When Apple drops the ball: the gear that flopped

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

For some it was the killer-app for the original Macintosh. So why even consider it a failure? Its creator, Bill Atkinson, is fairly clear on this point: a lack of network awareness: "I grew up in a boxcentric culture at Apple. If I'd grown up in a network-centric culture, like Sun, HyperCard might have been the first web browser. My blind spot at Apple prevented me from making HyperCard the first web browser."

Outside the box

Apple laptop

Apple isn't just boxed products, though. In the internet age, online services deserve our consideration, too. You'd have to be of a certain vintage (aged 40 or so) to remember AppleLink. It was Apple's pre-web online community, accessed through client software and a modem. It was for distributors and developers only, and boy, was it expensive.

Apple tried using a third party (Quantum) to create a consumer version, AppleLink Personal Edition, but it was even more costly. eWorld was therefore Apple's third attempt at an online service. It looked great, had a web browser, email and FTP, but it was massively expensive, and Mac only. It failed, in part due to fierce competition from a recently renamed Quantum - America Online, or AOL. (If at first you don't succeed, right? After its 'success' with eWorld, it took another four years for Apple to have another go. iTools/.Mac was really just about giving Mac users an @mac.com email address, and it was free. See, they had learned their lesson.)

Ah, hindsight: it's wonderful thing. What you thought of at the time as failure often turns out to be an important stepping stone; technology hailed as the next big thing might be next week's chip-paper. Apple has a great track record for both. Without HyperCard, the web might have taken longer to start.

With no QuickTake we might still be scanning photographs. If they'd fixed the handwriting recognition before shipping we might all be using Newtons instead of iOS devices. Had eWorld worked, the internet might still be a walled garden, and e-commerce the next big thing. Be thankful for small mercies.