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“Steve Jobs would never do that!”

. . . except he did, over and over.

“Steve Jobs would never do that!”
[Photo: Flickr user Ben Stanfield]

“No one hates Apple like Apple fans.” That’s what I think whenever I spend time reading the message boards at Apple enthusiast sites like MacRumors, whose forums may house the largest Apple community on the internet. I feel the same way when browsing social media after a new Apple product is announced–or a new complaint about a product goes viral. A subset of Apple fans, the type who post online, seem to criticize the company’s current leadership and choices more harshly than anyone else.

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In particular, after every product announcement you’ll find dozens of posts from Apple fans alleging that “Steve Jobs would never have done that!” “Steve Jobs would never have approved the notch.” “Steve Jobs would never have let Bendgate happen.” “Steve Jobs would never have eliminated regular USB ports on the MacBook.”

The perpetrators of these proclamations then usually go on to blame current CEO Tim Cook, saying he will be the downfall of Apple because he has made choices that a subset of hardcore Apple fans are unhappy with. Given that Apple, under Cook’s leadership, has become the first trillion-dollar public company in U.S. history, it’s hard to see how he’ll also be its downfall.

These “Steve Jobs would never have done that!” claims are, of course, ludicrous: No one can say for sure what he would or would not do. As a matter of fact, Jobs himself told Cook not to try to guess what he would have done. As Cook recalled during a talk at Apple HQ the month after Jobs’s death, “Among his last advice he had for me, and for all of you, was to never ask what he would do. ‘Just do what’s right,’ he said.”

But the main reason these claims don’t hold water is that the people making them seem to have deified Jobs, treating him as if every decision he made, and every product Apple launched under his tenure, was a solid-gold hit. While Jobs revolutionized multiple industries with the Mac, iTunes Music Store, iPod, and iPhone, he also oversaw plenty of duds during his tenure at Apple. Here are just some examples of things Steve Jobs did that were questionable at best and flops at worst.

Rokr E1, the first “iTunes phone”

People think that the original iPhone was the first phone built to work with iTunes–but Jobs actually had another, horrible idea for transitioning people’s music from the iPod to a mobile phone: the Rokr E1. An ordinary cell phone of the era rather than a smartphone, it was a collaboration between Motorola and Apple and was unveiled in September 2005 by Jobs himself onstage during Apple’s annual iPod event.

How bad was this phone that Jobs blessed? The Rokr E1 didn’t even have an official iTunes app, opting instead for a generic Java-based music player. PC World named it one of the 25 worst tech products of all time. Thanks, Steve.

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The ugly, blue HP iPod

For some reason, Jobs once also made the bizarre decision to actually license the iPod to another company. Known as the iPod+HP, the product was Apple’s iPod, but sold by computer giant Hewlett Packard. It was announced in 2004 at CES by then-HP CEO Carly Fiorina. With the iPod+HP, Jobs literally gave another company permission to make an Apple product. The iPod+HP even featured an HP logo on the back, not an Apple one.

Jobs agreed to these iPods being treated as HP products to such a degree that Apple Store Genius Bars were not allowed to service or provide help for them. In return for handing its core product over to HP, Jobs “won” the concession from Fiorina to install iTunes on all HP computers sold. Thankfully, HP and Apple terminated this deal in 2005. Not a good move, Steve.

Ping, Apple’s failed social network

Tim Cook often points out that Apple would never be in the privacy mess Facebook is in because Apple doesn’t rely on the business model that social media networks use: selling user data to advertisers. But if one Steve Jobs-era idea had been, well, good, Apple might well be in the same trouble today as Facebook.

In September 2010, Jobs introduced “iTunes Ping,” Apple’s own social network. It failed big time–and thank god for that. Upon unveiling Ping, Jobs said, “This is a social network all about music. It’s Facebook meets Twitter meets iTunes. With Ping, you can follow your favorite artists and friends and join a worldwide conversation with music’s most passionate fans.”

Ping was terrible, and within 24 hours of its launch, it was plagued by spam. It lasted only two years before Apple, under Cook, shuttered it less than a year after Jobs’s death.

iPod Hi-Fi

Back in the mid-aughties, everyone and their brother made speaker docks and other accessories for the iPod. Jobs saw just how many speaker docks companies like Bose were selling and decided to enter the market itself. The result was the dismal iPod Hi-Fi.

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Why was it so bad? For starters, the price was $349–much higher than similar speaker docks with better sound quality. Further, only some iPods could connect directly with the Hi-Fi while others could not without an adapter. And we know how much people love adapters. And speaking of connecting, the iPod was only held in place on the Hi-Fi by its connection with the dock port, leading many owners to accidentally snap the dock connector off when removing their iPod.

When Jobs unveiled the iPod Hi-Fi in 2006, he announced that he had actually replaced his expensive home audio system with it. Not many people followed in his footsteps, and Apple killed the product just 18 months after it was released.

iPod Socks

Speaking of iPod accessories, in 2004 Jobs unveiled Apple’s newest, cutting-edge product: the sock. Well, the iPod sock, anyway. These brightly colored knit creations came in a six-pack for $29. Users were to choose one to slip their iPod into to keep it safe (from shoes?). And each sock innovated the iPod case industry by being a sock with an Apple tag attached to it.

Revolutionary? Groundbreaking? Nope. Thanks, Steve.

Visionaries make mistakes, too

The examples above aren’t the only flops Jobs oversaw at Apple. Who can forget the Antennagate “you’re holding it wrong” fiasco? Or the hockey-puck mouse no one liked that was included with the first iMacs? Or what about the G4 Cube, a Mac that was gorgeous but so impractical that low sales led to Apple discontinuing it after less than a year?

The point is, while Jobs was a visionary and his story is arguably the best comeback story of anyone in American business history, Apple under his leadership produced questionable products, too. Had any of the products on this list been introduced today, die-hard fans would be screaming, “Steve Jobs would never have done that!”

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But as history shows, Jobs did, often, do things “he never would have done.”

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