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Power Mac G4 Cube: A Spectacular Failure - Krazy Ken’s Tech Talk

Apr 04, 2024
- The G4 Cube. It's so good. Steve Jobs loved making

cube

s. The NeXT

cube

, the G4 cube. I made my head a cube. I like Mark Cuban. The cubes are great. Oh, Apple discontinued this product after just one year. We have to

talk

about that. Sponsored by Linode. Akamai Cloud Computing. (upbeat music) Hello everyone. How are they? If you are new here, welcome. My name is Crazy Ken and I think the G4 Cube is one of Apple's most iconic designs. Heck, even the Simpsons parodied it, so you know it's good. And when MetalJesusRocks says let's do a new episode about the G4 Cube, guess what?
power mac g4 cube a spectacular failure   krazy ken s tech talk
I'm going to do a new episode about the G4 Cube. But the big question is why did this computer die so young? And the other mystery is why was it suspended indefinitely and not actually suspended? So let's travel back in time. Before knowing how the cube died, we must know how it was born. It is often speculated that the G4 Cube's design was derived from NeXT. Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985 after many contentious issues with the board of directors and founded NeXT in September 1985. In October 1988, NeXT launched NeXT Computer, which was later called NeXTcube in a 1990 update.
power mac g4 cube a spectacular failure   krazy ken s tech talk

More Interesting Facts About,

power mac g4 cube a spectacular failure krazy ken s tech talk...

And this cube shape It is probably the main inspiration for what would eventually become the Power Mac G4 Cube 12 years later. When Apple acquired NeXT in 1997, it not only got all of that company's

tech

nology, but it also got Steve Jobs and his love of cubes. So that's probably where the G4 Cube got its design from. But what happened next? Apple was working hard to miniaturize the architecture of its Power Mac mini-tower into a small cube form factor. During an interview at Apple's Infinite Loop campus, Steven Levy asked Jobs about NeXT's cube-shaped machines. Jobs responded, "Yes, we did one before." Cubes are very efficient spaces, but Jobs mentioned that the key difference with the G4 Cube is that it was suspended above the desk unlike the NeXT cube.
power mac g4 cube a spectacular failure   krazy ken s tech talk
In fact, he called it a brain in a beaker. But the design wasn't always so pretty. Products go through multiple stages of testing. An early engineering validation test unit or EVT unit shows a tall metal casing, very different from the glass-look design, but at the EVT stage, testers are primarily concerned with testing a minimum viable product. Not all the details have been worked out yet, but now we come to the DVT units, design validation test units. These show a similar design to the final product as Apple dials in the details and prepares for mass production. I am lucky to own one of these prototype projectiles.
power mac g4 cube a spectacular failure   krazy ken s tech talk
It's pretty similar to the final version, but there are some subtle differences, like on the back. Instead of saying Power Mac G4 Cube with the Apple logo, the word prototype is screen-printed. And there's a warning that says this product hasn't been approved by the FCC just so people know, "Hey, you can't sell this yet. It needs approval." At this stage, Apple was working on a thick, curved acrylic that gave the cube its Feng Shui. Jobs revealed to Levy that it took him six months to formulate the plastics and that Apple was not using traditional molding methods to make this case.
They machined the plastic. The screw holes and vent were precision machined into the Cube case. This obsessive attention to detail may seem excessive, but it worked for the original iMac when Apple invested additional R&D into the case design, so maybe that would work for the Cube too. But then Steve Jobs received some news about the project. Ken Segal was creative director at Chiat/Day, the advertising agency that helped Apple create the "Think Different" campaign. Ken and his associates set up regular agency meetings with Steve, and shortly before their next meeting, an anonymous person informed Steve that Apple couldn't get the price of the Cube low enough.
In Ken's book, "Insanely Simple," he recalls that Steve was visibly shocked by this news, and rightly so. Steve really loved this product and he wanted it to succeed. But Apple sold expensive things then and now, so maybe this wouldn't be any different. There's only one way to know. We launch the product. At Macworld 2000 in New York, Steve Jobs unveiled new iMacs, updated Power Mac G4s, and more. This was all part of the two-for-two mission-critical product strategy that helped save Apple in 1998. But then, in traditional Steve Jobs fashion, he announces. - But there is one more thing. - For the first time, Steve expanded on that crucial product strategy.
So what would go in the blank square? - It's a new desktop machine. - Steve said they were going to take the

power

of the Power Mac G4 and combine it with the silence and elegance of the iMac, all in a new eight-inch cube. Oh, and it doesn't have a fan, so it runs silently. Oh, that's cool, man. You have piqued my interest. Especially in the year 2000, many computers were big and made a lot of noise. - And we call this new product Power Mac G4 Cube or more affectionately G4 Cube. - Okay, Steve, you sold me.
This sounds like an amazing computer. So let's take a closer look. The eight-inch G4 Cube was suspended in a specially formulated acrylic we

talk

ed about earlier, which was very thick and clear like glass and refracted light beautifully around the edge. - You know that plastic caused a lot of problems, right? - No, no, we're not there yet. Let's enjoy this magical thing for now. - But you will talk about how it cracked. - Shut up! The design was very clean, with virtually no visual distractions, which was Apple's goal because this computer was made to sit on your desk, constantly in your view.
So where is all the I/O? Where do you connect things? Everything was in the background. The Cube was equipped with 100 meg Ethernet, a 56K modem port, FireWire 400, USB, VGA for a monitor, and a new type of monitor connection called ADC, Apple Display Connector which we'll talk more about in a minute. Well, personally, I like a lot of things about the Cube, but I never liked the fact that you had to plug things into the bottom. I always thought it was a bit annoying, but hey, luckily Apple doesn't make that kind of thing anymore. Oh yeah.
Now, the Cube was very pretty, but also functional. In the past, Apple allowed you to open its computers. It was a good time. All you had to do was push down on this handle and it would come out and then you'd lift the computer up to get it out... And then you'd lift the computer up to get it out... Well, this unit is a little old and stubborn, so we'll just take the butter knife. Make a little movement and here we go. And now we can extract. It's usually not that difficult. Now we can extract what Apple calls the Core of the computer and you will be able to access all the components.
Very sweet. Let's put this back before I break something. It was important for Apple to make the Cube easy to open because you could do pretty much the same thing on their mini towers. Wow, it was so easy to open these things back then. Anyway, this is where we can see the refreshing magic. Once again, the Cube had no fan. Steve Jobs hated fans. At the center of all these components was a large vent with a huge heat sink. Heat from the electronics was then radiated through the fins into the air, keeping everything cool without the need for a fan.
There is also a heatsink attached to the hard drive and the entire bottom case has ventilation holes and there is an additional vent above the video card. It sounds a bit like what Apple tried with the 2013 Mac Pro, where all the components were wrapped around a unified thermal core. - I can't innovate anymore, my ass. - Now, one of my favorite aspects of this design or almost any design is when an engineer puts a little surprise on it. Where is the DVD drive? I'll tell you what, it's right here. This is very funny. It is also very demonstrable even 23 years later.
And there was no physical

power

button. Steve Jobs told Levy that he didn't want to cut a hole in this design for the button. The button is therefore touch sensitive with an LED that provides a subtle glow effect. But Ken, this thing is very small. Where is the power supply? Well, that's a cool little trick. If you look very closely, you'll see that the power supply is a giant 205-watt external brick. But don't worry about that, you can put it under your desk. Now, Apple didn't just stop at the Cube itself. They made all new peripherals to go with it.
Also announced during the Macworld event was an all-new Apple Pro keyboard with a transparent shell and eject and volume buttons. Also a new Pro Mouse with a matching design. It was completely optical, so it no longer stuck, something we take for granted today. But in the days before optical mice, we had to wash our balls a lot. But most exciting are Apple's new displays, a 17-inch CRT studio screen, a 15-inch LCD studio screen, and a massive 22-inch cinema screen. The funny thing about these displays is that they were all controlled by a single cable. There was no need to connect the video, power and all that separately.
That single port handles video, USB data, and power. And this was probably another feature borrowed from Jobs' NeXT days because the NeXT MegaPixel display also used a single cable. And if you want to use these displays with a computer that is not equipped with ADC, you can purchase some conversion

tech

nology from Apple to make it happen. On April 29, 2002, Apple introduced the DVI to ADC adapter. Eons ago, I used this adapter with my Studio Display and a 2009 MacBook Pro in my old den, aka a closet. Another cool feature was how easy it was to adjust the tilt.
You could simply push back or pull forward and the stand would move automatically and hold its place with friction alone. Physical. So the Cube had some beautiful display options for your content, but what about the sound? Oh boy. This is a rabbit hole of a phone. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think every Mac Apple has ever sold had a built-in speaker, except the Cube. Because? Well, that's because Apple collaborated with Harman Kardon to make these beautiful spherical... - Spherical! - USB speakers. They sound pretty good for their size. So because they sounded so good, there's no way Apple could have packed this quality into such a small form factor.
And another benefit, since they were external, you could put them wherever you wanted. Now, there was no headphone jack on the Cube, but on the USB speaker amplifier, there was a headphone jack right there. However, I will tell you a little secret. There was a time when Apple was testing a speaker built into the Cube. A few years ago I visited my friend Hap, who has a huge collection of Apple prototypes. He has a G4 Cube prototype and there is a small built-in speaker that is slightly visible through the bottom vents. I can't say with 100% certainty why Apple removed the speaker from the Cube, but if I had to guess, they just wanted you to use the cool HK speakers because they're really good.
So why settle for a built-in speaker? Now, normally I'd love to turn these babies up to 11 and just play some tunes. But unfortunately, these speakers had a common flaw. The environment simply disintegrated. And I don't want to take these things too far, especially since they're not mine. They are from Michael MJD. Thanks for the loans. In fact, I owned a pair a long time ago and they suffered a similar fate. So now let's crunch some numbers and look at the specs. The Power Mac G4 Cube uses a 450 megahertz PowerPC G4 with Velocity Engine, which was instrumental in accelerating data-intensive applications.
For example, compress video files. It was equipped with 20 gigabytes of hard drive storage, a DVD ROM drive, and an ATI Rage 128 PRO graphics card with 16 megabytes of memory. Oh, cool your planes, Apple. Nobody will need 16 megabytes of video memory. Speaking of memory, the Cube came with 64 megabytes of standard PC 100 SD RAM. But with three DIMM slots, you can install up to 1.5 gigabytes. And I mentioned the modem and Ethernet ports earlier, but the Cube also had an optional AirPort card for wireless networking, and the antennas were on the sides of the computer under these circles. And all of this, plus the keyboard, mouse, and orb speakers, could be yours for... $1,799.
Okay, I mean, it's an Apple product, so it's going to be a little expensive. Back then they sold other expensive products. Today they still sell expensive products, so that may not be a problem. Next month, the Cube went on sale. Okay let's go. This is the moment of truth. You can do it. I believe in you Cube. Oh, does not matter. Yes, total unit sales were only 150,000, about a third of what Apple projected. In a 2017 Oxford talk, Tim Cook admitted that Apple retired the Cube within three months,assuming he meant three months after the release date.
I was surprised that the Cube died much faster than I thought, at least internally. But Apple kept going a little longer because they probably had a ton of leftover inventory due to poor sales, so they had to move that stuff, so they tried a couple of tricks. In October, Apple offered a $300 rebate on a Power Mac G4 Cube with a mail-in rebate. If you included it with an Apple screen. The offer was invalid at the end of 2000. And a little later, Apple reduced the price to $1,299 in February, $500 less than the initial price. So now two big questions remain.
Why did the G4 Cube fail, especially so quickly? That was really fast compared to other Apple products. And the other mystery is why was it suspended indefinitely and not actually suspended? Let's address

failure

first. There were a couple of small reasons why it probably failed and there was also one really big reason. For starters, the case cracked, which is a shame because Apple works a lot on formulating and machining plastics. Some other people argued that the crack problem was exaggerated, saying it is a superficial flaw. And Apple's Phil Schiller claimed that the alleged cracks were seams from the injection molding process.
I can understand that argument when I look at the edges of the Cube where you can see a clean seam. But as for these other quote-unquote seams, I will say the jury is out on that. Users also reported that the power button was accidentally activated by nearby motion. I can't recreate that problem with my Cube, so maybe it was just defective on some units and Apple reverted to normal power buttons for future Macs, so it must have been a real problem. But all those issues were minor compared to the big problem. Remember that crucial product strategy I mentioned earlier?
It was proven to be effective and saving Apple, but they deviated from it and tried to expand it by putting a product in the middle that didn't serve very well at either end of the matrix. At the time, Apple's entry-level consumer-oriented iMac cost just $799. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that a consumer would be willing to shell out $1,000 more for the Cube, which didn't even have a monitor. The iMac did it. But what about professional users? They are willing to spend more money, right? Yes, in many cases they are. But Apple had another product that offered much more value than the Cube: the G4 minitower.
For $200 less than the Cube, you can buy a Power Mac G4 with similar specs. Technically, the CPU clock was 50 megahertz lower, but it had Gigabit Ethernet, three additional hard drive bays, and three PCI expansion slots. Sure, you miss out on the miniaturization, fanless design, and cool speakers, but you save $200 and get a lot more expansion. So that's the route the professionals took. Additionally, at the higher end, the G4 mini towers offered dual processors, which was not an option with the G4 Cube. On July 3, 2001, Apple officially froze the Power Mac G4 Cube, saying they might reintroduce it later.
And Apple's vice president of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller, said: "The majority of customers decided to purchase our powerful Power Mac G4 mini towers." But life is a learning experience and Steve Jobs and Apple learned very quickly that they needed to move on and kill the Cube. That's why he died so quickly. During that talk at Oxford, Tim Cook debunked that

failure

is never a definitive expression. And he gave the G4 Cube as an example. - You have to recognize when something you are working on is pushing up a wall. We ship a product called Cube.
It was a

spectacular

commercial failure, almost from day one. And then we had to look in the mirror and say, "We missed this one." -But there was good news that emerged from the Cube. To start, we have a huge cube-shaped Apple Store. Not sure if that's related to the G4 Cube, but it's still cool. Still, despite the failure, the Cube's miniaturization achievements were instrumental in creating the iMac G4 Sunflower introduced in January 2002 with that new flat screen and all those juicy components confined to a small base. In January 2005, Apple introduced the Mac mini with a BYODKM philosophy: bring your own screen, keyboard, and mouse.
And this time, Apple correctly assessed the market. Instead of making a high-priced mini desktop computer, Apple sold the Mac mini for just $499. And it was a big hit with consumers because Apple still sells and updates the Mac mini today. And in March 2022, Apple introduced the Mac Studio, a taller Mac mini designed with tons of power in a small package. So these two Macs solved the mysteries of indefinite suspension and reintroduction. Although Apple never explicitly said that the Mac mini and Mac Studio are new versions of the Cube, I think it's fair to say that they are spiritual successors.
And you want one more nugget? The name of the display that Apple introduced with the Mac Studio shares the same name as some of the displays introduced with the G4 Cube, Studio Display. Come on, apple. It's definitely a nod to the past. You know, the Cube could function as a fancy headless computer, or maybe even a server, or you could also just use Linode. If you have an app or website that needs to be scaled and deployed, Linode has the infrastructure and 24/7 support you need. Linode offers ready-to-use applications for game servers like TF2, CS:GO, and even Minecraft.
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