Apple's Greatest Misses

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I'm not an Apple basher, or Apple fanboy. Apple is a company, like any other. The problem is once you're big, you attract attention (good and bad), and the most newsworthy stories are those with the most drama or sensationalism. I hate them both -- the rabid fans and Apple haters. But I do like to document the stuff others aren't. This article isn't into their many revolutions and successes, just a few highlights of technologies or ideas they went *splat*. Not to bash my Fruity Cupertino friends, but any mistake is useful, if you learn from it.

Hardware

  • 1980 Apple ///
  • 1983 Lisa
  • 1985 Macintosh Office - this was AppleTalk + Server + LW. Making the Mac more like Lisa, or the Xerox stuff they'd seen at PARC. While the Laserwriter started the Desktop publishing craze, much of the file sharing and networking stuff failed to materialized (as imagined). It would have been years ahead of Microsoft Office, if it had.
  • 1989 Macintosh Portable - at 17lbs and lead-acid batteries the name was an oxymoron. Still, while it didn't sell well, it was sort of a "how not to" for future luggables.
  • 1993 Newton / MessagePad - I had the “100” and the “2100”, they were way ahead of their time
  • Macintosh Color Classic (1993)... just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
  • Macintosh TV (1993)… you've never heard of this?
  • LC 500 (1993) … ugliest Macintosh ever. In fact, I'm going to put the whole Macintosh Performa line in this one. The idea was to offer more consumer Macs, by letting every retail place design their own feature SKU (with what came bundled with it). It confused the shit out of consumers, along with intentionally crippled machines to prevent cannibalization with higher end Macs, made this a flop of an idea.
  • 1994 QuickTake
  • Pippin (1995) -- it could have been great, it wasn't.
  • 1997 eMate 300 - it's not THAT bad.
  • Twentieth Anniversary Mac (1997) - this one is debatable. It was a neat halo product, that few could afford, or would want to buy.
  • USB “Puck” Mouse (1998), came along with the iMac -- horrible ergonomics, everyone hated them
  • iBook (1999) first gen design fail.
  • Power Mac G4 Cube (2000) - "a Mac mini at 3x the price"
  • eMac (2002) - mediocre execution on a not horrible idea
  • ROKR (2005), with Motorola
  • Aperture (2005) … half-assed, and then half-hearted; big win for Lightroom
  • Apple TV (2006) … at least the first generation
  • Bluetooth Headset (2007) … I have one of these

Software

  • 1984 MacBasic - killed the baby before it got to breathe -- this pushed Microsoft into re-investing into their somewhat ignored languages.
  • AppleLink -- like proprietary AOL.
  • Clascal / ObjectPascal
  • 1987 Hypercard - A hypertext scripting engine (forerunner of the Internet) years before Tim Berne's Lee ripped off the idea and made the world-wide-web. And the inspiration for MSFT to create VisualBASIC. So close, and yet just a footnote in History.
  • A/UX - Apple's UNIX
  • Bedrock -- Cross Platform App development
  • AOCE - Apple's Open Collaboration Environment: intra-office email and file sharing. IT was a proprietary internet
  • 1994 eWorld Apple's higher priced AOL, right as the world was shifting to the Internet.
  • eWorld means should also be on there.
  • 1996 Copland - failure to launch. So close -- the idea was a preemptive replacement for OS 7, but Apple execs couldn't give up on 100% backwards compatibility. That requirement doomed this OS effort. So they bought NeXT which went for Rhapsody and 0% compatibility instead (with a "BlueBox" VM that could run all your old apps, poorly). That almost killed Apple. They compromised in 2001 and came out with OS X and Carbon (90% compatibility, with minor rewrites), and viola. They saved Apple. Of course they could have done the same thing in 1996 without buying NeXT, and been to market years earlier, but don't tell anyone.
  • 2008 MobileMe - Apple tried to evolve iTools (2000) -> .Mac (2002) -> MobileMe (2008) -> iCloud. They all sort of missed on the price/value returns. MobileMe was the biggest dog of them all. Apple's Brown Zune of mobility.
  • 2010 Ping - Apple's social networking for music. It didn't quite achieve lift-off. Apple's Orcut / Google+
  • 2011 Final Cut Pro X - Premiere Pro thanks Apple profusely for this product. Shame too, it isn't a horrible product, if you want to re-learn how to do everything in the video world. Most people didn't.

More

  • Enterprise anything ** Mac Workgroup Server 500/700
  • Clones
  • XSAN
  • Taligent (Amber)
  • OpenDoc
  • AIM
  • NeXT Cube, NeXTSTEP, WebObjects (never achieved goals).

Visionary SNAFUs

  • Steve Jobs thought Apple and IBM would emerge as the only computer suppliers
  • 2003 Steve said music subscription services were "bankrupt"
  • Steve said people wouldn't want movies via iTunes
  • People wouldn't watch movies on iPod's
  • Nobody wants a tablet
  • Antennagate
  • Mocked Phablets
  • Maps
  • 10" iPad was minimum size
  • Steve's resistance to Games on Mac choked it's opportunity. He didn't want it as a toy, but toys sell
  • Servers, Enterprise and Pro's were often snubbed
  • Lack of unity between IOS and MacOS
  • Refusal to put touch on Mac (or an iOS emulator on a Mac)

Details

Steve was ruining Apple in 1985 and would have destroyed it, if he wasn't kicked out. It was Gassee's OpenMac (the SE and Mac II) that saved the company. If instead of cramming the one small Mac down people's throats he'd made an effort to turn the Lisa into a MacPro (instead of trying destroy everything that wasn't his), if he'd allowed the Mac to be more Open (instead of closed system), and allowed/supported more Games, it would have been a different story.

If Apple hadn't of bought NeXT (both the smartest and dumbest thing they ever did without him), NeXT would have been dead within a few years, or they could have picked them up cheeper. So luck more than skill saved NeXT there. (There were many other paths to success or doom for Apple at that time, so their path isn't as clear).

The MacMini was something Apple resisted for way too long. Their entire server strategies. The iPod was a side project not Steve's great idea. In some ways the iPhone proves the Newton was right (and sooner). I still think the divergence of iOS from MacOS is a problem. IBooks and iAds aren't raging successes. (I'm not against them -- but the margins and cost structure haven't achieved goals and a missing opportunities). And then there's AppleTV -- if Apple could make the deals to displace cable, the world would be a better place. (Of course I don't think that's because Apple doesn't want to do it -- but it's sort of evidence that what they did wrt inflexibility in the music industry came to haunt them later: in the long run, it's best to make win-win deals, instead of win-lose).

And I could go on, and on. (And all of those are nuanced). There are many paths to success. Some assume because they succeeded that they did things right. But it's more they didn't do things wrong enough that they failed. There are ALWAYS ways they could have executed better, or blew opportunities and made bad choices. To think otherwise is arrogance. Of course the other side often made more bad choices, or had other issues, or they would have won. But there's always a skill, effort, and luck factors. But not considering your mistakes is missing the opportunity to learn from them, and do better next time.

Gallery

References