1. The Mac
It seems absurd now, but there was a time when some critics thought the Mac would be a complete failure. They considered the mouse-driven interface "Useless." Ponder that one for a bit. "Awkward," "Not easy to learn," and of course, "Costs too much" were other 1984-era complaints leveled at Apple's latest creation. These critics were used to the keyboard-driven interface of DOS-running PCs, and from the sounds of things, they considered the Mac, with its graphic user interface and "awkward" mouse, to be nothing more than an overpriced novelty, doomed to fail.
I hardly need to tell you what happened next. The original Macintosh completely revolutionized the computer industry. Within only a short time, companies like Microsoft scrambled to duplicate the GUI/mouse combo the Mac brought to the market. Today, nearly every desktop, notebook, and netbook out there runs a GUI/mouse interface. And 26 years after the first Macintosh debuted, Apple still sells Macs by the millions every year. I wish I could fail half as hard as that.
2. The iMac
"No floppy drive?!?" was the echoing cry among the tech world in 1998. Add to that the iMac's hermetically-sealed case and not particularly upgrade-friendly components, and once again, tech critics and build-it-yourself users who had been used to beige towers predicted the iMac would never catch on. Instead, the iMac sold like crazy and almost instantaneously doubled Apple's PC marketshare. Twelve years later, the iMac is still Apple's best-selling desktop, and it shows no signs of going anywhere anytime soon... unlike those floppy disks everyone once thought were so crucial.
3. The iPod
One of the greatest things about the internet is that in a way, it's the closest any of us will get to time travel. Let's go back to October 23, 2001, and get Slashdot's now-famous opinion of the just-announced iPod: "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame."
The comments that follow are even better. "I don't see many sales in the future of iPod." "All I can say is, as an Apple 'fan', I'm sad." But don't just take Slashdot's word for it. The forum folks at MacRumors had some true gems too: "Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player." "I still can't believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about 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." "The Reality Distiortion Field™ is starting to warp Steve's mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off." "Not exactly 'revolutionary'. " "The real money is in DRM and distribution (ala Real Musicnet). If Apple were smart they would be focusing on high gross revenue from services rather than a playback device." "It is by no means revolutionary or groundbreaking. It is an MP3 player. BFD. It is just a step in the evolution of an MP3 player [...] Think different is dead."
It goes on like that, for pages and pages. And this is at a site full of Apple fans, the majority of whom were unimpressed with the iPod at best and thought it was Apple's death knell at worst. People who weren't great fans of Apple at the time, like the guys behind Penny Arcade, had even harsher things to say about the iPod, even two years after its release (not safe for work language -- it is Penny Arcade, after all). Over nine years later, where are we? Over a quarter of a billion iPods have been sold since then, and it's largely due to the iPod's momentum that Apple has become the phenomenal success it is today.
4. The iPhone
For the first half of 2007, before the iPhone actually hit stores, people either thought it was the greatest innovation of the past ten years (at least) or an overpriced, overhyped device that lacked features common to many other phones. Of course, there was no lack of punditry from those who thought the iPhone was doomed, and Apple right along with it. Tech critic John Dvorak said of the iPhone, "I'd advise people to cover their eyes. You are not going to like what you'll see." A former CEO of Palm said, "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." And who could forget Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, perhaps the best-remembered critic of the iPhone: "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." Ballmer claimed Apple would be lucky to get 2-3% cellphone marketshare.
Over 42 million iPhones later, Apple has become the largest mobile device company in the world. And whether you agree that HTC and other phone manufacturers have violated Apple's patents or not, the influence the iPhone has had on the smartphone industry is undeniable. Before June of 2007, almost all smartphones looked like clones of the Blackberry. Less than three years later, an awful lot of smartphones now look like clones of the iPhone instead.
With these four products, Apple drove the evolution of three industries: PCs, portable media players, and smartphones. All four products were smashing successes despite all the doom and gloom from both professional and armchair tech critics. Now, with the introduction of the iPad, Apple is aiming at a new industry: ultraportable computers. For the past month and a half, at least half of everyone paying attention to the iPad has laughed at it, pointed out its shortcomings, and predicted its failure. My prediction? A year from now, we're going to have a very long list of misguided iPad quotes to point and laugh at.