Apple is world-renowned for its design success stories, from the iMac G3 to all the best iPhones. But things don’t always go according to plan, even for the most design-savvy tech company on the planet.
No, Apple has had its fair share of design conundrums over the years. Here we have collected eight of the most serious design sins Apple has ever committed. It’s a good reminder that no one is above dropping a few absolute clunkers – even Apple.
The butterfly keyboard
For many years, Apple has exalted the concept of “thin and light” above seemingly everything else. In the quest to return designs to their purest essence, not even the keyboard could escape the steely gaze of Jony Ive and his fellow Apple designers.
The result was the butterfly keyboard, first debuted on 2015’s 12-inch MacBook. Instead of the traditional scissor switch mechanism under each key, this keyboard featured a new design that was much thinner and allowed far less key travel than before. Sure, it allowed the laptop to be almost impossibly thin, but it came at the cost of terrible reliability (and a lot of lawsuits against Apple).
Even the smallest crumb can jam your keys and make them unstable and erratic. And with almost no key movement, typing on the keyboard felt like you were tapping on a solid, immovable surface, making mistakes increasingly common. Apple finally ditched the butterfly keyboard in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since.
Magic Mouse 2
The butterfly keyboard may have been abandoned, but this next design flaw – the Magic Mouse 2 – is still with us. Buy a Magic Mouse 2 today and you’ll find it’s a real pain – literally.
First, its low-profile shape may cause discomfort during prolonged use. I know at least one person who had to switch to another mouse after it caused them severe wrist pain. Sure, multitouch gesture support is great, but is it worth the possible carpal tunnel syndrome?
That’s not the only problem. The most meme-worthy aspect of the Magic Mouse 2 is the way it charges, as Apple confusingly located the charging port on the bottom of the device. That means you can’t use it and charge it at the same time, and instead have to place it on your back like a rodent playing dead. It seems quite fitting, really.
The iMac G3’s ‘hockey puck’ mouse
Magic Mouse 2 wasn’t the first time Apple got a mouse seriously wrong. No, over 15 years before, Apple launched the iMac G3 and its design bomb of a mouse. While the iMac G3 is rightfully celebrated as one of the best Macs of all time, the mouse is not nearly as well remembered. You certainly won’t find it on any lists of the best mice, that’s for sure.
That’s because it was completely circular (hence the nickname “hockey puck”). In practice, this meant that it was extremely difficult to orientate yourself without taking your eyes off the screen and looking down. You will either hold it wrong and not be able to find the only button, or have to interrupt your work to get it the right way around. It was disruptive and annoying – hardly the hallmarks of great design.
When Apple launched the redesigned MacBook Pro in 2016, the Touch Bar feature was announced with much fanfare by the company. This touch-sensitive strip would provide handy app-specific shortcuts when you needed them, and would even let you quickly type emojis into a message. What’s not to love?
Well, its shortcomings became apparent over time. Although a few apps had built-in support for the Touch Bar from the start, many did not, and uptake was slow. It didn’t take long for the Touch Bar to feel like it was stagnating and unable to live up to its potential.
Also, it replaced the MacBook Pro’s row of physical function keys, which was well liked by many users. Apple eventually reintroduced a physical Escape key in later iterations, but the absence of a proper function row was keenly felt. Apple got that wrong when they dropped the Touch Bar in 2021.
1st generation Apple Pencil
Don’t get me wrong, I like the Apple Pencil. It brings a great level of extra functionality to the iPad and feels thoughtful and well designed.
In every way except one, that is. You see, the first generation Apple Pencil came with a Lightning connector at the top end. To charge the device, you had to plug it into the iPad’s Lightning port, which made the tablet look like some kind of bizarre tech stingray.
Even worse, this confusing arrangement put the Apple Pencil at huge risk of breaking if it was bumped while charging, as a terrifying amount of pressure would be channeled through the Lightning connector. It may have been a nice device, but its peculiar – and risky – charging method was an unavoidable design flaw. Fortunately, Apple fixed it in the second generation model.
The “trash bin” Mac Pro
When Apple’s chief marketing officer Phil Schiller unveiled the new Mac Pro in 2013, he uttered one of the most infamous lines in the history of launch events: “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass.” The irony is that the design he revealed actually prevented Apple from innovating further down the road.
You see, the 2013 Mac Pro (known informally as the “trash” Mac Pro) was a pretty smart device, with all its components designed around a cylindrical cooling chamber. It was a marvel of engineering and highly proprietary. But the problem with proprietary designs is that they are very difficult to upgrade in the future.
Apple admitted as much in 2017, when an uncharacteristically candid Schiller said the Mac Pro was “thermally limited,” which “limited our ability to upgrade it.” As a result, the 2019 Mac Pro was far more modular. The 2013 model, meanwhile, is a good example of how a design that impresses in the short term can lead to headaches in the long term.
AirPods Max Smart Case
The AirPods Max Smart Case might be the most ironically named product Apple has ever released. That’s because it’s hardly a case at all, and definitely not a smart choice. Wrap the AirPods Max in the Smart Case and you’ll see that only half of the headphones are actually covered. It seems much more like a fashion accessory than a case.
While it’s kind of clever in that it looks like a bag, it’s definitely not what most people want from a headphone case, because it offers almost no protection at all. If you were hoping to keep your AirPods Max safe from bumps and bruises, you’re out of luck.
Even more annoying, using the Smart Case is the only way the headphones can enter low-power mode. Discuss the matter and you have to wait a couple of hours for them to turn off, and all the time they drain the battery.
Style? Check. Substance? Not so much.
iPhone Smart battery cover
What’s up with Apple devices that have “Smart” in the name? Next up is the iPhone’s Smart Battery Case, which instantly became something of a meme thanks to its bizarre design.
While Apple’s rivals opted for bulkier charging cases, Apple went for a stripped-down look, leaving the battery protruding oddly from the back of the phone. Unfortunately, this design made it look like the case had swallowed the battery and was ready to burst at any moment.
The bulbous design even prompted Tim Cook to come out and defend the case, and that’s never a good sign. Fortunately for him, Apple later ditched the Smart Battery Case in favor of the MagSafe Battery Pack, which is a little more elegant (though not really that difficult).
The iPad has been a huge success for Apple, but it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Newton MessagePad. This handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) was launched in 1993, but was plagued with problems almost from the start.
MessagePad—and perhaps the world—simply wasn’t ready when it launched. The handwriting recognition software was so inaccurate that it was even mocked on The Simpsons, but the device was still pushed out ahead of time, perhaps because it was the pet project of then-Apple CEO John Sculley.
In the end, MessagePad was a good idea designed poorly. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he abolished the company’s entire Newton division. Still, with more mature technology and a few design tweaks (including dropping the pen), the MessagePad idea lived on in the form of the iPad.
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