Revisiting Apple’s Top Hardware Design Mistakes

There’s something in the human psyche which causes us to be attracted to lists. Top 10 lists, top movies lists, top selling products, you name it, we humans can list it.

Last week Macworld made a list of the top Apple hardware design mistakes. Any such list is subjective, of course, but this one is flawed as much as some of Apple’s notorious product designs. Here’s a better list of Apple’s top hardware design flops.

Eye Of The Beholder

First, let me take a look at what constitutes a design mistake. Is it an actual design that the world views as a mistake? Or, did a poor design result in a product failure (weak sales)?

That’s where Macworld’s list is flawed. Some of the products were obvious disasters (weak sales, bad design), others were sales successes and sold tens of millions. It’s more of a mistake if sales are disastrous.

Apple Hockey Puck MouseiPod Hi-Fi: What was Apple thinking? Apple branded accessories are usually a hit and miss proposition. Airport is good. iPod Hi-Fi, not so much. It was too expensive, too big, and was a solution looking for a problem.

Apple III: This was both a design mistake and a sales disaster. It was ugly, broke often, and underpowered. Plus, a five megabyte Apple hard disk was priced at about $5,000. It belongs in the Apple Hall of Shame.

PowerBook 5300: Apple’s PowerBook line defined the standard for notebooks for years, but the 5300 will live in infamy as the one that started the most fires.

Pippin: Never heard of it? Pippin was a game set and it didn’t live long enough for anyone in the U.S. to get a look. Apple was so embarrassed by the Pippin that it didn’t even have an Apple logo.

Mac TV: This was more or less a Performa of some kind, in black plastic, with a TV tuner card inside. It was slow, buggy, expensive and didn’t exactly catch the world on fire the way the PowerBook 5300 did. Epic fail.

Those are the basic, true-blue Apple hardware failures. Missing from my list are the following, which show up often on other lists of Apple duds.

Lisa: Before the Mac was a bigger, more beautiful GUI device that worked great but was way overpriced; a sales failure, not a hardware design failure.

Newton: Apple didn’t make any money on the Newton and it didn’t sell in big numbers, so it’s considered a high profile failure, but both hardware and software were ahead of its time. Newton had many users who loved the device that Steve Jobs scrapped upon his return.

Mac Cube: This clear plastic Mac was a designer’s favorite, so not a failure from that standpoint. It was overpriced and buyers couldn’t justify the extra expensive of a pretty and expensive paperweight. Sales failure, yes. Design? Beautiful.

Apple Anniversary Mac: This one is on many failure lists, but it wasn’t designed to be the Mac for the rest of us. Why Apple built it in the first place may remain a mystery, but it was too expensive, underpowered, but now a collector’s item.

128k Mac: This was on Macworld’s list but should not. It was underpowered and at $2,495 rather expensive for a floppy disk computer, but it set the standard for the GUI, and set the stage for improved models in years to follow. And Apple sold plenty of them.

iPhone 4: For whatever reason, this was on Macworld’s list of failures but it was anything but. The antenna problem was notorious, but no worse than many similar smartphones of the era. It was not a fail in design, functionality or sales. It was a home run by every measure.

What’s on your list of Apple’s greatest hardware failures? What’d I miss?






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