Apple may have become the first publicly traded two-trillion-dollar company in the U.S. in 2020 (and it's now valued at over $2.2 trillion), but the tech giant's 45-year track record hasn't been all sunshine and iPhones (the company has sold well over a billion of the smartphones). In fact, even the company that revolutionized the personal computer industry with the Macintosh has had its share of failures over the years, from an overheating computer to a handheld device that co-founder Steve Jobs hated and comedy writers mocked.
And as Steve Jobs himself once said: "You've got to be willing to crash and burn.... If you're afraid of failing, you won't get very far."
With the tech giant's first new product launch event of 2021 on tap for Wednesday afternoon, here are some of the Apple products from the past four decades that totally flopped.
The Apple II was the product that first catapulted Apple to success in 1977, when it became the first commercially successful personal computer and went on to sell between five and six million units by the time it was discontinued in 1993.
The Apple III? Not so much.
Released in 1980, the Apple III was intended for use by businesses, featuring expanded keyboard functions and a larger display. Steve Jobs reportedly wanted the machine to run quietly, so he insisted that the Apple III would have no cooling fan or vents. Engineers built the computer with an aluminum case to help it remain cool, but the Apple III overheated anyway, sometimes even causing computer chips and floppy disks (remember those?) to melt inside. Co-founder Steve Wozniak lamented that the Apple III "had 100 percent hardware failures," forcing Apple to recall and replace every single one of the first 14,000 Apple III's produced.
A revised version of the Apple III fixed the earlier issues, but the damage to the product's reputation sunk any chances of it catching on. Apple discontinued the Apple III in 1984, with Jobs claiming the company lost "infinite, incalculable amounts" of money on the product line.
Released in 1983, the Apple Lisa was notable for being one of the first commercial computers to be sold with a mouse and to feature a graphical user interface (or GUI, which means the screen has icons and images rather than just lines of text). The Lisa (which may or may not have been named after founder Steve Jobs' daughter) also featured an incredibly steep price-tag of $9,995 that proved prohibitive for too many customers.
The high price hurt sales of the Lisa, with Apple only selling about 100,000 units before the model was eventually discontinued after a few years. It also didn't help the Lisa that, in 1984, Apple released what would become one of its most iconic products, its first Macintosh computer, which was significantly cheaper than the Lisa and proved much more popular.
"First of all, it was too expensive—about ten grand," Jobs said about the Lisa in an interview with Playboy in 1985. We had gotten Fortune 500-itis, trying to sell to those huge corporations, when our roots were selling to people."
Unfortunately, the product's failure meant that Apple had roughly 2,700 unsold units leftover, which the tech company actually ended up dumping in a Utah landfill.
When Apple first released its Newton personal digital assistant (PDA) in 1993, the product was meant to kick off a revolution in handheld tech devices. The Newton featured an innovative handwriting feature where users wrote on the device's screen with a stylus pen and the Newton would translate the handwriting into digital text. Apple's marketing boasted that the Newton could take notes as easily as "a piece of paper."
The only problem was that the handwriting recognition feature did not work as well as Apple had hoped, too often resulting in an indecipherable jumble of words. The Newton became the subject of widespread pop culture mockery, including in the "Doonesbury" comic strip and a reference on Fox's "The Simpsons."
Apple's then CEO, John Sculley (Jobs had been pushed out of the company in 1985), reportedly expected to sell 1 million Newtons in the first year, but instead the company sold only 50,000 in the first three months and then stopped touting the product's sales figures. Jobs officially killed the Newton shortly after he returned to Apple in 1997. Jobs later dissed the Newton to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, mocking the idea that the device used a stylus when people should be able to just use their fingers.
"By shutting it down, I freed up some good engineers who could work on new mobile devices," Jobs told Isaacson for his 2011 biography. "And eventually we got it right when we moved on to iPhones and the iPad."
The Macintosh TV was another failed product attempt that appeared during Jobs' exile from the company he co-founded. Also launched in 1993, the product was an early attempt at combining a computer with the experience of watching television — something that's done today on everything from laptops to tablets and smartphones, but it was not as commonplace in the early '90s.
The Macintosh TV essentially resembled a Macintosh LC 500 series computer, but it was outfitted with a TV tuner card that allowed users to hook it up to a TV antenna or cable line. But you couldn't watch TV while using the computer, as the product only allowed you to switch back and forth from a computer function to watching TV on its 14-inch screen. Maybe if the Macintosh TV had offered a picture-in-picture feature it would have caught on more with consumers, but the lack of innovation, along with the fact that the product cost a whopping $2,099, made it a flop.
Apple sold only 10,000 Macintosh TVs and the company discontinued the product after a little more than three months.
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