Apple's 12 biggest failures

Mac OS, iTunes, iPod, iPhone -- Apple has a reputation for setting the bar, even when it comes to major screwups, some of which have nearly destroyed the company

Apple has developed a reputation through the years, one almost on the level of religious faith: If Apple builds it, it will be a success.

Take Mac OS X, for example, an operating system that sets the bar, not only for functionality but how to transition users from one version to the next. Apple's iPod redefined the music player, its iTunes redefined the distribution of music, its iPhone redefined the smartphone, and its rumored "media slate" tablet could redefine how media and information are accessed. And that's just the past decade. Before that, Apple made the desktop publishing revolution possible, defined the concept of plug-and-play, and showed that networking could be almost as easy as connecting a phone to a wall jack.

But Apple's successes over its 33-year history don't make up the whole story. The company has made serious product missteps, survived spectacular failures, and suffered from corporate drama that matched the insanity of any soap opera. Every technology vendor has its share of misses, but Apple's had a lot of doozies, more than its reputation might lead you to expect. Some even put the company on the brink of failure.

[ See Apple's 12 key failures in InfoWorld's slideshow "Rotten Apple: Apple's 12 biggest failures." ]

Apple's core principles of high quality, pleasurable innovation, and reinvention established its positive reputation. But Apple's periodic failings of arrogance, internecine warfare, and myopia have also played their role in the company's storied history. The most recent example: Apple's mercurial interest in business users led to the Exchange ActiveSync support snafu that rendered many iPhones unusable in enterprise environments.

All companies make mistakes, but InfoWorld has identified a dozen that Apple has made that go way beyond the norm. Almost everyone knows the story of the Lisa, Apple's leading-edge replacement for the Apple II and III series that ended up as an unworkable mess -- and for which Steve Jobs was forced out, only to take over the Macintosh project that ultimately made Apple the icon of accessible, cool technology that it is today. But the stories behind the Copland OS and Mac clone disasters -- two related events that almost killed Apple -- aren't so well known. And the company had a snootier-than-usual period in the late 1990s and early 2000s during which form repeatedly trumped function, and not with successful results.

Follow the dark side of Apple's history and (re)discover each of these 12 pivotal events in InfoWorld's slideshow "Rotten Apple: Apple's 12 biggest failures."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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