6 failed Apple products that were actually awesome

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Mac G4 Cube
Not every Apple product turns to financial gold.
Photo: Apple

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.

Newton MessagePad

Newton
The Newton MessagePad 2000 was Apple’s last, and best, Newton.
Photo: iFixit

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!

G4 Cube

G4 Cube ad
One of the print ads for the G4 Cube.
Photo: Apple

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.

Macintosh TV

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.

eMate 300

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.

iPod Hi-Fi

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.

  • William Isham

    I loved my Mac Duo, a laptop that slid into its own dock which was connected to a monitor and keyboard and mouse. Close the laptop, dock it, and you’re using a desktop.

    No need to sync when your desktop and portable are the same device!

    If Apple resurrected the Duo, I’d buy one today.

    • andrewi

      They did, it’s called the New Macbook. They just expected everyone else to get it and make their own docks.

      Some did to be fair.

  • Matthew

    The G4 Cube was overpriced and underpowered (even for Apple standards). It should’ve been the mythical “mid-range desktop” so many people wanted from Apple – the $999 desktop that is upgradable but powerful.

    • immovableobject

      While the cube certainly had its share of faults (initial high price, roll-away spherical speakers with dongle amp, massive external power brick, upward-facing dust-collecting CD slot, and cat-operated proximity power switch), it did support third party upgrades for faster CPU daughterboard and graphics cards. There was even space inside and mounting provision for a low-speed fan to support this. I loved my cube.

      • Matthew

        Yeah the Cube had potential, and I think Apple doomed it by making it a REPLACEMENT for the PowerMac G4. Like why would anyone buy the Cube when the PMG4 was cheaper and more powerful?

        The Cube should have launched about 6 months later (when G4 chips were cheaper) as a mid-range desktop for those who want power but don’t need Power machines.

  • James Loker-Steele

    Anyone else remember, PowerCD? Before playstation Apple Pippin (in collaboaration with bandai)?

    • William20902

      I had one. It was just what I needed. It was reasonably portable (I was an expat so packable), played music, and worked as a cdrom for my PowerBook. I never used the photocd capability.

  • Haggie

    When I told some Millennial co-workers that I had an Apple tablet in the 1990’s, they didn’t believe me. Even when I showed them pictures, they thought I was trying to prank them.

  • tknospdr

    The last Newton MP was the 2100, not the 2000.
    Also, the cube was not a transparent 7″ cube. It was a silver 7″ cube inside a sleeve of transparent acrylic.
    God, I miss the days when folks cared enough about what they wrote to do a little research.

    • ShinyLuxray

      Who cares about you anyways? lmao

      • tknospdr

        I sense that you’re only 13, so let me give you an appropriate reply:

        Let me roll over and ask your mama.

  • Sydneyrooster

    The cube? Awful product. As soon as the room temperature reached the same as the average finger tip temp, it would start randomly shutting down. All the ones I sold got returned by angry customers demanding a refund.

    • tknospdr

      Don’t use it in a room that’s almost 99 degrees F?

      • Sydneyrooster

        People would leave the cube on, but turn off the air con when they left the room. In Aussie summers, that gets quite warm. BTW, the skin surface temp is lower than core body temp.

      • tknospdr

        I know, I was just kidding. It was sort of a “you’re holding it wrong” comment. :)

      • Sydneyrooster

        All good. ?

  • K Kopelman

    As a a non-millenial, my favorite was the Lisa. What a beautiful machine that I could never afford. Another tat I still have in storage is a blackbird, great laptop!