In Depth: When Apple drops the ball: the gear that flopped

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As a business, Apple appears to court the naysayers. Naturally, it’s been about to collapse for the last 25 years, with a lot of examples of things not going to strategy, innovation that hadn’t been adopted, products that failed to offer, or that died prior to variation 2.0.

But commonly throughout the last three decades those cunning designers at Apple have shown remarkable prescience. Their triumphs are clear.

But exactly how about this: examine those seemingly failed products and innovations, and you’ll find that they naturally fall under three classifications of failure: design over compound, ideas embodied ahead of the prevailing innovation, or attempting to solve the right illness, but not always in the right way.

Mad Macs

Apple G4 Cube

Apple has actually produced a reasonable couple of Mac designs that some could consider ‘failures’. Any list of examples will be subjective since they all have their own lovable features, but there are some that are less forgivable than others.

Let us beginning with the Macintosh Portable. Passionately referred to as the Luggable, it’s generally thought about to carry with it an accompanying Household Fortunes-style rejection noise. Heavy and expensive, and – up until they added the v2 backlight – it was unusable in daytime.

The weight was because of lead-acid batteries: in spite of providing (for its time) an extraordinary battery life, they died completely if completely released, and – because they were wired in series to the supply – when dead, you could not even utilize it linkeded into the wall.

But before consigning its track record to the scrapheap, the protection begs the jury’s extravagance with some choice pub-quiz truths. It was the first computer system to send out an e-mail from area (exactly how cool is that?), and it had a reconfigurable trackball. More significantly, it effectively formed the basis of the Sony-built PowerBook 100 (with the trackball in the center). As any individual who ever possessed one will inform you, the PowerBook 100 was among the greats.

The G4 Cube is the canonical style-over-substance Mac. It was not even strictly a cube: a 200mm cubed CPU housing yes, however composed a 250mm-high acrylic box. Underpowered, with the CD drive vertically mounted, external speakers, an external (and likewise sized) power supply, the box would crack if you did not make use of kid gloves – and there was no audio-in. Oh, however it looked excellent – sufficient to provide in an episode of The Simpsons.

It failed since it was both too costly and slow. The form-factor was nearly right: at intro Mac mini was dealt with as a miracle brand-new design, however in essence it was simply the Cube done right. You can stack five new Mac Minis into the exact same volume, and the power brick is constructed in. Regardless of its failure though, it’s still a sought-after item of desire, not least because it makes an exceptional MacQuarium.

Of course, with every new Mac’s arrival, old Mac hands ask the exact same concern: ‘Is this the device engineering wished to deliver, or did advertising acquire it?’ To some, the entire Performa series was an advertising disaster. They didn’t have oomph, the periodic mathematics coprocessor, had odd memory configurations (5MB optimum) and there was a new variation every 3 weeks (70-plus designs in between September 1992 and November 1996.)

But the concept of getting our grubby paws onto an inexpensive(ish) color Mac was worth the small imperfections. It’s ‘oddball marketing division’ composed all over it. Let us single out the oddest: the Performa 610 DOS suitable. This was a 68040-based old-school Mac with a 25 MHz Intel 486SX coprocessor card packed into its Processor Direct Slot. In spite of the name, it shipped with Windows 3, you might toggle between OS variations on the fly, or run two displays at the same time.

These days you can do all of it in software, but back in the day this was bleeding-edge. There are most likely just a small number of Twentieth Anniversary Macs in the UK. Of which, at an estimate, the bulk are in glass cases. It was an all-in-one system (if you mark down the huge external subwoofer) with a vertically mounted CD-ROM, built-in TV tuner, built-in radio, 2GB drive, an active matrix LCD display, but just 10in deep. It was the first desktop PC to utilize an LCD, and given a long enough ADB cable for the keyboard, you can in fact wall-mount it. It was massively over-priced though (over $7k), provided a trackpad rather of a mouse, and the display was only 12.1 inches.

It suffered by being ahead of its time – by about 7 years. It was the proto-iMac G5, and another example of the internet now repairing problems that utilized to be handled by splashing the cash on hardware. Macs don’t require TV and radio receiver hardware now since we’ve got YouTube and iPlayer. If only large LCDs had been readily available, it might’ve been the first media center PC.


Apple eMate

A history of Apple is not simply a history of Mac hardware. Apple tries to innovate in practically every arena it enters, with hardware near-misses, cul-desacs, and failures aplenty. Any list of purported Apple missteps will include the Newton narrative: Steve Jobs disliked John Sculley’s baby, styli were evil, the handwriting recognition sucked, Apple was spread too very finely and engineers were better deployed in other places, so Jobs axed the Newton.

But it was not simply a PDA, the eMate 300 was a Newton with a keyboard. Aimed at the education market and priced appropriately ($800), it was a pre-cursor to many future technologies. It was a tough little thing: entirely solid state, it had a practically waterproof keyboard, expandable memory, and delivered with fundamental office software application. Oh, if only it had actually been wireless! Offered the expense corollaries of Moore’s law, the eMate 300 was clearly the steampunk embodiment of a One Laptop computer Per Child device.

Apple has a great track record for opening new markets. Did you understand that Apple produced the first consumer digital cam? Well, in fact it was the second – but it was the first mass-market one. The QuickTake 100 was the pinhole video camera of digital world: it could only take 24-bit PICT files, with an optimal resolution of 640×480, then just 8 at a time. But it was so releasing, it cut out the ‘breeze, develop, scan’ procedure to which we were inured.

For a design conference in Might 1994, our correspondent managed to work up the procedures notes as PDFs with photos of the speakers, in under an hour. For the delegates, this was pure Arthur C Clarke magic. So what was the reason it failed? It awoke the slumbering cam incumbents to the reality they might no longer postpone the transfer to digital.

Some Apple kit had a really brief service life: see the Apple Network Server (ANS). Very few individuals have even seen – let alone made use of – one. The ANS was a PowerPC-based box developed to run AIX, and was Apple’s confused attempt to break into the Business Server market. In essence, it was an extremely expandable PowerMac 9500, with the ROMs got rid of, stuffed into a tumble-dryer sized cabinet.

It was developed to not run Mac OS, and very quickly wrote its own fatality sentence. At $19,000, it stays Apple’s most pricey catalogue-priced machine. On 2nd ideas, it does handle to be successful as the very best tech deal ever: one just recently offered on eBay for $1.56 (shipping $120).

Apple Pippin

Apple actually made a games system. Well, they made it, and Bandai made them. But they just made about forty thousand. The Pippin was also Apple’s attempt to create a network computer (NC).

Oracle tried to establish an ‘NC Consortium’, including Apple, to produce thin clients: diskless, internet-based computers. Pippin would’ve failed simply for the typical reasons games platforms fail: it was too costly ($600), it used encoded CDs, it utilized a TELEVISION as display, and it was enormously underpowered. It also flopped as an NC, without network connection, and simply a 14.4 k modem.

The icing on the cake? That ‘d be having simply the single third-party designer. (Apple learned from this error, with developer engagement – maybe the major reason for iOS’s success.)

Back catalogue


Apple has a lot of entries in the ‘Where are they now?’ software application back brochure. Some are much missed out on, others however, deserve their place in the pantheon of coding ignominy. When Microsoft brought out Item Linking and Embedding (OLE), Apple felt it required a ‘me too’ to compete.

Publish & Subscribe would be much better than OLE, with all sorts of whistles and bells. You might release part of a spreadsheet document – state, the sales chart – and then sign up for it in a word-processing document. The word-processing paper would then see any updates in the initial, and offer to update also.

P&S slumped to defeat on three levels: developers found it difficult to work with, so it was poorly adopted; it would frequently break due to the fact that the original was on a floppy at home (keep in mind, children, not everyone had a network), and finally, users could not see the point of it. The Mac OS had a wonderful scrapbook, and copy and paste worked well. Apple re-learned the zeroth law of engineering.

Apple has had more than one stab at producing a Macfriendly UNIX operating system. Why? For the same reasons OS X is based upon UNIX today: UNIX is steady, has a big back-catalogue, and gets you into venture.

A / UX was their first go. Based upon UNIX System V, it was POSIX compliant, had an XWindows server, consisted of TCP/IP networking, and would operate on something as lowly as Mac SE/30. It permitted you to run Mac applications along with UNIX applications. To state it hadn’t been mainstream was an understatement, but the innovation it consisted of led on to lots of advancements we take for granted today. It ran Mac software application transparently, however it doinged this by using a virtual device, and provided the beginnings of a mainstream GUI user interface to UNIX. This was prior to GNU/Linux, and it was quite a closed source.

Apple was so keen to obtain the Mac into engineering and college websites (or at least not have them excluded from them) that it even tried the ‘if you cannot beat ’em, join ’em’ school of software application development. The Macintosh Application Environment (MAE) was an emulation plan made to run on Sun Solaris and HP Ultrix that let UNIX citizens run Mac applications.

In fact, MAE emulated virtually the whole Mac OS 7.5 in an X Window. So you can do your finite-element-analysis deal with your trusty SPARCstation, then fire up MacWrite to produce the record in. You can copy and paste in between UNIX and Mac environments, open files from NFS volumes, and, perhaps most significantly, run the sorts of applications not generally discovered on conventional UNIX equipments such as PageMaker or QuarkXPress.

Although dropped in 2004, HyperCard was a device for producing object-based papers (heaps) that contained both the code and data. It was simple to utilize and enjoyable to program making use of English-like HyperTalk. How important was it? Well, it influenced or motivated the development of JavaScript, AppleScript, HTTP, web browsers, and even the idea of the wiki. Even the initial Myst game was composed in it.

For some it was the killer-app for the initial Macintosh. So why even consider it a failure? Its developer, Expense Atkinson, is fairly clear on this point: a lack of network awareness: ‘I matured in a boxcentric culture at Apple. If I ‘d matured in a network-centric culture, like Sun, HyperCard may have been the first internet browser. My blind area at Apple prevented me from making HyperCard the first internet browser.’

Outside the box

Apple laptop

Apple is not simply boxed items, however. In the internet age, online services deserve our factor to consider, too. You ‘d need to be of a specific vintage (matured 40 or so) to remember AppleLink. It was Apple’s pre-web online neighborhood, accessed with customer software application and a modem. It was for distributors and developers just, and kid, was it pricey.

Apple tried utilizing a 3rd party (Quantum) to produce a customer variation, AppleLink Personal Edition, but it was even more expensive. eWorld was therefore Apple’s 3rd attempt at an online service. It looked wonderful, had an internet browser, email and FTP, however it was massively pricey, and Mac only. It failed, in part due to strong competition from a just recently relabelled Quantum – America Online, or AOL. (If in the beginning you don’t do well, right? After its ‘success’ with eWorld, it took an additional four years for Apple to have an additional go. iTools /. Mac was truly practically giving Mac users an email address, and it was cost-free. See, they’d actually learned their lesson.)

Ah, hindsight: it’s wonderful thing. What you thought about at the time as failure typically becomes an important stepping stone, innovation hailed as the next big thing may be next week’s chip-paper. Apple has a great track record for both. Without HyperCard, the internet might’ve taken longer to start.

With no QuickTake we could still be scanning photographs. If they ‘d dealt with the handwriting recognition prior to delivering we might all be utilizing Newtons rather of iOS gadgets. Had eWorld worked, the web might still be a walled garden, and e-commerce the next big thing. Be thankful for small mercies.