4 Wildly Popular Apple Products That Were Criticized at Launch

iPhone with clownfish wallpaper
Corbin Davenport / How-To Geek

The Vision Pro headset is Apple’s first Gen 1 product since the Apple Watch in 2015. The company is no stranger to entering new product markets, but new launches are often met with skepticism, later followed by massive success. Here are four examples.

iMac (1998)

iMac G3
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The original iMac G3 received a mixed response when it was released in 1998. Most people liked the now iconic design, but the nitty gritty specs, ports, and repairability were not as universally loved. Many of the original reviews of the iMac G3 are no longer available in full online, but they can be found in magazines.

“Reality falls far short of Apple’s claims: The iMac was outperformed on most of our application-based tests by both the Pentium II and Celeron PCs…Apple’s claims of Pentium-killing power are clearly overstated, but the iMac still succeeds extremely well at being what it was intended to be.” – Tom Pope, PC Magazine

“Another flaw is the lack of a floppy drive. There’s no way short of networking to get information off the iMac. The inability to save files to a floppy makes this system little more than a dumb terminal with modem and networking capability. The all-internal 10Base-T Ethernet connector, 56k modem and infrared port guarantee easy setup but limit any upgrades.” – John Breeden, The Washington Post.

“But in spite of its purchase incentives, teal accents, and cutting-edge design, industry analysts say the iMac will likely be a tough sell beyond the aficionados in any large numbers. They note that Apple still faces the traditional concerns of fending off the gigantic Microsoft-Intel juggernaut and its cadre of fiercely competitive computer makers offering feature-rich but low-cost computers.” – Michael Kanellos, CNET

Despite the shortcomings, the iMac doubled Apple’s PC market share in just the first four months. It arguably saved the company, and was responsible for several product names to come—iPod and iPhone. The products listed below may have never come to be without the success of the original iMac.

iPod (2001)

iPod 2001
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The original iPod was announced in a low-key event by Steve Jobs in 2001. It was pretty well received—except for one big sticking point: price. The first iPod cost $399 for 5GB of storage, and that was a point of contention.

After the announcement, journalists and Apple fans were more than a bit divided on the iPod. Most tech journalists of the time were impressed with the iPod, even if they had some reservations.

“Our only gripe: While the Mac- friendly iPod is available now, a rumored PC version won’t appear until spring, if ever…The Apple iPod’s pricing is at the high end for an MP3 player, but this is a tremendously good product.” – Troy Dreier, PC Magazine

“Apple’s new iPod, the computer maker’s first MP3 player, stores 5GB of music—enough for a whopping 1,000 songs. To put that into perspective, consider: That’s 125 times more data than the venerable Mac Classic held on its comparatively puny 40MB hard drive. And it’s all in a stunning, if slightly bulky, 6.5-ounce package.” – What’s New, Popular Science

But it was a different story for many Apple users. People had a lot to say about the original iPod in the MacRumors forums.

$400 for an Mp3 Player! I’d call it the Cube 2.0 as it wont sell, and be killed off in a short time…and it’s not really functional. Uuhh Steve, can I have a PDA now?

All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device? The Reality Distiortion Field™ is starting to warp Steve’s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.

this really isn’t that revolutionary of a product. I have a Nomad Jukebox with a 6gig hardrive and it only cost me $250.

Apple was selling over 20 million iPods per year by 2005, and peaked at nearly 60 million in 2008 and 2009. It was a massive success, and led to a seismic change in the music industry and how we listen to music today.

iPhone (2007)

Original iPhone
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The original iPhone was announced in 2007, and while Steve Jobs’ presentation has become legendary, not everyone was convinced that Apple truly had “reinvented” the phone. In fact, a lot of people were very critical and dismissive of the iPhone.

“$500!? Fully subsidized with a plan? That is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine.” – Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO

“As it turns out, much of the hype and some of the criticisms are justified. The iPhone is revolutionary; it’s flawed. It’s substance; it’s style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones.” – David Pogue, The New York Times

“There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive. Even in the business where it is a clear pioneer, the personal computer, it had to compete with Microsoft and can only sustain a 5% market share.” – John C. Dvorak, Market Watch

“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” – Ed Colligan, Palm CEO

The original iPhone became the third most popular phone in the U.S. in just three months. It has obviously been an astounding success for Apple. As of Q1 2023, Apple makes up 21% of the global smartphone market share and a whopping 52% of the U.S. market share.

Apple Watch (2015)

Apple Watch
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By 2015, when the original Apple Watch was announced, people had started to catch on that maybe Apple knew what it was doing. Still, there was plenty of skepticism around Apple’s entry into the smartwatch market.

“For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.” – Nilay Patel, The Verge

“You don’t need one. Nobody needs a smartwatch. After all, it’s something else to buy, care for, charge every night. It’s another cable to pack and track. Your phone already serves most of its purposes. With the battery-life situation as it is, technology is just barely in place to make such a device usable at all.” – David Pogue, Yahoo Tech

“Not everyone has an iPhone 5 or later, which is required for the watch to work. Not everyone wants her wrist pulsing with notifications, finds animated emojis thrilling or needs to control an Apple TV with her wrist. Smartwatches can sometimes feel like a solution in search of a problem. – Lauren Goode, Re/code

The smartwatch market isn’t as big as some of the other device categories on this list, but Apple has come to absolutely dominate it. As of Q1 2023, 43% of wearables shipped worldwide are Apple Watches. The next closest competitor is Samsung, at 8%.

Apple has had success with devices that people initially didn’t think would be popular, but they’ve also had some clear misses. For example, did you know Apple made a gaming console? It was called the Apple Pippin and was discontinued after only a year. Apple also made a PDA called Newton, which foreshadowed a future where we all had portable personal devices, but it fell short in actual market adoption. Given the bold presentation at Apple’s WWDC 2023 keynote, all of this begs the question: what will the fate of the Apple Vision Pro be?

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