What is Apple’s most underrated product? [Friday Night Fights]

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FNF Apple's most underrated
Which Apple product do you think deserves more respect?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Not every Apple product has been a runaway success, but that doesn’t mean those that weren’t were complete failures. Products like the Newton MessagePad, the G4 Cube, the Macintosh TV and even the iPhone 5c — which were all considered flops — brought great features and innovations that weren’t appreciated.

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we butt heads over Apple’s most underrated product to date.

Luke FNF Luke Dormehl: For me, there’s absolutely no question about what I’m going to pick here: the Newton MessagePad. I’ve always had a real nostalgic soft spot for the Apple products of the first half of the 1990s. It was the period when I first started using Apple devices, and despite not being Apple’s best era from a financial perspective (that’s putting it mildly!) it was a period of great innovation — even if a lot of the products failed to hit the mark commercially.

The MessagePad was a handheld PDA that, years before the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, offered a range of “mobile apps” in an easily transportable device with its own touchscreen. It boasted handwriting recognition (which, contrary to the popular jokes at the time, was pretty darn impressive by the time the device was eventually retired) and even an early example of AI being incorporated into Apple products. Writing a message like “Friday Night Fights with Killian at 9 a.m.” would add that event to your calendar in the right place.

Ultimately, the device flopped, with sales of just 50,000 in its first few months on the market. But it’s impossible to look at a product like the iPhone and not see a more thorough implementation of what Apple was doing with the MessagePad almost two decades earlier. This was pretty much the definition of a technology “ahead of its time.” The fact that the Newton MessagePad often brought up as a punchline — rather than one of the most influential devices of all time — is why it’s my pick here.

Newton MessagePad
Mobile computing in the 1990s – the Newton MessagePad.
Photo: Grant Hutchinson

Killian Bell FNF Killian Bell: I think the MessagePad is a good pick. It was certainly an underrated device, and I can’t deny that you can see signs of the MessagePad in Apple devices even today. But I prefer to focus on Apple’s future rather than its past — which is why I think the most underrated Apple device is the Apple Watch.

When the Apple Watch made its debut, I wasn’t terribly excited about it. I didn’t get one on launch day, and I couldn’t see why it was any better than the Android Wear devices already available. But after wearing one daily for a while now, I have an appreciation for Apple’s first wearable that I never thought I’d have.

Despite all the criticism, the Apple Watch has already outsold all rival smartwatches combined. In fact, it achieved that within the first 24 hours of availability. What’s more, it’s better than any other smartwatch on the market. Innovations like the Digital Crown and Force Touch make it a joy to use, and Apple’s focus on health makes a real difference.

Apple Watch doesn’t just track your steps and workouts; it actually encourages you to get up and get out there like no other wearable. Going after its medals is incredibly addictive, and it has helped countless people be more active and lose weight.

Sure, there is room for improvement, but Apple Watch is only going to get better. And after what it has already achieved in its first iteration, I think it deserves a lot more credit.

Luke Dormehl FNF Luke: Without turning this Friday sparring match into a love-in, I do think it’s interesting that a lot of people compared the Apple Watch to the Newton upon its launch. Each was the first new product line launched under the leadership of an operations-focused CEO with no Steve Jobs around to advise; both were met with skepticism; etc.

With that said, I think Apple Watch still has a lot to prove. In some ways it’s easier to argue in favor of the Newton because we’ve seen how its “crazier” predictions about the future of tech worked out. Touchscreens? Check. Multipurpose mobile device? Double check. At the same time, we’ve not yet seen whether the Apple Watch represents the first iteration of the next big tech paradigm or a fun-but-not-essential gadget. Mobile devices seemed inevitable. I’m still not sure that wearables are going to be quite so crucial — especially when so much of the functionality exists in our iPhones.

Apple Watch
Apple Watch is only going to get better.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Killian Bell FNF Killian: I think I’ve drawn the short straw because I’m supporting mostly unproven technology. It’s easier to look back at the Newton now and see it was ahead of its time. But I definitely think there’s a place for wearables in the future. Some of the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features are its best selling points — and those aren’t available on an iPhone.

I think Apple Watch will also play a crucial role in the Internet of Things later on. As we kit out our homes with smart devices, we’re going to want the ability to control them from our wrists using our voice — without having to hunt around for our phones.

I think the smartwatch will always be an extension of the smartphone, but as Apple Watch improves, I think it will be a must-have accessory. Using an iPhone without one just won’t be the same.

Luke Dormehl FNF Luke: This is what makes Apple a fascinating company to follow. We’re somewhat spoiled today because hits like the iPhone are phenomenally successful, while even “lesser” products (speaking commercially) are giant hits by the standard of virtually any other company. But if you look back at everything Apple’s brought to market over the years, it’s rarely been totally wrong in its estimation of where the market was going.

But what say we leave it there and turn things over to the readers. What, in your view, is the most underrated Apple product in history? Do you think the Pippin gaming console never got a fair shake? Is the iPad, despite its waning sales, the best computing format to have ever existed? Leave your comments below. And have a great weekend.

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?