Apple's worst failures of all time, from AirPower to Bendgate to the Newton
From unforeseen glitches and lower-than-expected sales to design fails -- it doesn’t always go right for Apple.
Clifford ColbyManaging Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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Apple last week did something it rarely ever does: It canceled an already announced project. Specifically,
, a wireless charging pad that would charge up the
all at once. After 18 months, not a single AirPower device saw the light of day.
The unexpected death of AirPower is an uncommon occurrence for Apple, which so carefully nurtures its buttoned-up public image. It's rare for the company to announce a product so far in advance and even more rare that it publicly cancels a project before it ships.
iPhone batteries, throttled; and MacBook batteries, exploding (2017)
Following reports of older iPhones becoming unusually sluggish, Apple admitted it was slowing down older iPhones to conserve battery life. iPhone owners were, hmmm, displeased to learn that Apple had made that decision without their knowledge and consent. As a way to make good, Apple offers to replace affected batteries for $29.99, swapping in 11 million new batteries by the end of 2018. Along with iPhone batteries, Apple has had, over time, to deal with scattered reports of exploding batteries in MacBooks and Powerbooks.
To promote U2's new album, Apple pushed the supergroup's Songs of Innocence to 500 million iTunes libraries for free. Instead of thanking Apple and U2 frontman Bono for the gift, many felt imposed upon at best, or violated at worst. Stores that were counting on album sales became upset, as were other musicians who believe people should pay for music, not expect it for free. Then there was a good chunk of Apple's 500 million customers, who felt Apple spammed them with an album they didn't want or consent to.
Apple Maps' growing pains (2012)
Designed to replace the preloaded Google Maps on iPhones, Apple Maps came as the default
app for iPhone and
in 2012. Unfortunately, Apple Maps also came with a collection of serious issues, from faulty directions to oddly distorted images. Apple Maps was CEO Tim Cook's first fiasco following the death of
in 2011, and it got so bad that Cook apologized for the unsteady app.
The iPhone 4 employed a stylish stainless-steel frame that wrapped around the device and housed the phone's antennas -- and when gripped just right (or just wrong, as the case may be) reduced the phone's signal strength when it shipped that June. Amid rumors of a recall and software updates, and even free phones bumpers from Apple to keep fingers off the frame and its gaps, Apple apologized and said iPhone 4 owners could return their phones if they wanted.
The loneliness of iTunes Ping (2010)
Ping was a social network designed to connect you to your friends and favorite musicians as part of a big iTunes update. Before its release, Apple showed Ping with hooks into
, but when Ping shipped, Facebook integration had been pulled from Apple's attempt at social networking. Without Facebook, finding your friends on Ping was challenging. And once you did find them, you often discovered their musical tastes were as bad as you feared.
Wobbling MobileMe (2008)
There was much to like about MobileMe, Apple's collection of online services users could subscribe to for $99 a year. With it, you could sync your calendar and contacts. It offered online storage, Find My iPhone, a photo gallery and even an easy-enough-to-use web design tool called iWeb. Unfortunately, the service got off to a terrible start, with potential subscribers unable to sign up and then were unable to access it once they did subscribe. The service never quite recovered, and Apple replaced it a few years later with iCloud.
iPod Hi-Fi sky-high price (2006)
Intended to replace your home's stereo system, the iPod Hi-Fi was a bulky, expensive speaker that lacked an AM/FM radio, came with a limited remote and a precariously docked an iPod on top. It sounded fine as an audio device, but potential buyers balked at its cost (at $349, it cost $50 to $200 more than competing products), its design and the inability to use it with non-Apple audio players.
G4 Cube, cracks and all (2000)
The G4 Cube was arresting, housed in acrylic glass, worthy of being in a museum. The boxy Mac was also expensive, didn't come with a monitor, required external speakers and could form cracks that marred the exterior of the Mac. It barely was around a year when Apple discounted it in 2001.
Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (1997)
An all-in-one design that seemed more oppressive than elegant, The Twentieth Anniversary Mac packed just about everything you'd want in a computer: An LCD display, FM radio and a TV tuner, a CD-ROM drive, a
sound system, and leather palm rests. It was also expensive, with a $7,500 price tag at launch, and didn't quite look right. It didn't sell, and Apple reduced its price by almost 75 percent a year later to $1,995 to clear out stock.
Pippin, an all-in-one that never took off (1996)
It was going to be a gaming console, an internet appliance, a set-top box -- a way for Apple to get into the living room. The Pippin, however, never caught on with buyers, software developers or the hardware makers that would license the multipurpose design. In 1997, Apple moved on.
Attack of the clones (1995)
For the Mac's first decade, Apple resisted licensing the Mac OS to third-party manufacturers. But in 1995, as its market share dwindled, Apple signed up a handful of tech companies to license System 7 and manufacture and sell Macintosh clones, with the goal of growing the Mac market. The clone makers were scrappy and competitive ("You can take my Mac when you pry my cold dead fingers off the mouse!" read one Power Computing ad), but instead of growing the market, the clones mainly took sales from Apple.
In the mid 1990s, the original Macintosh operating system was starting to show its age, so Apple began work on its replacement. Code-named Copland, the project would give Apple a modern system that it could use to compete against
's Windows PCs.
The Copland designs were ambitious and far ranging -- it was rumored at one point that Copland would be able to run Windows apps -- and for several years Apple worked to bring it all together. However, the plans for Copland were too ambitious, and Apple wasn't able to release anything stable to developers or Mac users. In the summer of 1996, Apple management canceled the Copland project, deciding instead to release the usable bits of Copland piecemeal through updates to its existing Mac OS.
The collapse of the Copland project, however, left Apple with an aging OS and no clear path going forward. Deciding that the faster way to replace the Mac operating system was to buy one instead of build it, in a "stunning move," Apple bought NeXT Computer, the company Steve Jobs founded after leaving Apple. With the purchase of NeXT, Apple got its replacement operating system and next CEO, Steve Jobs.
Newton shows the future (1993)
The Apple Newton -- Apple CEO John Sculley's defining project -- pointed to the future of handheld devices. The pioneering personal digital assistant fit in your hand, came with task-management apps, and could recognize handwriting on its screen. It was also overpriced and suffered from various glitches, so instead of being seen as pushing the edges of technology, the PDA became an easy joke.
Steve Jobs killed the Newton project when he returned to Apple but applied its lessons to the iPhone and iPad, and even reused its handwriting recognition in the MacOS.
More Apple goofs
CNET editors also remember these infamous issues from the distant and not-so-distant past.
FaceTime bug. A glitch in Apple's video-conferencing app allowed a caller to eavesdrop on a conversation on the other end before the recipient answered (2019).
Butterfly switch keyboards. A keyboard flaw caused keys to stick or otherwise not work as expected on some 2015 to 2017 MacBook models (2015).
Magic Mouse 2 charging port position. You needed to flip over Apple's wireless mouse to recharge it, making it unusable while powering up (2015).
Misplaced iPhone 4. Even before Antennagate the iPhone 4 was off to a rocky start, with an Apple worker accidentally leaving a prototype at a bar, which eventually found its way into the hands of Engadget (2010).
Apple USB mouse caused repetitive stress. The translucent hockey-puck mouse looked great, especially when attached to the first colorful iMacs. It was also miserable to use (1998).
Overpriced Macintosh TV. Apple's first attempt at embracing television was too expensive and had too many design compromises to succeed (1993).
The late and expensive Apple Lisa. It was groundbreaking inside and out, but the much-delayed Apple Lisa was overpriced and was eclipsed by the Mac when it shipped a year later (1983).
Apple III, delayed and problematic. Meant to build on the success of the Apple II, the Apple III was instead Apple's first serious flop (1980).