The greatest Apple design ever fails and messes up

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 world’s most design-savvy tech company.

No, Apple has had its fair share of design howlers over the years. Here we’ve rounded up eight of the most egregious design sins Apple has ever committed. It’s a good reminder that no one can get over dropping a few absolute rockers – even Apple.

The butterfly keyboard

For many years, Apple has seemingly prioritized the concept of “thin and light” above anything else. In an effort to reduce his designs to their purest essence, not even the keyboard escaped the steely gaze of Jony Ive and his fellow Apple designers.

The result was the butterfly keyboard, first introduced on the 12-inch MacBook in 2015. Instead of the traditional scissor switch mechanism under each key, this keyboard sported 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 many lawsuits against Apple).

Even the smallest crumb could jam your keys, making them fickle and unpredictable. And with almost no key travel, typing on the keyboard felt like typing on a solid, unmoving surface, leading to increasingly frequent errors. Apple finally ditched the butterfly keyboard in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since.

magic mouse 2

I fixed Apple’s biggest design flaw… sort of.

The butterfly keyboard might have been abandoned, but that next design flaw – the Magic Mouse 2 – is still with us. Buy a Magic Mouse 2 today and you’ll see it’s a real pain – literally.

For one, its flat shape can be uncomfortable with prolonged use. I know at least one person who had to switch to a different mouse after experiencing severe wrist pain. Sure, multi-touch gesture support is great, but is it worth the possible carpal tunnel syndrome?

That’s not the only problem. The most mesmerizing aspect of the Magic Mouse 2 is the way it charges, as Apple has amazingly placed the charging port on the bottom of the device. That means you can’t use it and charge it at the same time, instead having to put it on its back like a dead-playing rodent. That actually seems pretty reasonable.

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The iMac G3 “Hockey Puck” mouse factory on Wikipedia

The Magic Mouse 2 wasn’t the first time Apple got a mouse wrong. No, over 15 years earlier, Apple released the iMac G3 and its design bomb of a mouse. While the iMac G3 is rightly hailed as one of the best Macs of all time, its mouse isn’t remembered nearly as much. You certainly won’t find it on any top mouse lists, that’s for sure.

That’s because it was completely circular (hence the nickname “Hockeypuck”). In practice, this meant it was extremely difficult to get your bearings properly without taking your eyes off the screen and looking down. You would either hold it wrong and not be able to find its only button, or you would have to interrupt your work to get it the right way round. It was disruptive and annoying – hardly the hallmarks of great design.

The touch bar

When Apple launched the redesigned MacBook Pro in 2016, its Touch Bar feature was announced with much fanfare by the company. This touch-sensitive strip provides handy app-specific shortcuts whenever you need them, and even lets you quickly type emojis into any message. What’s not to love?

Well, its shortcomings became apparent over time. While some apps had built-in Touch Bar support from the start, many didn’t, and adoption has been slow. It didn’t take long for the Touch Bar to feel like it was stagnant and unable to fulfill its potential.

In addition, it replaced the MacBook Pro’s row of physical function keys, which were very popular with many users. Apple eventually reintroduced a physical escape key in later iterations, but the lack of a proper function bar was strongly felt. Apple corrected that error when it dropped the Touch Bar in 2021.

Apple Pencil Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends 1st Generation

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Apple Pencil. It brings a great deal of additional functionality to the iPad and feels well thought out and well designed.

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In every way except one, that is. You see, the first generation Apple Pencil came with a Lightning connector on the top end. To charge the device, you had to plug it into the iPad’s Lightning connector, which makes your tablet look like some kind of bizarre tech ray.

Worse, this confusing arrangement put the Apple Pencil at great risk of breaking if bumped while charging, as startling pressure would be directed through its Lightning connector. It might have been a good device, but its peculiar – and risky – charging method was an inevitable design flaw. Thankfully, Apple fixed it in the second-gen model.

The “trash can” Mac Pro

When Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller introduced the new Mac Pro in 2013, he uttered one of the most infamous phrases in the history of launch events: “Can’t innovate more, my ass.” The irony is that the design he unveiled actually made Apple think prevented future innovations from developing.

You see, the 2013 Mac Pro (colloquially known as the “trashcan” Mac Pro) was a pretty clever machine, with all the components organized 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 update in the future.

Apple admitted this in 2017, when an unusually candid Schiller said the Mac Pro was “thermally limited,” which “limited our ability to upgrade it.” As a result, the 2019 Mac Pro was much more modular. The 2013 model, on the other hand, is a great example of how a design that excites in the short term can become a headache in the long term.

AirPods Max Smart Case Apple

The AirPods Max smart case is perhaps the most ironically named product Apple has ever released. That’s because it’s hardly a case and definitely not a wise choice. Wrap your AirPods Max in the smart case and you’ll see that only about half of the earphones are actually covered. It looks much more like a fashion accessory than a suitcase.

While it’s pretty clever in that it resembles a handbag, that’s definitely not what most people expect from a headphone case, as it offers next to no protection. If you were hoping to protect your AirPods Max from bumps and bruises, you were out of luck.

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What’s even more annoying is that using the smart case is the only way to put the headphones into sleep mode. Drop the case and you have to wait a couple of hours for them to shut down and during that time they drain the battery.

Style? Check over. Substance? Not as much.

iPhone smart battery case

What’s the deal with Apple devices that have “smart” in their 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 competitors opted for bulkier charging cases, Apple went for a stripped-down look with the battery oddly protruding from the back of your phone. Unfortunately, this design looked like the case had swallowed the battery and was about to burst out at any moment.

The bulbous design even prompted Tim Cook to step out and defend the case, and that’s never a good sign. Luckily for him, Apple later ditched the Smart Battery Case in favor of the MagSafe Battery Pack, which is a bit more stylish (although it’s really not that difficult).

The Newton MessagePad Blake Patterson/Flickr

The iPad was a huge success for Apple, but it wouldn’t exist without the Newton MessagePad. This portable Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) was launched in 1993 but was plagued with problems almost from the start.

The MessagePad – and maybe the whole world – just wasn’t ready when it came out. Its handwriting-recognition software was so inaccurate it was even derided in The Simpsons, but the device was released early anyway, perhaps because it was the pet project of Apple’s then-CEO John Sculley.

Ultimately, the MessagePad was a great idea that was poorly designed. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he axed the company’s entire Newton division. However, with more mature technology and some design changes (including the elimination of the stylus), the MessagePad idea lived on in the form of the iPad.

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