Popular Mechanics names Microsoft Zune, Apple TV among Top 10 Worst Gadgets of 2007

“To responsibly critique art, wrote W. H. Auden, requires “an inclination to praise rather than blame, and regret when a complete rejection is required….” But we’ve done our share of praising this year, and instead of another round-up of the products the online world collectively drooled over during 2007, here are our picks for the worst. Rather than going for the most obscure or ludicrous gadgets, we based our choices on missed opportunities, hype gone awry and some mysterious fumbles. And while we tried to bash constructively the gizmos we’ve tested so extensively in the lab, sometimes the most useful response is, in fact, a complete rejection,” Erik Sofge writes for Popular Mechanics.

#8. Microsoft Zune 1.0 and 2.0: “To take on the iPod, Apple’s sleek little Goliath with record-breaking sales and a spot in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, Microsoft last year unveiled the Zune: a larger, heavier, equally-expensive device. What did it have that the iPod didn’t? The ability to temporarily share songs with others Zunes. Of course, this interesting feature was crippled by a three-play or three-day expiration (whichever came first). Microsoft also had the questionable logic of offering the brick-shaped device in brown. Quite simply, instead of killing the iPod, the Zune barely made a whimper when it was introduced,” Sofge writes.

“Cut to this year. Apple has revamped their entire iPod line, shrinking their already-tiny Nanos and adding the iPhone’s multitouch interface to a non-phone media player. So how does Microsoft respond? By matching the size and feature set of the previous year’s iPods and not even attempting to compete on price (the updated Zunes cost pretty much exactly the same as the new iPods). It’s almost as if Microsoft didn’t anticipate Apple making a single update or change to their constantly evolving line of players,” Sofge writes.

#2 Apple TV: “There is nothing wrong with Apple TV. Unfortunately, there’s nothing overwhelmingly right about it, either. This is the rare black mark in an otherwise spotless multi-year streak from Cupertino—a product that was not only completely overshadowed by the company’s own iPhone, but by the larger industry of video-download devices and services…The problem with Apple TV isn’t the interface or the hardware, which are up to Apple’s current high standards. The issue is competition. DVRs and Video On Demand have fought their way into American living rooms. The only way Apple could have trumped them was to offer a huge selection of movies and monthly, all-you-can-eat plans. They did neither, becoming an online version of your nearest FYE, with decent (but not surprising) prices, and a spotty selection of new releases and mysterious B movies,” Sofge writes.

Full article with the other eight entries — Palm’s stillborn Foleo is #1 — here.

Sofge nails the Zune, but his Apple TV criticism misses the mark.

Before you scream, “Of course MacDailyNews is going to defend Apple!” – let us explain:

No doubt, Sofge’s got it right that it’s the content that’s the issue, but that also means that the Apple TV doesn’t belong on this list. As a “gadget,” the Apple TV is beautiful, thoughtfully-designed hardware with excellent software and a world-class user interface. Apple TV works great, just as promised. Feed it HD video, music, photos, home movies, and Apple TV soars.

What might belong on the list (and under the Zune, not above, please) are Apple’s iTunes Store’s TV Shows and Movies sections. Not enough content, no rental option for the kind of content we’d rather rent: movies and TV shows that we mostly watch just once and really have little reason to buy and park on our hard drives to waste space. Let us buy the handful of movies we’d like to watch multiple times, otherwise, we’d rather rent/subscribe.

But, let’s think about this a bit more. Is the problem really Apple here? We just don’t think so. We have to imagine that Apple’s been doing everything they can to cut deals with content providers in order to enhance the hardware they’re trying to sell. After all, that’s where Apple makes their money, not by selling TV Shows and movies – the studios get most of the profit. We think, that instead of the Apple TV, or even the iTunes Store’s video sections, that Hollywood – the content providers – belong on this list. They’re the ones dragging their heels, holding things back by limiting selection and video resolution while asking too much for their product, not Apple.

What do you think? Is the Apple TV really a “Top 10 Worst Gadget of 2007” or is Popular Mechanics blaming an excellent gadget for issues that are simply beyond its control?

More about Apple TV and what can be done to improve it can be found in the related articles below.


  1. AppleTV will begin to get traction when the content is there, just as you point out. AppleTV, in its current iteration, is not aiming at the audiophile/videophile … that is not where the vast volumes and profits are for a business success.

    AppleTV intentionally undershoots BlueRay, undershoots live recording functionalities, undershoots attempting to download movies of over 1.5 gigs etc. It refuses to become part of the existing TV and ecosphere.

    These are two ‘must’ attributes of disruptive products. They must undershoot the power users, they must succeed outside the existing ecosphere, and they must be affordable.

    If you are not buying AppleTV because it won’t download perfect HD content, that it won’t do timeshift recording, that it does not have a DVD/BlueRay player, that it does not have a gazillion gigabite disk, that is a GOOD THING. APPLE DOES NOT WANT YOUR BUSINESS. TO PROVIDE YOU WITH THAT MEANS THAT THE PRODUCT AND BUSINESS IDEA WILL FAIL.

    The puzzle is not yet complete, and the existing, unsustainable, customer-hostile model that the studios participate in today has not suffered nor bled enough. They must bear a heavier cross from the Bit Torrenters before they wake up and find themselves in a new world, where they, too, like the music labels, MUST COMPETE WITH PIRACY.

    It took a meteor from the sky to wipe out the dinosaurs. They all did not die the same day, they say the climate shift and lack of food did em in. Well, AppleTV is the studios meteor today.

    They will finally get it, after dinosaur CEOs are cast out by unhappy shareholders controlling corporate boards that are sick and tired of losing money.

  2. I agree with your take MDN. Content is the issue here. What’s worst is that TV shows and movie offerings on iTunes differ from country to country unlike its music counterpart. We only just got a smattering of TV shows on iTunes in Canada; which I would never buy as I wouldn’t watch tv shows more than once. AppleTV definitely should not have been number 2, especially if the Zune is number 8.

  3. “As a “gadget,” the Apple TV is beautiful, thoughtfully-designed hardware with excellent software and a world-class user interface.”

    I have to disagree with that one. A great product is thought through before it’s put out to the masses. Yes, Apple TV does what it was suppose to do initially, but if streaming purchased movies, TV shows, photos and music is *all* Apple TV would ever have the capabilities to do, then they shouldn’t have released the product in the first place – because that’s a very weak copycat move that others are already doing… poorly.

    “Is the problem really Apple here? We just don’t think so. We have to imagine that Apple’s been doing everything they can to cut deals with content providers in order to enhance the hardware they’re trying to sell.”

    But, those deals should’ve been cut BEFORE the product was launched – not as an afterthought. I agree with you that the lack of a rental option in the iTS is the worst move, but if the purpose of Apple TV is to *eventually* stream rentals, then get the rentals working first and then launch Apple TV.

    Apple TV suffers from the same stupid pipe dream that Zune 1.0 suffered from: They launched a product with the hopes that “eventually” it will be killer. But with so many products already do what Apple TV does and so much more (ahem… Slingbox), if one doesn’t have anything innovative to bring to the plate, then it’s best to stay at home and listen to your iPod HiFi.

    Juat my thoughts… feel free to disagree.

  4. What these writers don’t understand is that Apple TV is doing exactly what its suppose to do. Exactly what Apple/Jobs has stated what the product does when it was sold. Apple has added a little bit here and there, but the product has performed exactly to specification. These FUD writers completely miss the point and continue to throw in technobabble trying to make it look as if Apple created ATV to compete with the likes of TIVP/DVR/Windows MultiMedia whatever…. FUD at their finest.

  5. The Zune 2 rocks. PM is as bad as MDN. Biased against Microsoft since the beginning. Mine works flawless with my precious Vista. Mr. Bill hit a home run with this thing. JAllard is the new Ive. Face it.

    Shepherd Jobs pulled a fast one on the sheep. That’s why no one bought one of those silly Apple TV’s. But my Media Center is the best thing under the sun with beautiful 1080i.

    360-Media Center-Zune. Doesn’t get any better.

  6. Ars’ ‘Infinite Loop’ apes this Popular Mechanics asshat, no independent thought or analysis, no challenging how on earth they could call AppleTV ‘the worse gadget of the year’ (save hapless Foleo).

    Here is my response I sent to them.


    Your Infinite Loop series gets worse day by day.

    The latest installment about the Popular Mechanics story on the 10 worst gadgets of the year and Jeff Smykil’s laughable, intellectually barren, cheapshot remarks are simply comical.

    Is this all you can do? You troll the net, find other people’s articles, warm them over, add worthless fluff and filler, ape them, and publish a recycled story. Can’t you dig down deep, deep in that little pea brain and come up with ANYTHING of value? Monkey see, monkey do, eh?

    No analytical work, nothing original to add except college or high school level journalism class verbage.

    Never mind that AppleTV will, of course, sell in the neighborhood of 800,000 units in its first year, a ‘failure’ that ANY consumer manufacturer would die over. A failure of the first water, right?

    Never mind that the writer admits himself that the design of the product as well as the user interface are very good. This, too, qualifies as ‘the’ worst gadget (save Foleo) of the year, right?

    No consideration of all the things its succeeds as, the fairly good start to movie content they have, or that the jockeying with the studios JUST MIGHT have something to do with it ‘only’ selling some 800,000 units this year. A sure sign of one of the worst gadget failures of the year, right?

    No other gadget that is worse than AppleTV made this year (save Foleo). Right?

    You’re not only an idiot, you are an intellectually barren idiot. You don’t even have the backbone to challenge that article assertion with facts, numbers, peer analysis, other valid consumer gadget comparisons. Nothing.

    You go for the cheap shot, much like a coward. And even that was not your own idea. You go for ‘the shiny object’, to repeat what another clueless writer wrote and go for the click traffic. Not to mention your cowardly attempt to inoculate yourself from ‘zealot-esque’ Mac followers.

    It is a well worn script on the net. Apple has succeeded in their iPod efforts, iMac efforts, iPhone efforts, Apple Store efforts, good progress on environmental matters, their financials at every metric are the envy of the financial community, their stock has risen 150%. So, what could possible get more attention that to COPY another morons views because no company can be that good can they? You, as journalist, won’t be told that you are intellectual liars by exaggerating calling AppleTV ‘the worst gadget of the year’ (save Foleo). What could be more dramatic, eh?

    Come on. You’re not a journalist, you’re not tech writer. You are a clueless copycat without a single professional, thought provoking, analytical capability.

    Guys, do some WORK or go back to SCHOOL or shut down this farce you call Infinity Loop. Find something NEW, DIFFERENT, VALUE ADDING. Cut out the transparent dramatics, the copying other peoples work, rearranging the words, adding useless sophomoric fluff and filler, and calling it newsworthy.

  7. I got my apple tv from my brother and while I like it, it is somewhat a disappointment do to lack of content and while that isn’t Apples fault they did manage to avoid it in the audio content dept. So yes it is a ball dropped by apple and therefore directly hurts the products, now I figure I would give apple tv the 8th spot and the zune the 2nd.

  8. Apple TV is essentially for people to view their own content with, offering a link between computer and TV. Perhaps not enough people actually want to do that with their homemade stuff and the choice of purchasable content is certainly not good enough but the gadget itself is pretty damn good. Even if you could buy loads of HD content online, it’s still not a direct replacement for a DVR in much the same way as DVD players aren’t either so to compare them is slightly pointless.

  9. I love my Apple TV. For me it is worth it just for connecting my iTunes music to my home theater stereo. It is a better way to get music from the room where my computer is to the room where my stereo is. The AirportExpress is not as good a solution because the controller is still in the room with the computer, which for me is upstairs.

    The Apple TV is also worth it for display images rom iPhoto. I realized one day that, since we don’t print our images out, AppleTV gets them to full screen at resolution that we do not normally see them at. Also, since the TV is often playing the screen saver (the 3D gallery) we get to see many images that we have forgotten about.

    I also watch video on it (lets not talk about the 3 season binge my wife and I suddenly went on with LOST – which looked great coming from the iTunes store to our 720p flat screen), but I agree with the criticism that there is not really enough video content yet. We purchased several Disney films for our daughter and I have ripped many of our DVDs using Handbrake. A movie rental service would be great!

    Because it is the best way to get our music to the stereo and pictures to the HDTV, the Apple TV could have been branded iPodTV. That would get the message across that it is not just a video device looking for content, but stands on its own as a brilliant machine that turns the TV into an iPod for music and pictures with a big display and stereo sound.

  10. Apple displays should be on the list too. And their mini-dvi adapters. Those little headphones. In fact, any Apple product that is not as successful as the iPod is clearly nothing but a failure. Apple should concentrate on doing nothing but making successful iPods and nothing else. Because that’s what Apple is all about. Just famous iPods.

  11. “Is the Apple TV really a “Top 10 Worst Gadget of 2007”

    Yes, because the “Product” is both things, the hardware and the service. That’s where Apple TV falls down. It’s just not a very compelling alternative to a DVR like Tivo which also plays your remote media collection from your PC. It’s not compelling compared to an XBox or PS3 which both also do everything Apple TV does plus are next gen game consoles and Blu-Ray/HD-DVD players.

    The fact is “Apple TV capability” is just a feature of all these other next gen devices, not their sole reason for existence.


    Except devices which do go the next step towards that ideal continue to thrash Apple TV in the marketplace.

    “AppleTV is the only way to get youtube onto your living room television”

    Firstly is that a good thing? But secondly, there are other ways to achieve that if you wanted to, e.g. PS3, PCs.

    “Here is my response I sent to them.”

    What response did they send back, “screw off Fanboy Frigtard”?

  12. Apple tried to define a new market with AppleTV. They failed. Maybe they’ll come up with something better, maybe they will not. It is more than a lack of content. The device’s output quality was never very good, and lacking 1080i or 1080p is just foolish in the marketing-rich consumer electronics industry (so what if 720p is better than 1080i). No native ability to consume satellite, cable, or OTA TV makes the device a HD. Being a one hit wonder, rather than a full home, distributed home entertainment system missed the mark. And the heat the thing gave off scared me off – i travel a lot and though it’d catch my house on fire. Being little more than an iPod for my TV just isn’t interesting. Apple, kill AppleTV and rethink video for the home. There is a wonderful market for home video and audio integration and it’s totally untapped right now for the masses.

  13. i’ve been close to buying an apple tv since it was released (it’s moving up the priority list). i hardly see it as a failed product, and see it as doing everything i would want such a device to do. i have plenty of content, and storage space just keeps getting cheaper. unlike what some write, i have my favorite movies and tv shows that i love watching over and over again (thanks to not only handbrake, but isquint, and transmission). so for me, the ‘lack of content’ is a non issue.

  14. Hey, I have no reason to get an AppleTV, indeed, no TV set capable of even hooking up to it. It’s a niche market item, and many are outside that niche, and will be for awhile. But that don’t mean it doesn’t do, and do well, what it said it would, and that means this criticism against it is misguided.

  15. @mike_in_helsinki

    I’ve enjoyed your posts before, but you are off the mark on one point. The thing MUST provide HD content. Without that, I’m not buying. The design is excellent, the interface is superb, but if I’m going to get one, the content must look spotless on my 1080p TV. End of story.

    Yes disruptive products must undershoot to redefine the ecosphere, but in this case doing it just to be different is hurting sales and its very own evolution.

  16. @ MDN and Macaday:

    Consumers have spoken regarding the usefulness of AppleTV and the results are in…it stinks. Look at the numbers, less than 500,000 sold.

    Why i there so little consumer demand? No capacity for 1080p, miniscule hard drives, lack of multiple format support, inability to allow internet video streaming, pathetically slow bitrate.

    Who cares what potential AppleTV has, most people want a product that works well 2007, not 2009 or 2010 or later. Apple touts itself as providing the whole widget, but it is obvious that AppleTV is only a shell of the promises of universal usefulness and acceptability.˜

    I get the feeling that you two are developing an increasingly growing sense of buyer’s remorse and are desperately trying to convince yourselves that you made a smart consumer decision. You made a hasty purchase ill informed purchase, get over it.

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