The Newton Messagepad: It could recognise your handwriting. Sort of.
Computing company Apple has been much in the news in the past week. Its charismatic high-priest – sorry, CEO – Steve Jobs, has stepped down owing to ill health; his replacement, Tim Cook, has the whole world watching him. There’s an almost cultish reverence surrounding Apple, and people find it difficult to remember that it is, after all, a company that sells computers.
The internet was alive with bleatings about Jobs’ move – when in fact, he will be staying on as Chairman, and the effect on Apple’s ethos and products will be neglible.
So have Apple always been paragons of perfection? Has that multi-coloured fruit ever found itself tinged a deeper shade of red? Let’s take a look at some of their more embarrassing moments in the other side of Apple’s history: the expensive failures, the false starts, and the Bandai Pippin. The what? Exactly.
- 1. The curse of the beer monkey. The Guardian reported today that an Apple employee has lost a prototype of the latest iPhone. It’s happened before (last April), also in a bar, but then the phone was returned. Now it looks like the new iPhone’s vanished into thin air – or at least, sold for $200 on Craigslist, after it was left in a California bar called Cava 22. The prototype is “priceless”, but it wasn’t recovered even after a tracking system located it. Faces scarlet all round – Apple’s new iPhone will have to be super-exciting in order to beat off competition from its new rivals in the smartphone business.
“I guess I’ll have to make my drinks a little less strong,” Jose Valle, owner of Cava 22, told CNet.
- 2. It’s not me, it’s you. The iPhone 4 was released to great excitement. Soon tempered, however, by the revelation that its signal-receiving abilities were compromised – not by some kind of advanced technological trickery, but in fact by the humble human hand. Yes, holding the iPhone bridged two bits of metal, meaning that flesh – not being conducive to receiving radio waves – dimmed the signal. Apple responded (with typical arrogance), saying that users were simply holding their phones wrong.
“The aerial design would be fine… except for one design component. The user. Users have hands and hands are made of flesh, which to a radio wave looks like a big bag of conductive saline solution. As submariners know, if you surround an antenna with a large lump of salty water, it stops working: it’s shielded from the outside again, and its electrical length will change dramatically.” Rupert Goodwins on Zdnet, about the iPhone 4.
- 3. It was the future! Or was it? Another thing which, it could be kindly said, was before its time, was the Apple Newton message pad. It could send emails! And faxes! (remember those?) And, more importantly, it could recognise your handwriting. Just like a pad of paper! Well, up to a point. Released in 1993, the product that was meant to stick dynamite up the PDA market ended up being little more than a damp squib.
- 4. Money into thin air. Literally. Wired called MobileMe a “debacle”. The service – again, meant to be revolutionary – provided a “cloud” for its users. But there were many flaws in it, with customers unable to access their emails for days on end. And it cost $99 a year to boot. It was PR disaster.
- 5. Cutting edge. The ridiculous name of the Bandai Pippin perhaps didn’t help (it sounds like a mutated fruit) – but in 1996, Apple released this games console onto the world. It was meant to be a computer that could also play CD games. And when it was launched, there were all of 20 of those. According to Networkworld, it was “a complete dud” .
- 6. Turn it off and turn it on again. With the Apple III, they “dropped a clunker”, according to Low End Mac. It was meant to be aimed at the business market. But it was “stillborn, a doomed machine”, with a weirdly ugly casing and a ridiculous design that meant that users had to lift up the computers when they got too hot – which they did, regularly– so that chips could drop back into place. At least, that was the advice (genuinely) that Steve Jobs gave to users. Bet they were pleased – especially as they’d forked out between $3,000-$5,000 for the product. Back to the typewriter, anyone?
- 7. Epic fail! If Jobs’ cheeks were red about that, then they were positively crimson when, at the unveiling of the iPhone 4, halfway through his presentation the wireless network went down. Up came the familiar error message “could not activate cellular network.” “Well, I’m sorry, guys, I don’t know what’s going on,” said Jobs, amid catcalls from the audience. Nice to know that even Apple CEOs have trouble with their broadband…
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