The Biggest Apple Design Fails and Screw-Ups of All Time

Apple is world-renowned for its design success stories, from the iMac G3 to the best iPhones of all time. But things don’t always go according to plan, even for the most design-savvy tech firm on the planet.

No, Apple has had its fair share of design howlers over the years. Here, we’ve rounded up the eight most egregious design sins Apple has ever committed. It’s a good reminder that no one is above giving up on some absolute clunker – even Apple.

butterfly keyboard

macbook keyboard

For many years, Apple put the concept of “thin and light” above everything else. In their quest to strip their designs back to their purest essence, keyboards also couldn’t escape the steely gaze of Jony Ive and his fellow Apple designers.

The result was the butterfly keyboard, which first debuted on late 2015’s 12-inch MacBook. Instead of the traditional scissor switch mechanism under each key, this keyboard featured a new design that was much thinner and allowed much less key travel than before. Sure, it allowed laptops to be almost impossibly thin, but it came at the cost of terrible reliability (and a lot of lawsuits against Apple).

Even the smallest piece can jam up your keys and make them wobbly and erratic. And with almost no key travel, typing on the keyboard feels like you’re tapping a solid, immovable surface, making errors increasingly common. Apple finally ditched the butterfly keyboard in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since then.

magic mouse 2

I fixed Apple’s biggest design

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

For one thing, its low-profile shape can cause discomfort with prolonged use. I know at least one person who had to switch to another mouse after having severe wrist pain. Sure, its support for multitouch gestures is great, but is it worth the possible carpal tunnel syndrome?

This is not the only problem. The most memorable aspect of the Magic Mouse 2 is how it charges, as Apple has confused the charging port on the bottom of the device. This means you can’t use it and charge it at the same time, and instead have to carry it on your back like a rodent playing dead. It actually seems fair enough.

iMac G3’s ‘Hockey Puck’ Mouse

An Apple USB mouse, known as "hockey puck" Mouse, from iMac G3.  The mouse is sitting on a desk with its USB cable attached.
factory on wikipedia

The Magic Mouse 2 wasn’t the first time Apple got the mouse badly wrong. No, 15 years ago, Apple launched the iMac G3 and the design bomb of its mouse. While the iMac G3 is celebrated as one of the best Macs of all time, its mouse is nowhere to be remembered. You certainly won’t find it on any list of the best mice, that’s for sure.

This is because it was perfectly spherical (hence the nickname “hockey puck”). In practice, this meant that it was extremely difficult to orientate correctly without taking your eyes off the screen and without looking down. You’ll either get it wrong and can’t find a button on it, or you’ll have to fiddle around with your work to get it right. 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 introduced by the company with much fanfare. This touch-sensitive strip will provide app-specific shortcuts whenever you need them and let you quickly type emoji in any message. what’s not to love?

Well, its shortcomings became apparent over time. Although some apps had built-in support for the Touch Bar from the get-go, many did not, and uptake was slow. It didn’t take long for the Touch Bar to feel like it had stagnated and was unable to live up to its potential.

What’s more, it replaced the MacBook Pro’s row of physical function keys that were preferred by many users. Apple eventually reinstated a physical Escape key in later iterations, but the absence of a proper function row was keenly felt. Apple righted that wrong when it dropped the Touch Bar in 2021.

1st generation Apple Pencil

apple pencil
Malaria Goke / Digital Trends

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Apple Pencil. It brings a great level of added functionality to the iPad and feels well thought-out and well designed.

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

Worse, this complicated arrangement put the Apple Pencil at a greater risk of being knocked over while charging, as a catastrophic amount of pressure would be transmitted through its Lightning connector. It may have been a cool device, but its peculiar – and risky – charging method was an inevitable design failure. Fortunately, Apple fixed this in the second generation model.

‘Trash Can’ Mac Pro

A 2013 Mac Pro is shown rising out of a shadowy black background.

When Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller unveiled the new Mac Pro in 2013, he uttered one of the most infamous lines in launch event history: “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass.” Ironically, the design he revealed actually held Apple back from innovating more in the future.

You see, the 2013 Mac Pro (informally known as the “trash can” Mac Pro) was a very clever device, with all its components designed around a cylindrical cooling chamber. It was a marvel of engineering and extreme mastery. But the problem with proprietary designs is that they are very difficult to upgrade in the future.

Apple admitted as much in 2017, when an uncharacteristically candid Schiller said the Mac Pro was “thermally constrained” which “restricted our ability to upgrade it.” As a result, the 2019 Mac Pro was far more modular. Meanwhile, the 2013 model is a great example of how a design that wows in the short term can cause headaches in the long term.

AirPods Max Smart Case

Apple's AirPods Max headphones inside the blue Smart Case.

The AirPods Max Smart Case might be the most ironic product Apple has ever released. That’s because it hardly matters, and certainly isn’t a smart choice. Wrap your AirPods Max inside the Smart Case and you’ll notice that only about half of the headphones are actually covered. It feels more like a fashion accessory than a case.

While it’s clever in a way that it resembles a handbag, it’s definitely not what most people want from a headphone case as it doesn’t offer any protection at all. If you were hoping to keep your AirPods Max safe 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. Leave the case on and you’ll have to wait a few hours for them to turn off, and they’ll be draining battery in the meantime.

Style? check. Substance? Not so much.

iphone smart battery case

Two Apple iPhones, each inside a Smart Battery Case.  One is white case and the other is black case.

What is it with Apple devices that have “smart” in the name? Next up is the iPhone’s Smart Battery Case, which instantly became a meme for its quirky design.

While Apple’s rivals opted for more bulky charging cases, Apple went for a stripped-back look, leaving the battery awkwardly out of the back of your phone. Unfortunately, this design made it look like the case swallowed the battery, ready to explode at any moment.

The bulbous design prompted Tim Cook to jump 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 elegant (though really, it’s not that difficult).

newton messagepad

Apple Newton next to an iPhone
Blake Patterson / Flickr

The iPad has been a huge success for Apple, yet it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Newton MessagePad. This handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) was launched in 1993 but was plagued with problems almost from the start.

MessagePad – and perhaps the world – just wasn’t ready when it launched. Its handwriting-recognition software was so inaccurate it was even mocked on The Simpsons, yet the device was still prematurely scrapped, probably because it was a pet project of John Sculley, then-CEO of Apple.

Ultimately, MessagePad was a great idea turned out to be poorly designed. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he spun off the company’s entire Newton division. Still, the MessagePad idea lived on in the form of the iPad, with more mature technology and a few design tweaks (including dropping the stylus).

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