When I used to interview people at Apple, I sometimes liked to ask them what they thought were the best and worst Apple hardware products of all time. It was a good way to test product knowledge, the ability to be critical without getting carried away, prioritization skills, and ability to keep things in perspective.
Sometimes the interviewee turns the tables on me and asks me for my best and worst. It’s something I think about a lot because the company has gone through so many highs and lows. I think it’s important to evaluate what went well and what went wrong in the past so the same mistakes aren’t made.
The worst hardware product
I started with the worst because it’s really easy. In my mind, it’s been the worst Apple hardware ever since it came out and was never topped. This product was so bad that:
- I had the motherboard replaced three times
- It would burn my legs if I used it on my lap (it had a searingly hot spot on the bottom)
- The hinge for the screen creaked and you couldn’t position it very well
- Pretty much everything seemed to cause a system bomb alert (kind of like a kernel panic)
- The top-of-the-line model was in the neighborhood of $7,000
- Just before Apple announced the trade-in program, I sold it for $500 for someone who just wanted the display.
My easy choice here is:
The Powerbook 5300
And I didn’t just get a dud.
Although a significant advance over preceding portable Macs, the PowerBook 5300 suffered from a number of design faults and manufacturing problems that have led to it being cited as among the worst Apple products of all time. Amongst other issues, it was one of the first laptops to suffer negative publicity from battery fires, and featured a hot-swappable drive bay with insufficient space for an internal CD-ROM drive.PowerBook 5300—Wikipedia
[…] the power supply wasn’t robust enough to handle everything you could put into the expansion bay. And the connector on the AC adapter could break, making it impossible to charge the batteries – or run the computer.A Compromised Mac—Low End Mac
As if that weren’t enough, the 5300 and it’s 68040-sibling, the PowerBook 190, had problems with the case, especially the hinge between the main computer and the screen. Flecks of dark gray plastic were soon called “PowerBook droppings”. Over time, enough plastic could be lost that the 5300 needed to go in for service.
Had it not been for the PowerBook 5300, the easy choice would be qthe current Apple TV remote.
The best hardware product
Apple has had some amazing hardware products over the years and the list I’ve carried in my head of the best has changed frequently over time. I haven’t changed my mind for several years now. The product I’m thinking of has the following characteristics.
- The setup is almost comically easy compared to any consumer product
- The interface is basically non-existent, so that makes it easy to use
- It’s a beautiful design
- Battery life is incredible
- It beats all products in its class
- If you care about all the features, the price can’t be beat
- It is rugged and durable
Have you guessed it:
A close second goes to the iPhone, any version really.