Six great Apple failures

Time for a change of pace while we all reflect on Apple's introduction of a US-only 6-month trial of 99-cent TV show rentals from Disney and ABC alongside new model iPod touch and glimmerings at the Apple TV tomorrow. Here, just for my many Apple-hating readers, taken from the annals of Apple's great history are six products or events some say the company should never have been part of.

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The Puck Mouse

This round object made its debut alongside the original Bondi Blue iMac and somehow remained part of Apple's ecosystem for long enough to put several hand doctors into more comfortable homes (two years).

Ergonomically infuriating, this round mouse single-handedly (sic) kick-started the third party mouse industry. The single button pucker was too light for accuracy and too unwieldy for comfort. It had this stupid, short cable -- used with a laptop with USB port on the left side and you didn't have the cable length to get it to your right hand. Stupid.

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This mouse really was no good. Critics hated it. I'm glad it has gone.

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The G4 Cube

If anything showed Apple's future direction more admirably than this elegant but flawed product, then I'm keen to know about it. The 8 x 8 x 8-in. Cube had it all -- microelectronics, huge quantities of components all nested inside a small enclosure; cutting edge design materials and a nod to modernity which may look a little date ten years on, but somehow captured some of the zeitgeist of the time.

Problems quickly beset this beauty (which later morphed into the Mac mini). Initiated by Steve Jobs' love of the box-shaped computer (NeXT Cube anyone?), the chassis suffered from overheating and cracks, the system was expensive, relatively underpowered and difficult to expand.

This means the system took a pounding from an unfriendly press, even while the Cube itself took a comfy seat in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

"The Power Mac G4 Cube, at less than one fourth the size of most PCs, represented an entirely new class of computer delivering high performance in an eight-inch cube suspended in a stunning crystal-clear enclosure," Apple said on July 3, 2001, when it finally laid the system to rest.

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iPod Hi-Fi

How much? For what? There were better systems available on the market for half the price; the Apple Remote was all very well, but you needed to be up close to the iPod to make selections.

Introduced in 2006, it was quite powerful, but it was also huge, heavy and deadly expensive at $350. (Hint: Get a cable and plug your iPod directly into your system ).

“Apple is reinventing the home stereo with the new iPod Hi-Fi, the first iPod accessory that adds true high-fidelity sound quality to the iPod,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iPod Hi-Fi’s unrivaled acoustic performance and stunning design is at home in any room in the house.”

Except it wasn't. This thing was quietly canned a year later. No one really noticed.

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FireWire

It won a Primetime Emmy Engineering Award for its "material impact on the television industry" and has become a standard fitting on video cameras and other devices requiring fast data transfers, but just what exactly is happening with the Apple-invented IEEE 1394 High Speed Serial Bus interface we know and love as FireWire?

Sure, in its latest iterations it competes happily with current USB versions, but this doesn't seem to have helped it get the market adoption it needs.

Why did Apple cease support for FireWire sync on iPods, which history buffs may recall once shipped with their own FireWire cable? Why has Apple abandoned support for it in some Macs?

Royalty payments hampered evolution of this standard orginally, but even when these were dropped FireWire just didn't win the interface war.

Clearly the future of FireWire is a little opaque, particularly as Intel continues work on another Apple-inspired data transfer standard, Light Peak.

It seems a confused and slightly sad history for an interface that promised so much to so many but ended up stuck in the pro video niche.

Apple Pippin

You can look back at the Apple Lisa, the Performa series, the Twentieth Anniversary Mac -- even the Newton (I'd disagree about Newton) but all of those failures are so last Century. As a historical example let's also eschew the QuickTake camera and move straight at Apple's earliest attempt at a set-top box, the Apple Pippin games console.

This was cut out of Apple's life just two years after its 1995 introduction, with 42,000 slightly depressed customers waiting for a decent game for the underpowered and overpriced box.

What was inside? Apple partner Bandai used a 66MHz PowerPC 603 processor (don't laugh -- that was quite a powerful chip in those long ago times); there was a 14.4kbps modem and it ran an early version of iOS. That last part is a lie, it was in fact a simplified version of Mac OS.

Up against the PlayStation and Nintendo, Pippin never had a chance. Those console giants sent in their marketing Marios and publicity-seeking PacMen and shunted Apple's poor Pippin out the pond.

The Steve Jobs challenge

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He's America's most successful business leader. He's utterly unique. He drives an incredibly loyal central team of staff. He has stood at the crossroads of technology, either front and center or somewhere in the shadows of most tech innovation since he hit adulthood.

Highly intelligent and equipped with great personal charm, this soft-spoken gent is reputed to possess a mercurial temper. He's someone you love, fear and respect. He's Steve Jobs.

He is irreplacable.

That's the problem, really. His kind of genius isn't replicable. It's the kind of visionary future-seeing that hits only a few people in any generation. When it is gone, it is gone. Jobs' health worries gave everyone cause to ponder Apple's succession plan, but rest assured, whichever of Apple's short list of potential follow-up acts is chosen will not be able to emulate Jobs in any way, shape or form. After all, pick a charismatic candidate and the media will lambast them for failings in comparison to Jobs. Pick a quiet candidate capable of getting things done, and then reports will say "Apple has lost its edge".

There's no easy way away from this conundrum, and while you can't see the Jobs legacy as a failure in any way (quick reprise: kick-start the PC industry, the graphical user interface, iPod, iPhone, and black turtlenecks in boardrooms everywhere), his huge importance to his company and to the wider technology community is insanely hard to enumerate or replicate. He's a man we're all curious about who lives through his achievements, but likes to keep his personal life personal. How do you follow an act like that?

IMAGES: Apple publicity shots or standard logos.

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