IBM PC Convertible (1986)
The 5140 PC Convertible was IBM’s first laptop-style, battery powered computer. IBM called it “convertible” because one could remove the LCD display and use the system as a desktop unit as well.
Problem #14: Bulky Expansion Modules
Like the TI-99/4A and PCjr, the PC Convertible used an awkward and bulky expansion method with rear plug-in modules. The biggest attachment was an entire printer, which made the machine far from portable. Even as a desktop machine, who would want a long, monolithic computer that would have trouble fitting on a regular desk?
What Were They Thinking?
The Convertible’s method of expansion probably seemed simple and user friendly to IBM. It makes you wonder if they ever actually tried to use it in practice.
Apple Lisa (1983)
The Apple Lisa, initially priced at $9,995, was the world’s first mass-produced personal computer to ship with a graphical user interface (GUI) and a mouse. Unfortunately, Apple’s own Macintosh upstaged it a year later by providing most of the same functionality as the Lisa at a tiny fraction of the cost. Still, Lisa OS sported a unique document management metaphor that has yet to be replicated in a mainstream OS. Had the Lisa been cheaper and faster, it might have set a new standard in computing.
Problem #15: Unreliable Proprietary Disk Drives
The Apple Lisa 1, released in January 1983, shipped with a pair of built-in “Twiggy” disk drives that could hold 860 kilobytes of data. These drives used specially made 5 1/4″ floppy disks (officially christened “FileWare” by Apple) with a unique design. In practice, these drives proved slow and very error-prone, and users became loathe to trust them with important information.
What Were They Thinking? Clever Apple engineering had squeezed the most out of conventional technology before — in fact, the Apple II’s cheap and reliable disk drive system, designed in-house by Apple’s resident electronics genius (Steve Wozniak), was a huge factor in the Apple II’s success. Woz’s Disk II drive and controller card designs used off-the-shelf components in novel ways to create a relatively fast, high capacity drive that could be manufactured and sold for much less than any competing floppy system.
With the Twiggy drives, Apple likely wanted to take their floppy innovations a step further (this time Wozniak wasn’t directly involved), but they ended up designing an overcomplicated and fundamentally flawed drive. With so much money invested in Twiggy’s development, it must have seemed unconscionable for Apple’s management to not to include it in a shipping product. But the public hated the drives; Apple later released the Lisa 2, which shipped with a single Sony 400K 3.5″ drive like that on the first Macintosh. Even then, it was too late for the Lisa. It became yet another victim of a computer design mistake.