DisCONNECT returns, like a plague from out of the quarantine zone. Until we resume our regularly scheduled… haha, that’s a good joke. You walked right into that one. Regular? L-O-L. But seriously, to return to business here’s a set of Apple products that have failed, because knocking a smartarse off their high horse is always fun to do.
Apple, depending on who you ask, is either god or the devil. Whatever you think about Apple, one thing is undeniable; their impact on the tech world has been massive and they’re still one of the bigger players. In the early history of home personal computing (as in computers that did something interesting, not someone playing with lights that added 2 and 2 together) Apple’s computers were quite innovative; they were very easy to use and quite elegant compared to the DOS or UNIX or propriety platforms around at the same time. But then Apple started to lose ground around the mid 90s when the expansive, multipurpose, inexpensive and ultra dynamic PC market simply crushed everything. In one way the Mac is like a safe, walled garden which gets a refresh every so often but doesn’t automatically make your old computer obsolete (iPhones excepted, apparently). The PC market is filled with pitfalls and traps, as well as confusing acronyms and problems, but the potential gains are much higher.
Despite the expansion of the PC market such that PCs have far better support, Apple have held on in both the PC market and the mobile market. But it’s worth remembering that Apple’s road hasn’t been success after success. In fact, there’s been a lot of failures too…
5: THE APPLE NEWTON PLATFORM
I suppose that, in the long run, the Newton plan wasn’t actually a failure, but for its time it was. The Newton was a platform developed by Apple which was largely responsible for coining the term “Personal Digital Assistant”. It was basically an OS platform for palmtop computers, designed to be operated by using handwriting input. The various MessagePad devices that made use of it also supported little keyboards, as well as more exotic things like modems for remote faxing. Considering that this was back in the early 90s, that’s pretty innovative.
Apple probably got scared part way through that creating a small, handheld computer would cause people to ignore their Macintosh desktop lineup, so the platform was pretty poorly defined. Other changes and poorly defined feature sets meant that the Newton’s goals were pretty nebulous at best; it was supposed to be an adjunct to a Mac desktop, but what the hell was the point of it? And ultimately that’s what happened; nobody really wanted one, because what was the point? It wasn’t until the iPhone that smartphone usage really took off in the average consumer market; up until then, smartphones were uncommon outside of the IT industry or business executives. The legacy of the Newton lives on though; iPhone and iPad sales can attest to that. I guess that the Newton’s biggest failing isn’t that it was a bad product, just that it was way ahead of its time. Back then computers weren’t super common like they were today. If you couldn’t convince people that they needed a computer in their home, you didn’t have a hope in hell of convincing them that they needed to carry one with them.
4: THE COLOR CLASSIC/PERFORMA 250
I have a bit of a soft spot for this computer. I own two of the older Macs; this one in fully working order, and an Apple II which doesn’t do jack shit, and I don’t know what’s wrong with it. The Performa 250/Color Classic (depending on your location) is one of those classic beige Macs, all in one box with a screen. Sporting a 10″ display and colour graphics (like the name implies), it also had a 3.44″ floppy disk drive, a microphone at the top of the unit, and a speaker. Getting to the logic board was also pretty easy; it simply slides out the back like a tray. It seems like a pretty cool little system, especially for 1993. But there were a few problems with it…
It was SLOW. Seriously, for all its looks, this was one slow system. It was pretty underpowered and its screen was crippled; it didn’t even support 640×480 which was supposed to be standard for other colour Macs at the time. Despite being released in 93, its logic board was based on one from 1990. Who the hell cares if it has an inbuilt microphone if it’s stupidly slow? Part of the reason was probably to keep costs down, as this one was aimed mostly at the cheap education market, but it’s like Apple deliberately crippled the hell out of it. Also that colour screen jacked the price up anyway, so what was the point? The CC has a cult following today though, including hardware hacks to get the display up to 640×480.
3: THE PIPPIN
You know how people are raving about the Apple TV? Ever wondered if it had a predecessor, like the iPhone/Newton connection? Yeah, it does. It was called the Pippin, but then again I suppose its connection to the Apple TV is pretty casual, as the Pippin was more like Apple’s attempt at making a video game console rather than a media centre. In the mid-90s CDROM drives were becoming fairly standard, and all of a sudden “full motion video” (or video at a tiny resolution with a pathetic framerate) became all the rage, whether it needed to or not. Some people ignored it (like Nintendo, who stuck to cartridges for their N64 system) while others embraced it (like Sony and their Playstation). Apple tried to embrace it with the Pippin, a stupid-looking console running a butchered version of Mac OS. Technically it was supposed to be more than a games console, but that’s not how the public saw it.
Nobody cared. Literally. Developers simply didn’t give a shit about the Pippin, and why would they? Even back then people had a computer or a console or both, so trying to cram two into one device that did neither role particularly well was a silly idea. Microsoft themselves found out that making a good console means doing a LOT of work; they’re not simply just cheap platforms that the developers have to learn whether they like it or not. Look at how much the PS3 gets bashed for being difficult to work with, while Microsoft made development for the 360 fairly close to that of the PC and came out the winner with the XBOX360. Ultimately nobody gave a damn about this thing, and with no support, a high price tag, and no real role for the device, it failed. Hard.
2: ONE BUTTON MOUSE
I can’t defend this one at all. Some people might argue that back in the early days of computing, when people needed to be enticed as much as possible into using them, a single mouse button probably looked fairly simple. Indeed the early Mac commercials practically make the single button mouse a key feature, making it appear very easy to learn. But there are so many more tasks that can be accomplished by having more than one button, and ultimately a GUI is crippled without an extra mouse button. Why Apple kept on making one-button mice well into the Age of Windows is a complete mystery to me. Also some of their mice were absolutely atrocious. Remember that one that was basically a friggin’ circle (see above)? How the hell was THAT supposed to be comfortable? Unless you had tiny hands, this thing was practically unusable. Anyway, a single button simply can’t do as much as a two button mouse can do, and there’s only really so many ways to press a single button.
Apparently Apple initially agreed and moved to a two button/three button system like everybody else. Then, as if to say a bit “Eat shit” to everybody, they simply stopped putting buttons on their mice (at least overtly), starting with the Magic Mouse, which is one giant hidden button. So they went from one button, to two buttons, to no buttons. Seriously, guys? And, as it turns out, they now don’t even want mice, instead preferring us to use trackpads. I think they might be missing the point…
1: THE 20th ANNIVERSARY MACINTOSH
So far, with the exception of the mouse button thing, most of the devices mentioned haven’t been absolutely bad, but were probably more misunderstood. The Newton was way ahead of its time, nobody understood why the Pippin existed but it was an okay attempt, and the Color Classic, although it was underpowered, is still actually liked by plenty of people. This monstrosity is a failure on a whole other level. Not only is it a bad system, but Apple talked it up like it was the second coming. So few of these things were ever made that only a handful ever made it out here to Australia, and none of those that did went into the hands of the public (private sellers/buyers aside).
Basically, this Mac was supposed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Apple. Commonly called TAM by the misguided people who adore this system, it was shown at MacWorld Expo in Jan 97, and released in March of the same year. It retailed for $7,499 USD. That’s a stupid amount of money for ANY computer, including a Mac. The irony of course was that Apple probably turned 20 the year before (1996); apparently Apple didn’t actually realise this, hence the TAM was quickly kicked out the door so that it made some kind of sense. But according to Wikipedia Apple’s incorporation date was in 1977, making the 97 release somewhat accurate. Who knows, who cares?
Since it was more or less rushed, it was pretty much built with tech that they had available at the time; it wasn’t really a new innovation or anything like that. It had a PowerPC 603e CPU @ 250mhz, with a maximum of 128MB of RAM. Interestingly, it had a 12.1″ active matrix LCD display, running at 800×600 with 16bit colour, powered by an ATI 3D RAGE 2 GPU. It ran OS 7.6.1 but could go up to 9.1. Its keyboard had an integrated trackpad and could be stored underneath the computer when not in use. It also had a TV/FM tuner. Strangely it has a custom-made Bose sound system with 2 speakers and a subwoofer. The subwoofer unit was also the external power supply, and looks like a big, round drum.
The TAM itself is fairly slim system and its LCD display was pretty cool for the time. The removal of the PSU from the main box meant that heat was reduced in the head unit that contained the screen and logic board. Still it looked ridiculous. Only about 12,000 were ever produced, with 399 of them kept for spare parts. Only 10 of them made it here to Australia, and like I said they weren’t for purchase. For further opulent effect, the wrist pad of the keyboard was leather. Leather, people!
Do you need to ask? It was initially supposed to cost $9,000, but the price dropped to $7,499 and later to $3,500. That’s still an absurd amount of money for a computer for the 90s. By the end of its lifespan in March 1998 it was set to $1,995, which was about what it cost to produce. The TAM was stupidly expensive for what it was; the specs weren’t all that fantastic and similar computers (similar Mac computers in fact!) could be purchased for a lot less, especially on release. Given how quickly computer tech moves, and how underpowered this thing was for its price, it simply wasn’t worth purchasing at all.
A custom upgrade kit could be purchased which would allow the CPU to reach speeds of 500mhz, but it basically made the TAM look like it’d grown some sort of tumour on its back. Even then, why would you bother? I honestly feel sorry for anyone who bought one of these things on release. Probably the great irony however was that Apple acted like this thing was absolutely awesome. It doesn’t even LOOK particularly good; that external PSU/subwoofer combo is just plain dumb. I know that Mac users are happy to spend the extra for the form and tight integration of the Mac systems, and I can totally understand that, but nobody could justify this thing. Apparently the world agreed at the time, and the TAM sold poorly. Really, Apple shouldn’t have bothered, or maybe they should have waited a little longer and released something that was actually new, as opposed to shoving off-the-shelf parts into this thing.
TAMs today are a collector’s item, and they sell for over $1000 USD. Some people like to fit new parts to them because the form factor is kind of cool, and having an LCD back in 97 was really neat. Today of course nobody really cares and the TAM is worth owning mostly so you can say “Yeah, I have a TAM”. Then people laugh at you because of how much it cost, and how useless it is. Still I guess there’s a certain amount of charm to owning a piece of shit like this.