Apple is known for its multibillion-dollar hits, but not everything Cupertino touches turns to gold. These six Apple products flopped in the marketplace, despite being pretty darn great.
For many fans, no Apple product sums up the bad old days of the 1990s better than the Apple Newton, the company’s first attempt at a handheld mobile device. Despite never living up to the company’s expectations, however, the Newton was brilliant and way ahead of its time.
These personal data assistants came with a touchscreen that could recognize users handwriting. Newtons evened employ artificial intelligence to recognize specific sentences. Writing a note about a meeting would automatically create a calendar entry for it.
The first MessagePads suffered from shoddy handwriting recognition, but Apple fixed that in later versions. If you ever want to check out the Newton at its best, look for 1997’s MessagePad 2000. It offered the device’s highest-resolution screen (a whopping 480×320 grayscale pixels), a faster processor, longer battery life, and the ability to wirelessly exchange information with other users.
Heck, you could even use it to access your emails and the internet, via its EnRoute i-NET email client and NetHopper web browser!
Very few Apple products looked as stunning as 2000’s jaw-dropping Power Mac G4 Cube. That didn’t stop it from bombing, however.
In stark contrast to the ugly beige towers of rival PCs at the time, the G4 Cube was a 7-inch-by-7-inch cube of clear plastic that appeared to float in midair thanks to a transparent base. Operating in near silence due to a clever air convection system, it was also surprisingly powerful. Apple even referred to it as a “supercomputer.”
Despite this, Apple only ever sold around 150,000 units total — just a third of what it had forecast. In Apple’s words, the G4 Cube was “put on ice” on July 3, 2001 — less than a year after it debuted.
Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh
Confusingly, the TAM (as it is known by fans) was actually released in 1997 — making it 20 years after Apple’s founding, rather than 20 years after the debut of the Macintosh.
The $9,000 ($13,600 today) Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh was the first flatscreen Mac, with a design that predated today’s iMacs by the best part of a decade. Aiming to be a full multimedia computer, it boasted an integrated TV/FM radio system, S-video input, and custom sound system designed by Bose.
In a crazily extravagant flourish, the first Twentieth Anniversary Macs were delivered to your home via limo, before being set up by an Apple employee in a tuxedo. Yes, really!
Despite all of this, it failed to sell. Apple sold only a few thousand units. Eventually, the company reduced the price to just $2,000, before discontinuing the TAM. Today, it’s a major collector’s item.
Unlike a lot of the other items on this list, as far as I am aware 1993’s Macintosh TV has never gone on to become a favorite among Apple fans. First seeing this as a kid, however, I was amazed — and it cemented just how far ahead of the competition Apple was for multimedia.
The Mac TV was a weird hybrid machine that melded a Performa 520 Mac and a 14-inch Sony Trinitron CRT television. The idea was to extend the Mac’s capabilities by allowing it to connect to a VCR, camcorder or video game console to create an all-in-one entertainment package. As such, it prefigured Steve Jobs’ later “digital hub” vision for Apple’s computers.
Unfortunately, it flopped in the marketplace. Apple produced only 10,000 units between October 1993 and February 1994, when the plug got pulled on the Mac TV.
Do you ever wish Apple would take a page out of the Surface or Chromebook’s playbook and consider combining macOS with iOS to create a touchscreen laptop? Well, Apple tried it way back in March 1997. Kind of.
The colorful eMate 300, which shipped before the equally candy colored iMac G3 and iBook G3, was a clamshell portable device, running the Newton PDA operating system. Priced at $799, it was one of the cheapest computers Apple had ever produced, and a stab at getting Apple products into the hands of kids, who could use them for learning.
With that in mind, Apple only marketed it to the education sector, which didn’t seem particularly interested. The eMate ultimately died in early 1998. But Steve Jobs tapped into a lot of what made it so important — its Jony Ive-led industrial design, its focus on ease of use, and its lower price point — to help turn Apple around again.
Released in 2006, the iPod Hi-Fi was a boombox-style speaker that rethought the home stereo for the iPod generation. Or, as Apple said at the time, “Home stereo. Reinvented.”
Audiophile Steve Jobs even told the audience at its launch event that he ditched his crazily expensive audio setup for an iPod Hi-Fi. Its clean design and great sound quality eventually earned it a cult following, but at the time, most viewed its $349 price as way too expensive for a fancy iPod dock.
As you can see from this recent post by Cult of Mac editor Leander Kahney, however, it continues to live on more than a decade later. It can even be used as part of a homebrew HomePod substitute, until Apple gets around to releasing its Siri smart speaker.
Any other suggestions?
Apple has released hundreds of products over the years. So there are bound to be other Apple machines or devices you feel never got the respect they deserved.
Are there any personal favorites that stand out to you? Let us know in the comments below.