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Apple’s biggest design failure and bug of all time

Apple is world famous for its design success stories, from the iMac G3 to 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 niggles over the years. Here, we’ve rounded up eight of the most egregious design mistakes Apple has ever made. It’s a good reminder that no one is above dropping a few sheer clunkers — even Apple.

butterfly keyboard

macbook keyboard

For many years, Apple has elevated the concept of “thin and light” above seemingly everything else. In its quest to strip its designs down to their pure essence, not even the keyboard could escape the steely gaze of Jony Ive and fellow Apple designers.

The result was the butterfly keyboard, which first appeared on the 2015 12-inch MacBook. Instead of the traditional scissor-switch mechanism under each key, this keyboard carried a new design that was much thinner and allowed for much 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 plenty of lawsuits against Apple).

Even the smallest crumbs can clutter your keys and make them wobbly and erratic. And with almost no key travel, typing on the keyboard felt like you were tapping on a hard, stable 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 the next design failure — the Magic Mouse 2 — is still with us. Buy the Magic Mouse 2 today and see that it’s a real pain – quite literally.

For one thing, its unobtrusive shape can cause discomfort with prolonged use. I know at least one person who had to switch to a different mouse after it caused severe wrist pain. Sure, its support for multitouch gestures is great, but is it worth the potential carpal tunnel syndrome?

This is not the only problem. The most important aspect of the Magic Mouse 2 is how it charges, as Apple has located the charging port on the underside of the device. This means you can’t use it and charge it at the same time, instead you have to lay it flat on its back like a rodent playing dead. This seems very appropriate, really.

iMac G3 “Puck Hockey” Mouse

Apple USB Mouse, commonly known as "Hockey disc" Mouse, from iMac G3.  The mouse is sitting on a desk with a USB cable next to it.
Factory on Wikipedia

The Magic Mouse 2 wasn’t the first time Apple misbehaved with a mouse. No, more than 15 years ago, Apple launched the iMac G3 and its explosive mouse-shaped design. While the iMac G3 is celebrated as one of the best Macs ever, its mouse isn’t remembered anywhere near as fondly. You definitely won’t find it on any lists of the best mice, that’s for sure.

This is because it was perfectly circular (hence the “hockey puck” nickname). In practice, this meant that it was very difficult to steer properly without taking your eyes off the screen and looking down. Either you get it wrong and you won’t be able to find its individual button, or you have to interrupt your work to get it the right way. It was annoying and annoying – hardly a hallmark of great design.

touch bar

Macbook Pro Touch Bar

When Apple launched the redesigned MacBook Pro in 2016, its Touch Bar feature was announced with great fanfare by the company. This touch-sensitive bar will provide useful app-specific shortcuts whenever you need them and allow you to quickly type emoji into any message. Can’t you love him?

Well, its shortcomings have become apparent over time. Although a few apps supported the Touch Bar from the start, many did not, and uptake has been slow. It wasn’t long before the Touch Bar felt like it was stagnant and unable to live up to its potential.

Moreover, it has replaced the row of physical function keys in the MacBook Pro, which has won the favor of many users. Eventually, Apple brought back the physical Escape key in later iterations, but the lack of a proper functional row was strongly felt. Apple corrected this mistake when it dropped the Touch Bar in 2021.

First generation Apple Pencil

Apple Pencil
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Apple Pencil. It provides an impressive level of add-on for the iPad and feels well thought out and well designed.

In all but one, that is. As you can see, the first generation Apple Pencil came with a Lightning connector on its upper end. To charge the device, you had to plug it into your iPad’s Lightning port, which made your tablet look like some kind of alien technology.

Even worse, this puzzling arrangement puts the Apple Pencil at risk of breaking off if it gets knocked over while charging, as a frightening amount of pressure will be directed through its Lightning connector. It may have been a good device, but its strange and risky charging method was an inevitable design failure. Fortunately, Apple fixed it in the second generation model.

Mac Pro Recycle Bin

The 2013 Mac Pro is seen emerging from a dark black background.

When Apple’s Chief Marketing Officer Phil Schiller unveiled the new Mac Pro in 2013, he said one of the most iconic phrases in the history of the launch event: “I can’t innovate anymore, my ass.” The irony is that the design he revealed actually prevented Apple from innovating further in the future.

You see, the 2013 Mac Pro (known informally as the “trash” Mac Pro) was a pretty clever machine, with all its components designed around a cylindrical heatsink. It was a very proprietary and engineering marvel. The problem with proprietary designs is that they can be difficult to upgrade in the future.

Apple acknowledged this in 2017, when Schiller said uncharacteristically bluntly that the Mac Pro was “thermal restricted,” which “limited our ability to upgrade it.” As a result, the 2019 Mac Pro was much more modular. The 2013 model, meanwhile, is a great example of how stunning design in the short term can lead to headaches in the long term.

AirPods Max Smart Case

Apple AirPods Max inside a blue Smart Case.

The AirPods Max Smart Case might be the most ridiculously named product Apple has ever made. That’s because it’s hardly the case at all, and definitely not a smart choice. Stuff the AirPods Max inside the Smart Case and you’ll only see about half of the headphones actually covered. It looks more like a fashion accessory than a case.

While it’s kind of clever in that it feels more like a handbag, that’s definitely not what most people want from a headphone case since it offers no protection at all. If you were hoping to protect your AirPods Max from bumps and bruises, you’re out of luck.

What’s even more annoying is that using the Smart Case is the only way the headphones can enter Low Power Mode. Throw out the case and you’ll need to wait a few hours for it to shut down, all the while draining the battery.

style? check. material? Not much.

iPhone smart battery case

Two Apple iPhones, each inside a smart battery case.  One is white and the other is black.

What are Apple devices named “Smart”? Next up is the Smart Battery Case for iPhone, which instantly became something of a meme thanks to its bizarre design.

While Apple’s competitors have opted for more bulky charging cases, Apple has gone for a stripped-down look, leaving the battery protruding oddly from the back of your phone. Unfortunately, this design made it look like the case had swallowed the battery, and that it was ready to explode at any moment.

The bulging design prompted Tim Cook to come out and defend the can, which is never a good sign. Fortunately for him, Apple later ditched the Smart Battery Case in favor of the MagSafe Battery Pack, which is a bit more elegant (though not really that hard).

Newton’s letter

Apple Newton next to the iPhone
Blake Patterson/Flickr

The iPad has been a massive success for Apple, yet it wouldn’t exist without the Newton MessagePad. This handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) launched in 1993, but it had problems almost from the start.

MessagePad — and perhaps the world — wasn’t quite ready when it launched. Its handwriting-recognition software was so imprecise that it was mocked in The Simpsons, yet the device was still an early push, perhaps because it was a love project for then-Apple CEO John Sculley.

In the end, MessagePad was a great idea poorly designed. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he banished the entire Newton division of the company. However, with more mature technology and a few design tweaks (including dropping the stylus), the MessagePad idea has lived on in the form of the iPad.

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