Not everything that Steve Jobs or Apple touched turned to gold, far from it. The ’90s were, for example, the literal doldrums of Apple product design and market performance.
But, Steve Jobs can hardly be blamed for this period -he had been fired in 1985. Under the leadership of Apple’s new CEO John Sculley, the late 1980s to mid-1990s would prove to be a difficult time for the company.
Over this period, Apple would fire one-fifth of its workforce (around 1,200 employees) and also post their first-ever quarterly loss. Something needed to be done, and fast. What was worse is that the Mac-Microsoft wars were about to heat up.
The introduction of the Mac II in 1987 improved the company’s fortunes for a time, making it a “Wall Street darling” once again. At this time they were shipping a whopping 50,000 Macs a month.
The turn of the new decade, however, had other plans for Apple. PC clones flooded the home computer market, with the vast majority running Windows 3.0 — this was not good for Apple.
Apple devised and released their highly successful series of PowerBooks in 1991 which would give them a mild reprieve. Sculley eventually lost interest in Apple and was relieved of his position by the Board of Directors in 1993. He was replaced by Michael Spindler soon after.
Apple continued to have a difficult time throughout the decade, until Steve Jobs returned to the helm in 1997. But a lot of damage had already been done, as these less-than-stellar Apple products attest to.
1. The Apple Mac Portable was very expensive
Coming into existence in the dying days of the 1980s, Apple’s first attempt at a portable computer was brave, but ultimately doomed.
Apple introduced the Mac Portable in September 1989 but poor sales performance saw it terminated a little over two years later, in 1991.
The Mac Portable came equipped with a 3.5-inch half-height drive and could support two Super Drives. It suffered from poor battery design and weighed around 16 lbs (7.2 kg) — not particularly portable.
Market forces ultimately didn’t take to its clunky look and lack of expansion capabilities, it was also relatively slow.
Its failure was sealed by its incredibly high price tag of $6,500 on release.
2. The Apple Newton MessagePad was an early PDA
The Apple Newton, built by Sharp, was an early attempt by Apple at producing a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) — a term coined by Apple’s then CEO John Sculley. It was announced in 1992 and released onto the market in August of 1993.
It had an initial retail price of $699.99 and would ultimately fail. It came with apps common to many a smart device today from “Notes” to “Names” as well as a calculator, currency converter and many more.
Its main feature was its handwriting recognition function. Early versions of the device, however, often returned garbled or confused interpretations of the user’s input.
This would later become a running joke, and even featured in an episode of the Simpsons. This issue, as well as its fairly large size (rendering it impractical as a pocket-sized device), would ultimately make it a flop.
3. Powerbook 5300 was plagued with issues
Apple’s Powerbook 5300 was their first PowerPC-based Powerbook and another ultimately doomed Apple product. The Powerbook was released in 1995 and is widely considered one of Apple’s worst products.
It was originally designed to utilize lithium-ion batteries, but designs were changed after some of the new batteries ignited on the assembly line.
The Powerbook 5300’s battery problems became a serious embarrassment for the Apple, despite the fact none of the batteries were actually released to market. They resolved the issue by promptly switching to nickel metal hydride alternatives.
The Powerbook was also plagued with power issues, casing issues and software bugs that would ultimately seal its fate.
4. Mac Performa x200 series wasn’t Apple’s best
Introduced in April 1995 onwards, the Mac Performa x 200 Series would prove to be one of Apple’s most compromised hardware designs of all time. It often appears on the “worst Apple products of all time” type lists – like this one.
Technically speaking the x200 series consists of any Performa’s and Power Macs, except the Performa 6360 and PowerPC 603 or 603e, that had severe hardware issues.
Some of them came with TV/video/cable controller as well as an external remote control that could be used for multimedia and TV controls. Other than that they came with other standard components found in all Apple models of the time.
These included an LC PDS/NuBUS slot and a Comm Slot as well as two SIMM Slots. They also came with one ROM/L2 cache slot that could not be upgraded.
Its poor performance would spark the belief that Macs were inherently slower than Windows PC’s at the time.
5. The Macintosh TV was ultimately a flop
In 1993, Apple attempted to bridge the gap between computers and television sets with their Macintosh TV. This was, essentially, a Performa 520 with an integrated television in the form of a 14″ Sony Trinitron CRT.
Users would quickly find that there was poor integration between the television set and computer, however. You could either use the monitor to watch TV or set it to run as the computer monitor, but that was it.
It came in an LC-520 black-style case, making it one of the few Macs to ever come in black.
With a price tag of $2,000, it was doomed to failure. It did, however, come with a CD-ROM drive, but there was little digital content to justify it at the time.
Only ten thousand were made and it was ultimately withdrawn from the market by Apple in February 1994. Despite it being a flop, its TV-tuner card later became popular in many LCs and Performas.
6. Apple Bandai Pippin couldn’t compete with Playstation and Nintendo
In the mid-1990’s Apple teamed up with Bandai in an attempt to win some ground in the already crowded console market. With a price tag of $600, Apple had high hopes for the console, making wild estimates about sales in its first year – a whopping 300,000 units.
The Pippin was also designed to be both a console and a network computer in one – but failed to do either very well. Up against the likes of PlayStation, Nintendo and Sega, it didn’t stand a chance.
Its high price tag and poor selection of games ultimately sealed its fate. The Pippin was ultimately a flop and was soon forgotten by the masses.
It is estimated taht only between 12K and 42K units were actually sold worldwide.
7. Apple’s Quicktake was an early digital camera
Apple’s Quicktake was, perhaps, a bit too ahead of its time. In the modern Instagram world, with digital cameras in every phone, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that early digital cameras were far from great.
In the mid-1990’s Apple released their Quicktake, which was a 0.3-megapixel camera that was able to take a 640 by 480 resolution image. It was actually praised at the time by Time magazine, who called it the “first consumer digital camera”.
It was first marketed with a price tag of $749 and could, initially, only store eight 640 by 480 images. But users could also reduce the resolution to 320 by 240 and store a whopping 16 images on it.
Although it initially made some ground, it would bring Apple into competition with other camera makers like Kodak, who, incidentally, designed the Quicktake for Apple.
Quicktake would limp on for a few years before being scrapped by Steve Jobs when he returned to rescue Apple in 1997.
8. The 20th Anniversary Mac was very unique
To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the company’s founding, they decided to create and release a limited-edition personal computer – The 20th Anniversary Macintosh. Although it was actually released almost a year after the actual anniversary.
It was a truly uniquely designed Mac with a motherboard similar to that of the PowerMac 5500. It came with advanced sound and video features, integrated TV/FM Radio, and a custom sound system designed and built by Bose.
Like other limited-edition items, it wasn’t cheap, with an asking price of $8,000 on release. Apple unleashed the Anniversary Mac in May of 1997 and subsequently withdrew it in March of 1998.
Consumers were not impressed, with it leading to very poor sales.
Today it does remain a popular machine for dedicated Mac collectors. For working ones with a box, collectors could expect to get their hands on one for about $1,000 in 2010.
9. The Apple eMate 300 was only sold to educational Institutions
Apple’s eMate 300 was, by all accounts, a pretty decent computer but was limited for use to the educational sector only. It was, in fact, the first and only Newton-based machine that came with a fully functional built-in keyboard and a stylus.
The eMate sported translucent colored plastic casing that would come to define Apple’s industrial design for the next few years. It came shipped in a translucent aquamarine and black “clamshell” case that was pretty similar to later first generation iBooks.
When it was first released it had a price tag of $799 but was limited to educational institutions. If it had been released to the general consumer market it is likely that it would have made a bigger impact.
The eMate 300 was released in March 1997 and was subsequently withdrawn in February 1998.
10. Apple’s eWorld was killed by the internet
In the 1990’s Apple developed and deployed its eWorld service. This was a private network service that was separate from the internet.
Large centralized dial-up services like eWorld were popular at this time with the likes of America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe being notable examples.
eWorld, like others, was a subscription-based information service that was only available to Mac and Newton users. It cost $8.95 a month (including two free hours) and charged $7.95 per hour between 6 am and 6 pm – $4.95 at any other time.
It suffered from a lack of promotion by Apple from its launch in 1994 and they eventually bundled it into software packages with all new Macs.
Its fate was sealed with the rise of the internet, and it was finally closed in 1996. Despite it not being used for over 20 years, it is still fondly remembered for its city-based interface.
11. Apple’s Cyberdog would ultimately lose to Microsoft’s IE
Apple’s answer to Microsofts’ Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator was the Cyberdog. This was an internet suite developed to work on the Mac OS and was first introduced in February 1996 in beta.
It was an OpenDoc suite of Internet applications that included email, news readers, web browser and address book management tools. Cyberdog also has a drag and drop FTP component.
Cyberdog, however, suffered heavily from memory hog and ate into users previous memory resources to operate. Also, saved documents were not viewable from applications which did not support OpenDoc’s Brento format, and as web standards evolved Cyberdog became obsolete.
Cyberdog would ultimately be replaced with Internet Explorer for Mac in 1997 which in turn was replaced with Apple’s native Safari in 2003.
12. The Hockey Puck Mouse was bold but hard to use
In the latter half of the 1990’s, Apple released a uniquely designed mouse that is often referred to today as the “Hockey Puck”. Its design was brave but proved, ultimately, to be hard to use.
The round USB mouse came chipped with early iMacs and Power Macs of the period. Its design nicely complimented the curved aesthetics of the iMac but also rendered it a little useless as a peripheral.
As it was pretty small, it was hard to grasp and orientate which made it unpopular amongst users – especially graphic designers. Its poor usability did foster third-party solutions, from other, compatible USB mice, to shells for the Apple mouse, as well as trackballs.
However, the problems ultimately lead to it being terminated in 2000.
13. Apple G4 Cube was brave but flawed
The Cube was released right at the end of the 1990’s and wasn’t that bad a computer in the grander scheme of things. It was a 20 by 20 by 20 cm G4 Mac (hence the name) that came suspended in clear acrylic and was packed with features, it was also fan free.
Despite its bold design, the Cube had some serious issues. First off it had an enormous $1,800 price tag – this simply priced out the vast majority of consumers at the time.
But its fate was ultimately sealed by the fact that it was not upgradeable. Most people simply bought G4 Towers instead.
Many users also took issue with the Cube’s lack of conventional audio input and output. Instead, it came with an external USB amplifier and a set of Harman Kardon speakers.
It also had a standard mini-plug headphone output and no mic was included. The USB-only sound input was seen as a serious limitation by many users.
Apple, trying to rescue the Cube, decided to gradually drop the price to $1500 and finally $1300, before scraping it in 2001.
14. Apple Taligent was canceled pretty quickly
In 1988, Apple teamed up with IBM to make the next generation of operating systems to replace Mac OS. Under this partnership, Taligent Inc. was founded to begin work on their new OS codenamed Pink.
Taligent’s main objective was to build an object-based OS, but it was to ultimately fail completely.
Eventually, the joint venture between Apple and IBM broke down and Taligent was adopted by IBM alone. Apple decided to leave the project to focus on their own native new OS, Copland.
Ultimately IBM would terminate Taligent’s development.
15. Apple’s Copland OS was also aborted before it could be finished
Copland (pronounced “Copeland”) was Apple’s attempt to combat Microsoft’s Windows ’95. It was also planned to replace the then aging Mac OS 7, much like the other aborted Apple OS, Taligent.
It was named after the composer Aaron Copland and was touted as offering improved multitasking, superior memory allocation, and other futuristic building blocks.
Apple originally intended to release Copland under the title System 8, in mid to late 1996 – This was not to be.
Sadly for Apple, Copland’s development was less than straightforward and it had issues with backward compatibility. Early tests were filled with bugs and the project was ultimately scrapped by Steve Jobs before Apple purchased NeXT Software in 1996.
16. IEEE 1394 – Firewire could have changed the world but it didn’t
Firewire was set to become the standard for high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data transfer but would fall into obscurity as easily as it had risen. It was the joint effort of Apple, IBM, and Sony and was widely considered a triumph of design at the time.
Development of Firewire began in 1987 with Apple joining the party in 1988 with the bulk of development in the early 1990’s. It began to appear in Macs in 1999.
It would have become a unified standard across the entire industry and was set to replace SCSI and the unwieldy mess of ports and cables at the back of a desktop computer.
At least it would have, if Apple hadn’t go greedy. The began to demand $1 license for per port. This led to outrage across the industry, with key companies, like Intel, walking away.
Apple tried to rescue the situation by reducing its license fee to 25 cents per end-user system. But it was too late, Firewire was now mortally wounded and was quickly phased out of PCs thereafter, though it continued to be included in Macs till 2012.
Firewire is widely recognized as a warning from history that no technology, no matter how well engineered and thought out, is immune to inter- and intra-company politics.
Today, Firewire is all but a memory as USB took dominance.
17. The PowerBook Duo 230 was specially designed to dock
Apple’s PowerBook Duo 230 was one of the world’s first ultraportable laptops. With 27.7 by 21.6 by 3.6 cm dimensions, the Duo weighed a measly 1.86 kg.
This made it considerably thinner and lighter than any of its competitors when released in 1992. Gateway’s Intel 286-powered handbook did, however, give it a run for its money.
The Duo 230 was effectively the same as the Duo 210 but had a faster 33 MHz processor. It retailed at a cool $2,610 on release.
Like its predecessor, the Duo 230 had an innovative 152 pin PDS that allowed it to dock with a docking station. This was to allow the Duo to achieve full desktop capabilities.
The largest Duo dock included expansion slots, an FPU, and Level 2 cache for the processor. Docks could also provide more VRAM for use with a color monitor.
Despite all these features, the Duo would not be the commercial success Apple was hoping for and was terminated in July 1994.
And that failed Apple products fans is your lot for today. Did you own any of these? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.