My two cents’ worth: It’s been expected for some time now, but on Tuesday Apple made it official: they’ve suspended production of the Power Mac G4 Cube indefinitely.
Despite all of its advances like the cooling system, the Cube never really caught on. It was perceived as overpriced for low end users and lacking the expansion that high end users required. Apple priced it (or overpriced it, some would say) not for its features, but for its design, size and quiet operation. It never caught on with the price conscious crowd (they went for iMacs) or with power users (who preferred the G4 towers).
The Cube’s reputation was also hurt by reports of cracks in its clear case. Apple said the so-called cracks were merely mold lines from the production process, but the stories of cracked Cubes got lots of publicity.
Apple said that production of the Cube will halt immediately and that soon customers would no longer be able to purchase the G4 Cube on the company’s Web site. However, the company will continue to offer technical support to Cube owners.
The Cube was introduced just under a year ago at Macworld New York 2000 with prices of $1,799 to $2,299, which didn’t include a monitor. Apple expected to sell about a million within a year. It didn’t happen. At the end of September, Apple issued a fourth-quarter warning that mentioned, among other things, slow Cube sales.
In attempt to spur sales, Apple began offering rebates for the Cube. Later, it cut prices. At the Apple store, the minicomputers were recently listed at prices from $1,299 and $2,199 depending on configurations.
When the Cube first shipped it came with a DVD drive. In February, Apple introduced a new G4 Cube with a slot-loading CD-RW drive and iTunes, Apple’s “jukebox” software.
But nothing has jump-started sales. Apple shipped just 12,000 of the machines in the January-to-March quarter this year, down from the 29,000 units it shipped the previous quarter. The best quarter the computer had was the one ended September 2000, which saw 107,000 Cubes sold.
Analysts had various thoughts and comments on the matter in widespread coverage of the Cube’s coming extinction. Guernsey Research analyst Chris LeTocq said Apple had aimed the Cube as an entry point to its professional G4 line, but the market Apple found was limited and largely consisted of upscale consumers.
Don Young, an analyst with UBS Warburg, said consumers didn’t want to pay for “expensive packaging. He said that, as of May 1, Cube inventory levels were backed up nine weeks as compared to under three weeks for the Titanium PowerBook.
In a statement, Apple said there’s a “small chance” that it will reintroduce an upgraded model of the much praised, but under-selling, computer in the future. However, there are no plans to do so at this time. And I’ll be surprised if it ever happens. We can only hope that some of the design elements of the Cube find their way into future Macs.
The Cube was a groundbreaking computer. Less than one-fourth the size of most personal computers, the eight-inch cube is “suspended” in a crystal-clear enclosure. Though tiny, it houses a G4 processor that reaches supercomputer speeds of over three billion calculations per second (Gigaflops).
If there’s any surprise to the demise of the Cube, it may be that it happened as soon as it did. It was a pet project of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. And it’s not likely that he let his baby — which he rightly considered a major design/engineering achievement from Apple — slip away without investigating every possibility of saving it.
Another surprise was the sense of humor Apple displayed in announcing the Cube’s fate. The press release of the announcement carried the wry headline, “Apple puts Power Mac G4 Cube on ice.” It was a clever pun, and not the typical, down-to-business headline that most announcements from big companies use. Congrats to the author of the ‘line — and to Apple’s CEO for having enough of a sense of humor to allow a bit of levity in a PR announcement that he certainly hated to see hit the wires.
The Cube’s disappearance raises an interesting question about Apple’s product line-up? The tiny supercomputer expanded Apple’s “Four Corner” model (consumer desktop, professional desktop, consumer portable, professional portable) with a fifth, hard to define, component. Will the “Five Corner” model go back to four corners? Or will something else replace the Cube?
As a long time Mac user and Cube owner (though now my son has laid claim to it), I hope to see some of the Cube’s design and engineering elements make it into other models. A fanless G4 tower with a slot-loading SuperDrive would be great — if and when it’s technological possible.
The Cube wasn’t a perfect computer, but it was an award-winning product from a company that truly “Thinks Different.”