Power Mac G4 Cube
|Developer||Apple Computer, Inc.|
|Product family||Power Mac|
|Release date||July 19, 2000|
|Discontinued||July 3, 2001|
|Dimensions||Height: 9.8 inches (25 cm)|
Width: 7.7 inches (20 cm)
Depth: 7.7 inches (20 cm)
|Mass||14 lb (6.4 kg)|
|Related articles||Power Mac G4|
The Power Mac G4 Cube is a small form factor Macintosh personal computer from Apple Computer, Inc., sold between 2000 and 2001. Designed by Jonathan Ive, the Cube was Apple's attempt to miniaturize a powerful desktop computer into compact size less than 8 inches (20 cm) to a side. Apple's designers developed new technologies and production techniques to create the product, which Apple aimed at consumers in between the consumer iMac G3 and the professional Power Mac G4.
Despite winning awards and plaudits for its design, the Cube was an immediate commercial failure. Production was suspended within a year of its announcement, making it a rare failure for the company under returning CEO Steve Jobs. Despite its lack of success with consumers, the Cube influenced the design of future Apple products from the iPod to the Mac mini. The New York Museum of Modern Art holds a G4 Cube, along with its distinctive Harman Kardon transparent speakers, as part of its collection.
The Power Mac G4 Cube is a small cubic computer, suspended in a 7.7×7.7×9.8 in (20×20×25 cm) acrylic glass enclosure. The transparent plastic gives the impression the computer is floating. The enclosure houses the computer's vital functions, including a slot-loading optical disc drive. The Cube requires a separate monitor with either an ADC or a VGA connection. The machine has no fan to move air, and thus heat, through the case. Instead, it is passively cooled, with heat dissipated via a grille at the top of the case. The base model shipped with a 450 MHz G4 processor, 64MB of RAM, 20GB hard drive, and an ATI Rage 128 Pro video card. A higher-end model was available only through Apple's online store.
To fit the components of a personal computer in the size of the case, the Cube does not feature expansion slots. The Cube does have a video card in a standard AGP slot, but could not fit a full-length card. The power supply was located externally to save space, and the Cube features no input or outputs for audio on the machine itself. Instead, the Cube shipped with round Harman Kardon speakers and digital amplifier, attached to the computer via Universal Serial Bus (USB). Despite its size, the Cube still fits three RAM slots, two FireWire 400 ports and two USB 1.1 ports for connecting peripherals in its frame. The computer's I/O and power cable are located on the underside of the machine. Access to the machine's innards is accomplished by inverting the unit and using a pop-out handle to slide the internals out of the shell.
The Cube was an important product to Apple, and especially to Jobs, who said the idea for the product came from his own desires as a computer user. "I wanted the [flat-panel] Cinema display but I don't need the features of the PowerMac," he told Newsweek. Jobs minimalist aesthetic influenced the core components of the design, from the lack of a mechanical power button, to the trayless optical drive and quiet fanless operation. The design team at Apple, lead by Jonathan Ive, attempted to fit the power of a desktop in a much smaller form factor; Ive saw traditional desktop tower computers as lazy, designed around what was easiest for engineers. The Cube represented a shift in Apple, as the designers held increasing sway over product design. The New York Times called the Cube "pure [...] industrial design" harkening to Bauhaus concepts.
The Cube represented an effort to simplify the computer to its barest essentials. Journalist Jason Snell called the machine an example of Jobs and Ive's obsession with a "Black Box"—dense, miniaturized computers hidden within a pleasing shell hiding the "magic" of its technology. As the Cube has no fan, the design started with the heat sink. The power button that turned on with a wave or touch was accomplished via the use of capacitive sensing. The proprietary plastics formula for the housing took Apple six months to develop. Effort spent developing the Cube would pioneer new uses and processes for materials at Apple that benefitted later products. Due to the technology included in the Cube, Apple's engineers had a tough time keeping the total cost low. Advertising director Ken Segall recalled that Jobs learned of the product's price shortly before an ad agency meeting, and was left "visibly shaken" by the news, realizing that the high price might spell the product's failure.
Release and reception
The G4 Cube was announced at Macworld Expo on July 19, 2000, as an end-of-show "one more thing". Jobs touted it as combining the power of the Power Mac G4 with a sleek design and miniaturization Apple learned from producing the iMac. Alongside the Cube, Apple introduced a new mouse, keyboard, and displays to complement the machine.
Rumors of a cube-shaped Apple computer had leaked out weeks in advance, and some sites had posted purported pictures. The machine's size and looks were immediately divisive, which Macworld editor Andrew Gore took as an indication that Apple had succeeded in creating a cutting-edge product. The design was a point of praise, as well as jokes—the computer was compared to a Borg cube, toasters, or a box of Kleenex. Others compared it to the NeXTcube. Ive and the design team were so amused by the comparison to a tissue box that they used spare Cube shells for that purpose in their studio.
Reviews were generally positive. Peter H. Lewis, writing for The New York Times, called the computer the most attractive on the market, and that combined with Apple's displays and peripherals "[they] create a stunning array of desk sculpture." PC Magazine Australia said that after changing the look of computers with the iMac, the G4 Cube had raised the bar for competitors even further. Gore called the Cube a work of art that felt more like sculpture than a piece of technology, but noted that one had to live with compromises made in the service of art.
Critics noted that in order to get easy access to plug and unplug peripherals via the I/O ports, users would have to tip the entire machine—risking accidental sleep activation or dropping the slippery plastic computer entirely. Macworld found the touch-sensitive power button too sensitive and that they accidentally activated sleep mode regularly, and reported that the stock 5400-rpm hard drive and 64MB of RAM on the base model slowed the system considerably.
The Cube won several international design awards on release, as well as PC Magazine's best desktop computer for its Technical Innovation Awards. The G4 Cube and its peripherals were acquired and showcased by the The Museum of Modern Art alongside other Apple products.
The introduction of the Cube did not fit with Jobs' four-quadrant product matrix he had introduced since his return to Apple, leaving it without a clear niche in Apple's lineup. It was as expensive as a similarly-equipped Power Mac, but did not feature extra room for more storage or PCI slots. It was likewise much more expensive than a specced-up consumer iMac. Jobs believed that creative professionals and designers would want one, and that the product was so great that it would inform buying patterns.
Sales for the Cube were much lower than expected. Apple had eleven profitable quarters before the Cube's announcement after being on the brink of bankruptcy, but Apple's end-of-year financials for 2000 missed predicted revenues by $180 million. Part of the drop in profit was attributed to the Cube, which sold only a third as many units as Apple had expected, creating a $90 million shortfall in their revenue targets. The Cube counted for 29,000 of the Macs Apple shipped in the quarter, compared to 308,000 iMacs. Retailers were awash in excess product, leaving Apple with a large amount of unsold inventory heading into 2001 they expected to last until March. The computer appealed to high-end customers who wanted a small and sleek design, but Jobs admitted that audience was smaller than expected. In February 2001, Apple lowered the price on the 500 MHz model and added new memory, hard drive, and graphics options. These updates made little difference, and sales continued to decline. The Cube sold 12,000 units in the first quarter of 2001, representing just 1.6% of the company's total computer sales.
In addition to the product's high price, the Cube suffered from other issues. Early buyers noticed cracks caused by the injection-molded plastic process, and the idea of a design-focused product having aesthetic flaws turned into negative public relations story for Apple, as well as turning off potential buyers for whom the aesthetics were its main appeal. The Cube's radical departure from a conventional personal computer alienated potential buyers, and exacerbated Apple's struggles in the market competing with the performance of Windows PCs. Macworld wrote that consumers treated the Cube as "an underpowered, over-expensive toy or [...] an emotionally inaccessible, ultra-geometric gray box suspended in an untouchable glass prison." The lack of internal expansion and reliance on less-common USB and FireWire peripherals also hurt the computer's chances of success.
Despite Jobs' clear love of the computer, he was quick to axe the underperforming product. On July 3, 2001, an Apple press release made the unusual statement that the computer—rather than being canceled or discontinued—was having its production "suspended indefinitely" due to low demand. Apple did not rule out an upgraded Cube model in the future, but considered it unlikely. Jobs' ability to quickly move on the mistake left the Cube a "blip" in Apple's history, according to Segal—a quickly-forgotten failure amidst other successful innovations.
Though Apple CEO Tim Cook called the Cube "a spectacular failure" and the product sold only 150,000 units before being discontinued, it became highly popular with a small but enthusiastic group of fans. Macworld's Benj Edwards wrote that the Cube was simply ahead of its time, with its appeal to a dedicated group of fans years after it was discontinued a testament to its visionary design. After its discontinuation the product fetched high prices from resellers, and a cottage industry developed selling upgrades and modifications to make the machine run faster or cooler. John Gruber wrote 20 years after its introduction that the Cube was a "worthy failure [...] Powerful computers needed to get smaller, quieter, and more attractive. The Cube pushed the state of the art forward."
While the G4 Cube failed commercially, it influenced future Apple products. The efforts at miniaturizing computer components would pay off in future computers like the flatscreen iMac G4. The Mac mini fit an entire computer in a shell one-fifth the size of the Cube and retained some of the G4 Cube's design philosophies. In comparison to the high price of the Cube, the Mini retailed for $499 and became a successful product that remains part of Apple's lineup. The translucent cube shape would return with the design for the flagship Apple Fifth Avenue store in New York City. Capacitive touch would reappear in the iPod and iPhone lines, while the Cube's vertical thermal design and lattice grille pattern were echoed by the 2013 and 2019 versions of the Mac Pro.
CNET called the machine "an iconic example of millennium-era design". Its unconventional and futuristic appearance earned it a spot as a prop in several films and television shows, including Absolutely Fabulous, The Drew Carey Show, Orange County, and 24. Sixteen Cubes were also used to power the displays of the computer consoles in Star Trek: Enterprise.
|Model number||M7642LL/A (450 MHz), Configure-to-order-only (500 MHz)|
|Processor||450 MHz or 500 MHz PowerPC G4 with 1 MB L2 cache|
|Memory||128 MB up to 1.5 GB of PC100 SDRAM|
|Graphics||ATI Rage 128 Pro with 16 MB SDRAM, Nvidia GeForce2 MX with 32 MB SDRAM, or ATI Radeon with 32 MB DDR SDRAM|
|Hard drive||20 GB, 40 GB, or 60 GB Ultra ATA/66 Hard Drive|
|Optical drive||CD-RW or DVD-ROM|
|Connectivity||Optional AirPort 802.11b|
10/100 BASE-T Ethernet
56k V.90 modem
|Peripherals||2 USB 1.1|
2 FireWire 400
|Video out||VGA and ADC|
|Maximum operating system||Mac OS X 10.4.11 "Tiger" and Mac OS 9.2.2|
|Dimensions||9.8×7.7×7.7 inches (25×20×20 cm)|
|Weight||14 pounds (6.4 kg)|
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