months after the product release users started reporting a long line of software bugs and hardware crashes. These were mainly the result of problems with the motherboard, which heated up too quickly and caused the chips to fall out of the sockets. Inconvenient, right? Not surprisingly the design flaws had an adverse effect on the entire operating system. As a result, Apple III was pulled out of production completely and was re-released after 12 more months.
The 20th Anniversary Macintosh released in 1997 (also commonly referred to as TAM), was built specifically to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Apple. It was not good times for Apple by the way, as this was the period when they were nearly bankrupt. Many of the company head honchos saw TAM as the company’s ticket to solvency so Apple pretty much went all out on this one.
The TAM featured totally rad metallic green or gold paint, LCD screen (one of the first ones), and thin design outfitted with luxury amenities such as a leather wrist pad on the keyboard, Bose speakers, and a concierge service built into the unit so that you could readily configure and setup the machine. The TAM also offered a 12.1” display with 800 x 600 screen resolution, a speedy Central Processing Unit, 128 MB of memory, and a keyboard equipped with a trackpad. At the time, it was a beast basically and everything looked promising.
Apple produced 12,000 units but couldn’t sell them to save the company (literally). Why? Well, the price could have played a small role. When TAM hit the market at $7,500 per unit (that is a bit over $10,000 in today’s money!). Quite simply, nobody was willing to pay that much. By the time the final group of TAMs hit the market Apple was selling them at a reduced price of $1,995. In short, TAM certainly didn’t do much to celebrate the company’s successes.
Another one of the biggest Apple flops, was Apple Pippin, a gaming console that hit the market and disappeared into obscurity in no time. The unit was released in 1995 and was marketed as a cheap ($599) computer, but in fact was pretty much an expensive and limited gaming console, since there was virtually no software that would work on it.
Apple originally produced Pippin with plans of licensing the unit to more than one vendor. As life would have it, only Bandai purchased a license, hence the fact that almost nothing but Bandai software would work on Pippin. Long story short, out of 100,000 units that were released, only 42,000 sold before the console was discontinued. Eventually, Pippin made it into the annals of history when it placed in GamePro’s 2007 list of ‘The Worst Gaming Devices of All Time’.
The bad news was that the cool and compact design resulted in lack of expandability. The unit lacked PCI slots and didn’t have space for AGP cards. G4 Cube was also missing ports for the audio and instead offered a set of speakers which were connected via an external amplifier with USB input. The $1,800 price tag didn’t help either. Business people simply didn’t get it and G4 Cube ended up being regarded as an overpriced luxury item. As a result, very few units were sold and after only one year Apple discontinued the production and the G4 Cube was forgotten by many Apple users.
MobileMe was Apple’s first attempt at offering a cloud application which enabled users to access email and contacts in addition to photos, calendars, and files (and cost $100 per year). When MobileMe was released in 2008 (right after Iphone 3G), it was ridden with bugs, which resulted in problems with syncing and disappearing email messages.
Unlike other Apple products that failed, MobileMe has continued but only after Steve Jobs called a meeting with the staff that created the original MobileMe version and chewed them out, Mr. Jobs wasn’t afraid of using strong words either, since reportedly after asking developer “what MobileMe is supposed to do”, when someone answered, Jobs shot back, “So why the f*** doesn’t it do that?”. He then appointed a new chief to oversee the MobileMe service before the original version was abandoned. MobileMe was completely scrapped in 2011, and was replaced by the omnipresent iCloud.
Lessons learned here is that nobody is guaranteed to have 100% success rate. Apple’s failures have certainly led to some of the most innovative and groundbreaking products available on the market today. It will be interesting to see where Apple is headed within the next few years.