Power Mac G4 Cube

The Power Mac G4 Cube is a small form factor personal computer, sold by Apple Computer, Inc. between July 2000 and 2001. Designed by Jonathan Ive, the Cube was born from Apple CEO Steve Jobs' interest in a powerful, miniaturized desktop computer. Apple's designers developed new technologies and production techniques to create the product, a 7.7-inch (20 cm) cubic computer housed in clear acrylic glass. Apple positioned the Cube in the middle of its product range, between the consumer iMac G3 and the professional Power Mac G4. The Cube was announced at the Macworld Expo on July 19, 2000.

Power Mac G4 Cube
A silver cubic computer with rounded edges, viewed from above, with a large cooling vent and optical drive slot visible on the top.
A Power Mac G4 Cube, viewed from above
DeveloperApple Computer, Inc.
Product familyPower Mac
TypeDesktop computer
Release dateJuly 19, 2000 (2000-07-19)
DiscontinuedJuly 3, 2001 (2001-07-03)
DimensionsHeight: 9.8 inches (25 cm)
Width: 7.7 inches (20 cm)
Depth: 7.7 inches (20 cm)
Mass14 lb (6.4 kg)

The Cube won awards and plaudits for its design upon release, but reviews noted the high cost of the machine in comparison to its power, its limited expandability, and cosmetic defects. The product was an immediate commercial failure, selling just 150,000 units before production was suspended within a year of its announcement. The Cube was a rare failure for the company under Jobs, after a successful period that brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy. It 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 as part of its collection.

OverviewEdit

 
The Power Mac G4 Cube with power supply and peripherals announced in tandem with the computer.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] The base model shipped with a 450 MHz G4 processor, 64 MB of random-access memory (RAM), 20 GB hard drive, and an ATI Rage 128 Pro video card.[3] A higher-end model with a 500 MHz processor, double the RAM, and a 30 GB hard drive was available only through Apple's online store.[5]

To fit the components of a personal computer in the size of the case, the Cube does not feature expansion slots; it does have a video card in a standard AGP slot, but cannot fit a full-length card.[1] The power supply is 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).[4] Despite its size, the Cube fits three RAM slots, two FireWire 400 ports, and two USB 1.1 ports for connecting peripherals in its frame. These ports and the power cable are located on the underside of the machine. Access to the machine's internal components is accomplished by inverting the unit and using a pop-out handle to slide them out from the shell.[5]

DevelopmentEdit

 
Access to the computer's internal components is gained by using a handle to pull the computer out of its plastic shell.

The Cube was an important product to Apple,[6] and especially to Apple CEO Steve 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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[2] The Cube represented an internal shift in Apple, as the designers held increasing sway over product design.[2] The New York Times called the Cube "pure [...] industrial design" harkening to Bauhaus concepts.[8]

The Cube represented an effort by Apple to simplify the computer to its barest essentials.[2] 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.[9] As the Cube has no fan, the design started with the heat sink.[1] The power button that turned on with a wave or touch was accomplished via the use of capacitive sensing.[2] The proprietary plastics formula for the housing took Apple six months to develop.[10] Effort spent developing the Cube would pioneer new uses and processes for materials at Apple that benefitted later products.[2] 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.[11]

Release and receptionEdit

Rumors of a cube-shaped Apple computer leaked weeks in advance, and some sites posted purported pictures.[4] 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.[12]

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.[4] 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 tissues.[1] Others compared it to the NeXTcube.[13] 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.[2]

Reviews were generally positive. Peter H. Lewis, writing for The New York Times, called the computer the most attractive on the market, and that the machine, combined with Apple's displays and peripherals, created "desk sculpture".[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

Critics noted that to get easy access to plug and unplug peripherals, users would have to tip the entire machine—risking accidental sleep activation or dropping the slippery plastic computer entirely.[5][17] 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 64 MB of RAM on the base model slowed the system considerably.[16][18]

The Cube won several international design awards on release,[19] as well as PC Magazine's best desktop computer for its Technical Innovation Awards.[20] The G4 Cube and its peripherals were acquired and showcased by The Museum of Modern Art alongside other Apple products.[21]

SalesEdit

The introduction of the Cube did not fit with the focused product lineup Jobs had introduced since his return to Apple, leaving it without a clear audience.[10] 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.[3] Jobs believed that creative professionals and designers would want one, and that the product was so great that it would inform buying patterns.[10]

Sales for the Cube were much lower than expected. Returning from the brink of bankruptcy, Apple had eleven profitable quarters before the Cube's announcement,[7] but Apple's end-of-year financials for 2000 missed predicted revenues by $180 million.[22] 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.[22][23] In February 2001, Apple lowered the price on the 500 MHz model and added new memory, hard drive, and graphics options.[24] These updates made little difference, and sales continued to decline. The Cube sold 12,000 units in the first quarter of 2001,[25] representing just 1.6% of the company's total computer sales.[26]

In addition to the product's high price, the Cube suffered from cosmetic issues. Early buyers noticed cracks caused by the injection-molded plastic process. The idea of a design-focused product having aesthetic flaws turned into a negative public relations story for Apple, as well as turning off potential buyers for whom the aesthetics were its main appeal.[2][17][25] 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."[25] The lack of internal expansion and reliance on less-common USB and FireWire peripherals also hurt the computer's chances of success.[27]

Despite Jobs's clear love of the computer,[10] 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.[26] Business journalist Karen Blumenthal called the Cube Jobs's first big failure since his return to Apple.[28] Jobs's 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.[11]

LegacyEdit

Though Apple CEO Tim Cook called the Cube "a spectacular failure"[6] and the product sold only 150,000 units before being discontinued, it became highly popular with a small but enthusiastic group of fans.[29] Macworld's Benj Edwards wrote that the Cube was a product ahead of its time; its appeal to a dedicated group of fans years after it was discontinued was a testament to its vision.[27] 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.[29] 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."[30] CNET called the machine "an iconic example of millennium-era design".[31] 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.[19] Sixteen Cubes were also used to power the displays of the computer consoles in Star Trek: Enterprise.[32]

Although the Cube failed commercially, it influenced future Apple products. The efforts at miniaturizing computer components would benefit future computers like the flatscreen iMac G4, while the efforts Apple spent learning how to precision machine parts of the Cube would be integral to the design of aluminum MacBooks.[2][33] The Mac mini fit an entire computer in a shell one-fifth the size of the Cube and retained some of the 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.[27][34] The translucent cube shape would return with the design for the flagship Apple Fifth Avenue store in New York City.[35] Capacitive touch would reappear in the iPod and iPhone lines,[2] and the Cube's vertical thermal design and lattice grille pattern were echoed by the 2013 and 2019 versions of the Mac Pro.[36][37]

SpecificationsEdit

Technical Specifications[38]
Model identifier PowerMac5,1
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)

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit