Enlarge /. This G4 Cube ran as a headless server for several years until it succumbed to the thermal problems that plagued the device from the start. It is now a decoration in the office of managing editor Eric Bangeman.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Power Mac G4 Cube, which was first presented on July 19, 2000. Apple also announced its 19th announcement to put the Cube on hold. This is not my joke – it is Apple's, straight from the headline of the July 3, 2001 press release, that officially pulled the plug.
The idea of such a quick settlement did not come to mind Apple CEO Steve Jobs on the eve of the announcement of the product at the Macworld Expo in the summer of 2000. I was reminded of this last week when I listened to a cassette that had been recorded almost daily 20 years earlier. Shortly before the start, a two-hour session with jobs in Cupertino, California was documented. The main reason he had called me to Apple headquarters was to sit under the blanket of dark fabric on the long table in the One Infinite Loop boardroom.
"We made the coolest computer ever," he told me. "I think I'll just show you."
He tore off the fabric and exposed an 8-inch die made of transparent plastic with an electronics block suspended in it. It looked less like a computer than a toaster that had emerged from a flawless performance between Philip K. Dick and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (But of course the fingerprints came from Jony Ive.) Next to it were two loudspeakers, which were enclosed in glass balls, the size of Christmas ornaments.
"The cube," Jobs said in a whisper, barely showing his excitement.
He first emphasized that the cube was powerful, but air-cooled. (Jobs hated fans. I hated them.) He demonstrated that there was no power switch, but could feel a gesture to turn on the juice. He showed me how Apple had removed the CD compartment – with the Cube, you simply pushed the hard drive over the slot and the computer inhaled it.
And then he came to the plastics. It was like Jobs took to heart this guy in The Graduate who gave Benjamin Braddock career advice. "We do more with plastics than anyone else in the world," he told me. "These are all specially formulated and everything is proprietary, only we. It took us six months to formulate these plastics. They make bulletproof vests out of it! And it is incredibly robust and simply beautiful! There has never been anything like it. How are you doing something like that? Nobody has ever done anything like that! Isn't that nice? I think it's amazing! "
I admitted that it was beautiful. But I had a question for him. At the beginning of the conversation, he had drawn Apple's product matrix, four squares for laptop and desktop, high and low end. Since returning to Apple in 1997, he had filled out all quadrants with the iMac, Power Mac, iBook and PowerBook. The cube violated the wisdom of his product plan. It didn't have the features of the high-end Power Mac like slots or large storage. And it was much more expensive than the low-end iMac even before you spent on a necessary separate display that cube owners need. Knowing that I was risking his anger, I asked him: only who would buy it?
Jobs never missed a beat. "It's easy!" he said. "A lot of people who are professionals. Every designer will buy one. "
Here was his justification for violating his matrix theory: "We realized that there is an incredible opportunity to do something in the middle, a kind of love child who is really a breakthrough," he said. The implicit message was that it was so great that people would change their buying patterns to buy one.
That didn't happen. For one, the price was prohibitive – at the time of buying the display, it was almost three times the price of an iMac and even more than some PowerMacs. On the whole, people don't spend their art budget on computers.
This was not the only problem with the G4 Cube. These plastics were difficult to manufacture and people reported mistakes. The air cooling had problems. If you leave a sheet of paper on top of the device, it will shut down to avoid overheating. And because there was no one button, a stray hand movement would put the machine into action whether you like it or not.
In any case, the G4 cube could not press any buttons on the computer buyer's audience. Jobs told me it would sell millions. However, Apple sold less than 150,000 units. The apotheosis of the Apple design was also the culmination of the Apple hubris. When I listened to the tape, I was impressed with how much Jobs had drunk from the elixir of aesthetics. "Do you really want to put a hole in this thing and put a button there?" Jobs asked me and justified the lack of a power switch. "Look at the energy we put into this slot drive so you don't have a compartment and you want to ruin that and put a button in it?"
But here's something about Jobs and the die that doesn't speak of failure, but why he was a successful leader. Once it was clear that his cube was a brick, he could quickly reduce his losses and move on.
"A spectacular commercial failure"
In a 2017 lecture in Oxford, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about the G4 cube, which he described as "spectacular commercial failure from day one". However, Jobs' reaction to the poor sales showed how quickly he could, if necessary, even give up a product that was close to his heart. "Steve, of all I know in life," Cook said in Oxford, "could be the most keen supporter of a position, and within minutes or days when new information comes out, you'd think he never thought it. " In front."
But he thought it and I have the tape to prove it. Congratulations to Steve Jobs & # 39; digital love child.
This story originally appeared on wired.com.