Apple puts Cube on ice

Apple has halted production of the G4 PowerCube after a year of disapointing sales. Despite receiving popular reviews and offering unique styling sales of the device were far below modest expectations. But why was the super cool computer so unpopular?

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By  Will Milner Published  July 5, 2001

“The G4 Cube is simply the coolest computer ever” gushed Steve Jobs, the enigmatic CEO of what is widely perceived as the world’s most fashionable computer company. The product was the highlight of last year’s Macworld and Jobs was not the only one to throw praise at the uniquely designed PowerMac. Praise for the design, and to a lesser extent performance, was universal. ITP’s own Winlabs team labelled the device “the most interesting and desirable, desktop design this year”.

Rarely had a new product caused such a stir with reviewers. However, the sales for the product did not match expectations. Not even close. An estimated shortfall of $90 million in the fourth quarter of 2000 was the first sign that all was not well with the Cube.

As the slump continued well into the this year the problem was becoming serious for Apple. The first quarter of 2001 saw a quarterly loss for the first time in three years. Something had to be done about the bad Apple. Attempts to improve the machine by adding a rewritable CD drive and slashing upto $500 off the $1700 price tag were not succesful.

It proved to be too little too late: Apple has announced that it will halt the production of the PowerMac G4 Cube. With production suspended, Apple has admitted defeat and will now concentrate its efforts on the PowerMac G4 minitowers — an option that consumers have been taking anyway. “Cube owners love their Cubes, but most customers decided to buy our powerful PowerMac G4 minitowers instead” admitted Phillip Schiller, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing.

Support is likely to continue, unaffected, for those users that have bought the G4 Cube already. With analysts now looking to the seed of Apple’s problem with the Cube, the question remains — why did such an appealing device fail to capture the hearts, and more importantly the wallets, of the world at large?

The ultimate answer is that the Cube was captured in a wilderness and had no distinct focus. Too expensive for many consumers and lacking in the essential upgradability options for business users the Cube was, for many, little more than an expensive status symbol. In particular, the lack of PCI expansion, as the Winlabs team suspected in a first look review, proved too big a downfall for educated users who understand the importance of upgradability.

The Cube, however, may not go away entirely. Apple has hinted that it may one day bring back the micro casing design with an alternative specification. Although previous upgrades have been unsuccesful this reviewer for one would welcome back a truly innovative, yet flawed device. If Apple is able to work out the inherent problems, then the Cube could go on to take its place as one of the best computing devices available.

The Cube was released at last year’s Macworld Expo and has failed to last the full year until Macworld Expo 2001. All eyes are now on the exhibition to see whether or not a shiny new Apple will be introduced.

In the final reckoning the G4 Cube remains what it has always been: an icon of the digital age. Developed during the age of dot com expansion and the maturing Internet era it was hailed as a revolution. No other product better represented the dotcom philosophy of style before content better than the Cube. And now, after the bubble has burst, the Cube has gone the same way — gone but not forgotten.

Check out the original itp.net review of the Cube at:

http://www.itp.net/reviews/hardware/97532564479293.htm

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