May 19, 1980: Apple III. Worst. Apple. Ever.

by Chris Seibold May 19, 2011

The Apple III is likely the worst computer Apple ever produced. Not because of any inherent problem with the specifications. Compared with the competition the specs were solid. What was lacking was the execution.

The clock chip didn't work, the computer had no fan and would overheat, the sockets were loose to begin with and the machine would corrode internally. The blame for the lameness built into the Apple III was laid at the feet of Quality Control and problems with the component manufacturers. This was partially true; the corrosion was the fault of a subcontractor. Many of the other flaws, however, can be blamed on Steve Jobs' erratic leadership of the project.

The Apple that was so bad that Apple wouldn't release another computer with a III in the name for 13 years was announced on May 19, 1980.


  • The Apple III has competition from the Spindler era, I’m afraid:

    My personal experience using these supposed PowerPCs was that they were much slower than the last 68k-based Macs I used. Ludicrous. These machines—and others similarly compromised—directly led to the pre-Jobs2 mid-nineties crisis that almost killed Apple.

    Smarmy Moustache had this to say on May 20, 2007 Posts: 2
  • Not from my perspective. In those early days, Apple computers were largely do-it-yourself-here’s-the-manual.

    From the perspective of a desktop support guy in the late 90’s, the Worst Apple Ever was the Powerbook 5300. It was constantly breaking down, and being sent back for warranty work. Total Lemon. I laughed out loud when Jeff Goldblum used one to defeat the aliens in Independence Day. No way that would happen!

    tao51nyc had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 45
  • Mmmm… the Apple/// wasn’t so bad.  I owned computer stores (primarily Apple) in the 1970-80s.  When we were asked to present our case to IBM to carry the PC, we made our presentation on an Apple/// using a forerunner of Dave Winer’s ThinkTank. 

    The IBM exec was quite impressed with the Apple///, ThinkTank & us… we got the dealership.  FWIW, we carried the Apple/// in a Apple/// Carrying Case (made by apple) on the plane from SF to Boca—not quite a portable, maybe a transportable!

    dicklacara had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 7
  • Another FWIW…  one of the names that Dave was considering for what would become ThinkTank, was… Vista.  (now there’s some ancient history).

    dicklacara had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 7
  • Once Apple replaced all the original ///‘s with fixed machines, they became very competent, with excellent software, and usable hardware.  Unfortunately, the rep that was left from the original machine was never overcome.  And yes, design decisions by Steve Jobs (specifically no fan) were the root cause of the biggest problem the machine suffered, loosening of the socketed chips.

    Heepa had this to say on May 20, 2008 Posts: 2
  • Since I worked in the Apple/// engineering group at the time, I feel mildly impelled to offer a couple of corrections.

    1 - Yep, the clock chip was a problem. The manufacturer screwed up.

    2 - The /// had a massive heatsink in the back; the lack of a fan was not an oversight, or cost-cutting measure, it was intended to provide a quieter workplace. We used lots of them, by the way, and never found overheating to be an issue.

    3 - Loose sockets? No, on the contrary, the sockets on the motherboard were too *tight*, if anything. The result was that some of the chips in those sockets would gradually “walk” up and out of solid electrical contact as the motherboard and the pan in which it was installed flexed slightly as the system heated and cooled.

    Eventually, you’d get erratic operation, or it wouldn’t boot on power up.

    This made the initial workaround for the problem possible; you would lift the front of the (attached) keyboard about an inch, then release it. The chips would reseat at the thump, and off you’d go.

    These problems were addressed in part by relaying the motherboard; the old “fine-line” boards were replaced by the newer “coarse-line” boards, for free, for all Apple/// customers who had the early machines. The problems went away, along with some troublesome manufacturing contractors.

    The biggest problems with the system came from marketing demands, though. A huge amount of engineering effort went into making sure that the Apple][ emulation mode of the Apple/// was restricted to a subset of the Apple][‘s expandability. Some in marketing were apparently certain that otherwise the $3K+ Apple/// would cannibalize sales of the much less expensive Apple//. (That never made sense to any of us.)

    Once the “Six-million Dollar Solution” (replacing the initial motherboard for all existing customers at no charge to them) was done, the Apple/// went on to work very well; but its reputation never really recovered. It was interesting to see, though, that the final version included 512K of RAM and mouse support, and Profile hard drive support. By then, though it was too late for the machine.

    Apple made a few machines after that that really did deserve general opproprium, such as the Performa 6300CD, or PowerBook 5300, or some of the profusion of confusing and poor performing low-end Macs during the Spindler era. Any of them were much worse than the Apple///.

    Steve Hix had this to say on May 21, 2008 Posts: 2
  • If you worked in the Apple/// Engineering Group, you must know Wendell Saunder (sp) and Wil Houd.

    I bought an Apple ][ in 1978 and it (and all Apple ][s of that era) had the same problem with chips walking out of their sockets due to expansion and contraction from heating and cooling.

    dicklacara had this to say on May 21, 2008 Posts: 7
  • Yes, I worked for Wil for a while, not so much with Wendell. I started there late in 1980 writing technical documentation.

    Apple weren’t the only company fiddling with that problem. At the time, it was a toss up as to which was better, socketed chips, or soldering all of them. The chips were expensive enough that it made some sense to be able to replace individual components if one failed. Not so much any more, at least at the component level.

    Steve Hix had this to say on May 21, 2008 Posts: 2
  • I was trying to find a regcure application on Google and I also found your article here. Well, all companies have to go through this. Sometimes you just market something that you simply don’t know it managed to land on the market in the first place. But look where Apple is today. They learned from their mistakes and now they are one big famous company.

    IBMdude had this to say on Sep 01, 2011 Posts: 50
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