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Cube at 10: Why Apple's eye-catching desktop flopped

By Benj Edwards, Macworld
August 12, 2010 01:21 PM ET

Macworld - When it comes to love-it-or-hate-it products out of Cupertino, few offerings can match the Power Mac G4 Cube for getting people to choose sides. Even a decade after its debut--Steve Jobs unveiled the Cube at the July 2000 Macworld Expo in New York and the desktop shipped a month later--the Cube still stirs passionate debate between its detractors and defenders.

To the anti-Cube crowd, the machine represented the pinnacle of what Apple detractors at the time decried as the company's greatest fault: putting form over function and style over power. Fans of the Cube were equally as adamant that the machine was brilliant and its design beautiful. Even today, a healthy segment of Mac users considers the Cube to be a cult classic that was simply ahead of its time. (Indeed, we'll look at the ways the G4 Cube was a design triumph in another article on Macworld.com.)

What isn't a matter of a debate is the Cube's commercial success--or more accurately, its lack thereof. The G4 Cube was a flop at the cash register. In January 2001, Apple conceded that it had sold only one third as many Cubes as it had expected. It sold 29,000 Cubes between October and December 2000, compared to 308,000 Macs during that same quarter. And in the very next quarter, Cube sales fell to 12,000 units. Apple ceased production of the Cube in July 2001, one year after its introduction.

Why didn't people buy the G4 Cube? With 10 year's worth of perspective at our disposal, I can think of four key reasons the Cube never took off.

Weirdness

How do you sell a computer that doesn't look like a computer? Who do you target? That was the biggest problem Apple faced when launching the Cube--a computer so far out there in a land of generic beige boxes that it might as well have been an alien monolith perched on a crystal throne.

Outsiders looked at the Cube and saw different things: an underpowered, over-expensive toy or--in contrast with the anthropomorphized everyman's iMac--an emotionally inaccessible, ultra-geometric gray box suspended in an untouchable glass prison.

Sure, there are the open-minded among us who can look past conventional design and appreciate something truly unique. A computer doesn't need a grinning face to be beautiful. But those people are few and far between--they're not only a minuscule subset of the population at large, but a subset of the Mac customer base itself. The Cube's odd design limited its potential market from the outset.

Even if you opted for a Cube and brought it home, you'd have to treat it gingerly to maintain its perfect appearance. The problem with making something intentionally perfect is that it won't stay that way with use. Apple has a habit of making devices that are beautiful only as long as you never touch them, and the Cube is high on that list. Unfortunately for Apple, many consumers chose never to touch a G4 Cube at all.

High price

Even if you wanted to get your hands on a Cube, the lowest-priced model cost $1799 in July 2000 (about $2,279 in 2010 dollars). That model shipped with a 450MHz G4 processor, 64MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive, and an internal 56 kbps modem. It was fanless and small. Meanwhile, a Power Mac G4 tower with almost identical specs but a 400 MHz processor cost $200 less. It was obvious from the beginning that potential customers would have to pay a premium for the Cube's unique design, not for its performance.

Originally published on www.macworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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