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back to article The Cube: Apple's daftest, strangest romance

Ten years ago on Sunday, Apple called it quits on one of its oddest products ever, the G4 Cube. The Cube was a strange and wonderful machine that continues to fascinate today - but it was widely perceived to have failed. Some people thoroughly enjoyed the failure, thinking it served Apple right. Dull people will always cheer a …

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As lovingly described in...

... William Gibson's 2003 novel Pattern Recognition.

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Cube

Oh I loved my cube so much ...

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Coat

Was it...

....your companion? Did you have to eventually incinerate it?

Or was it one of those where you fed people into it to watch them get sliced, diced and otherwise horribly mutilated?

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Here's to the crazy ones: I've still got mine

admittedly with a 1.2GHz G4 on board and a tiny, very quiet fan in the base on the suspiciously convenient mounting brackets. It did have upgraded graphics but that card died, so it's back on the hilariously weak standard graphics. I can't remember how many times I've had it to pieces to tinker about with the guts.

My power switch was never a problem after the last firmware update and the little bugger would chug along for weeks without shutting down or rebooting, often sitting all day rendering CG for me and then again all night when I slept, and I've only ever seen mould lines in the case.

The worst moment I ever had with it was coming back from a overseas wedding with the intention of editing all the video footage, turning the mains back on and hearing ominous noises from the powerbrick as the capacitors decided to let all the smoke out, a situation handily saved by some guy in Hong Kong who was sitting on a stack of brand new ones for $120 apiece.

The best bit: I got it for cheap at PC World, where they had no idea whatsoever how to sell it.

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Happy

Good, thoughtful story

Apple has a history of walking up to great design and then sabotaging it, or abandoning it, for a more pedestrian product - obviously commercially successful in that they have made a lot of money but they're making nothing today that gives you the "I want one of those" feelings that The Cube did - a great design (complete with the flaws that cutting edge designs will always have - go look at one of Frank Lloyd Wrights buildings if you doubt this) but technically The Cube was mediocre.

Just think what it could be today . . .

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It wasn't totally a wasted experience

A lot of what Apple learnt from fabricating the Cube went into the first couple of generations of iPod.

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Happy

apple = mainly styles and no substance

it just go to show apple is just mainly styles with no substance

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Trollface

No style gimbo?

So you look like Dwayne Dibbley i take it?

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Coffee/keyboard

Or like a millionaire had given a mad bloke on a bus an unlimited budget.

I'm having trouble typing while I'm pissing myself laughing!

That's the best I've ever, ever read on El Reg!

Thanks!!!

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I still think it looks like a wastebin

Not a pretty wastebin, either. It was part of the horrid era when macs were plastic.

I have a PowerMac Digital Audio and still don't like the look.

On the other hand, if you mentioned the NeXT cube, or most of SGI's boxes I might be more interested.

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Happy

I always thought...

It looked more like a tissue/Kleenex box.

If they weren't so damn expensive I would have liked to have one way back in the day. To me, I always thought the cable management was the best part about it - on a desk that's not butted up against a wall it really did look nice sitting there.

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Facepalm

I saw...

...a photo of a guy who actually *did* make a Cube into a Kleenex box.

I agree with the author that those who attack bold but failed designs are short-sighted... but the Cube's engineering disasters (eg, the power switch) suggest Jobsian hubris: he make impossible demands of his engineers (aided by the reality distortion field) and the results are predictable.

That's one thing on my 'Steve Jobs sucks because of' list; the other is his pathological lying about product specs and performance: Gamed or fabricated benchmarks, conveniently ignored qualifications to features, misrepresentations of the competition.

The 'Steve Jobs rules because of' list, though, is also fairly comprehensive - rescuing Pixar and largely giving them the freedom to do what they wanted; helping keep excellent industrial design relevant; and generally being one ballsy-ass motherf*cker in launching first a phone (No way Apple can make a phone!) and then a tablet (Tablets have all failed!).

The Cube, unfortunately, is not Apple at its best...

Signed,

Guy Whose Only Mac Is An LCII He Got Out Of Curiosity In 1997 And He Doesn't Even Know Where It Is Now Hmm

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@David W.

>>"...and generally being one ballsy-ass motherf*cker in launching first a phone (No way Apple can make a phone!) and then a tablet (Tablets have all failed!)."

I get your point, but tablets were one of those things whose time would have come eventually, as relevant technology improved (which it would have done with or without Apple).

Apple does have an advantage in that the diehard fans can help a new product get started even if it's a bit premature and imperfect, as long as there are some cool features - compared to other companies, it's easier for it to get away with launching something a tiny bit early

Sometimes there is significant innovation.

Other times it looks like someone who sees where the cloud is coming from, takes a little stroll in that direction, and then comes running into the village at the head of a storm claiming that they just invented rain.

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Anonymous Coward

re: I saw...

“The 'Steve Jobs rules because of' list, though, is also fairly comprehensive - rescuing Pixar and largely giving them the freedom to do what they wanted…”

Although it’s reported that Jobs did try to offload John Lasseter to various companies – the reason being that although Jobs was the boss, to Pixar employees, Lasseter was the beloved heart and soul of the company. Halfway through the making of Toy Story, when Jobs saw what Lasseter had come up with, he had a change of heart and embraced him like a son. One account of this is in Michael Malone’s Infinite Loop.

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Me too

I too lament the passing of the forward thinking Apple. Gone are the days, not just of innovative design, but also crazy, beyond-the-horizon software. Apple feels safe now, and it has worked really well for them, but sometimes I just want them to come out with something too crazy too succeed and too powerful to be ignored.

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Pint

OK, the cube was great ...

... but not as great as the iMac G4, if you ask me. Now that was a piece truly awesome design - without any of the cube's flaws.

Why did Apple abandon that design for the G5 and subsequent iMacs?

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Absolutely agreed

The lamp style iMac is still far more attractive than any of the newer "Thick monitor" looking ones.

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Ted
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G4 iMac Design

Yes, the G4 iMac remains as one of Apple's best designs in their history, they still work well today. I still have about 35 of them running in client offices... but think the expense to build them was too much from a manufacturing standpoint. Plus the G5 burned too hot, so that half bubble design, with the surgical arm had to be abandoned.

As I mentioned they work well, but even something like a failing hard drive (9 years out) is difficult to replace. If the screen goes, forget it... I've sold a few as "headless", like a Mac mini... kinda funny, but not really worth it.

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Coffee/keyboard

...Has it really been 10 years...

That makes me feel old... but I remember when these came out and I was impressed at the time, like most other people - but most of the customers where I worked at the time were publishing houses and all around cambridge, so they werent brassic, but I dont think we saw a single one of these. I would have liked to pull one apart, but never got the opportunity.

It also shows how stuck Apple have got, at least in the industrial design sense - if you look at the Cube and the current crop of Apple products they could have been designed and built at the same time - theres not really been any improvement in industrial design by Apple in all that time, whilst other companies have made massive strides forward with all sorts of new formats and interesting design decisions.

To draw a parallel its almost as if Vauxhall was putting the innards of the Vectra in the body of the Mk.1 Cavalier and expecting it to sell (although to be fair... a 3.0 litre V6 Lotus Manta GT/E... i wouldnt say no).

Innovation is a function of both design and software - and while arguably the iOS is one of the top tier - I fear its going to be counterbalanced by design that hasnt really advanced since the days of The Cube.

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Bingo!

The inevitable Apple thread car analogy.

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£120 lids

is actually a steal.

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Mini ITX

Thought it might make a good mini ITX case, and one google later:

http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/g4pc/

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Go

HTPC...

I was thinking more like keeping the mac innards, but letting HTPC specialists solving its overheating and vibration issues with water cooling, and other tricks used in silent HTPC machines, but I like your attitude better.

...And "power" buttons from Samsung TVs. Mine takes solid 5 seconds with a full thumbprint on it before noticing any reaction. Then I go fetch the remote behind the sofa.

PS: It still looks great as a fish tank. Hence the water cooling idea.

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Joke

You've got to be

"Mac Mini. ... aimed at the budget buyer"

<- There, right icon for that line.

Um... no one mention the bottom to top passive venting so you could stack them... or was that a myth?

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Jobs and cubes

The roll necked sweater wearing ones obsession with cubes caused big problems for NeXT - cases wouldn't come out of the punches easily, and broken ones littered the factory floor. The engineers had warned Jobs of this, pointing out that the case needed to be slightly tapered to come out of the punch, but he insisted it had to be a perfect cube. As for the Apple G4 cube, a colleague had one, but the perspex case split due to overheating.

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iTunes Version 1

This was based on SoundJam MP if my memory is good. I remember having a hack for iTunes which allowed it to run on a System 8.6 G3, even though it was only meant for OS9. The Cube was a brilliant concept, but as the author states, it was let down by the times and a couple of design flaws.

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Pint

Top loader

My favorite feature was the top-loading optical drive. Here was a physical design that almost demanded that you set your drink on top of it, closely followed by spilling your drink into the open slot.

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WTF?

huh?

"Even the iPad looks very much like how you'd expect a media slate to look like, for example."

Eh? How else should it look? A triangular screen with a mini steering wheel sticking out the front for navigation? You may as well bemoan clipboard manufacturers for keeping to conventional rectangles.

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Anonymous Coward

Suggesions:

How should it look? Probably just as it is, but "how could it look" is a much more relevant and interesting question.

As a couple of options, it could fold open like a book to reveal a seamless display. This would provide a workspace twice the size of the slate style pad, but would fit in the same space when you're carrying it around. (Also cut down on scratches on the screen.)

Or the bottom edge could be curved. Then that would make a natural space for an inverted OS X style dock.

Perhaps, it could have some space for simple gadgets on the back, a la Windows SideShow. Then the user could set certain information to be readily available by simply flipping the slate over. Would make for easy access to a clock or weather predictions without having to stop what you're doing on the main screen.

There are lots of things they could've tried, but they went with something simple and minimalistic. Most of them would've been crazy (option 3) and shouldn't have been produced, but some of them could've actually been worth at least testing.

"A triangular screen with a mini steering wheel sticking out the front for navigation?"

You do know this is the company that gave us the click wheel on iPods, right? Lots of similarity to using a steering wheel for navigation there...

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love the retro review

and the fact the writer is a complete fanboy. I mean the Cube was a lovely idea and beautiful looking machine but technically it was bollocks. Amazed the writer has the spare cash to waste on 5(!!!) of these follies, did he also buy an Edsel perhaps? Goes to show that mac users tend to lead from their heart rather than their head.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Re: love the retro review

Well, I have HAD five Cubes but all sequentially: two of those never even powered up, and the third spluttered for a few weeks before it had to be returned.

So I've never had more than one concurrently- the last cost me about £60.

I'll rephrase to make myself look a bit less tragic.

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Boffin

Hey...

...the Edsel got a bad rap! Technically it was quite good, but good luck selling a car with an enormous vagina on the front. Actually it was rather the opposite of the Cube in that respect.

The decision to try to use a new dealer network was ill-conceived; it created market confusion in a time when low/middle/high price segments were extremely important, and resulted in pushback from dealers forced to handle a new marque.

Aaaaanyway...

Also, there's nothing intrinsically wrong if you lead from your heart. It works quite well for musicians and artists. The fact that it doesn't play so well for the IT types who frequent this cesspo^H^H^H^H^H^Hlovely forum is neither here nor there.

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Coat

As opposed to

BMWs where the enormous vagina is normally behind the wheel

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Joke

Post as “David W.”.

Q: What's the difference between a porcupine and a BMW?

A: With the porcupine, the prick is on the *outside*.

Signed,

Saab Driver

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Anonymous Coward

Re Jemma

quote

whilst other companies have made massive strides forward with all sorts of new formats and interesting design decisions.

Yeah

like widescreen Tables which are useless in Portrait forma

like this fad for glossy screens which reflect like mirrors

like Windows 7 that does and auto reboot 'To Apply Patches' only to do the whole thing again as soon as it starts up!

If you study industrial design you will see lots of thing released where 1) the market is not ready for it or 2) the actual concepts are brilliant but the materials or manufacturing process are not really up to the job or 3) The ide was totally silly in the first place

Some examples

-the original Mini having Joe Lucas Electrics and the distributor placed right between the engine and radiator where it it sure to get wet

-The Edsel or in the UK, The Austin Allegro

-Brunel's Broad Gauge

-1930's Airships using H instead of He.

- 1950's Ford Prefects starter motor refusing to disengage. 'Hit it with a hammer lad' fixed it.

There are many more I am sure.

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Facepalm

The joy of missed points.

The All-aggro may not have been a success - but as a design it used alot of unusual and new ideas.. such as the hydrogas/hydrolastic suspension system for a start. It also used new ways of panel forming, which didnt quite work properly, hence the slightly weird shape. As designed it was a very interesting and attractive car, but welcome to the compromises.

Brunels broad gauge: again it lost the battle - but it was more sensible and more advanced, and much more fit for purpose than the narrow gauge crap we have now... the thing that killed it was the requirement for more space @ therefore more cost per mile. It rode smoother, it put less stress on the prime mover, and it hammered the rails less... but as usual the bosses didnt want to pay for the best... when all they were doing was cattle trucking the plebs..

FORD: Fix Or Repair Daily... enough said - but pretty much every starter motor using that system (sliding gear) has that issue - mini, sceptre, fords and all the rest. Try beating the crap out of the starter on a 4-Litre-R at 3am in the rain and you'll understand the meaning of bad days.

And the Edsel... aka 'the flying fanny' etc etc. For its day it was advanced and had good performance... however the styling left a little to be desired. Press button automatic transmission was one of the higher points.

I dont think you have understood the meaning of industrial design - it refers to the physical design of the product, not the OS.

I have seen touchcreen phones with TV built in, multisim units running android, winmo 6.5 (which is still a perfectly capable smartphone OS), spin-hinge QWERTY, tablet conversion phones. And woo hoo Apple manages a slab with a touch screen, im sure their design department stretched themselves.

I am still using a Nokia E70 from 2006 as my main phone. It does opera mini, gmail sync, IM, video, music and everything I need (and believe me, my phone gets more use than my laptop for everything bar banking) its rock stable, and has the best QWERTY on a phone I have ever used and I have used a fair number of them.

I loathe touchscreens, with the proviso that QWERTY plus touchscreen is a good approach.

I loathe the idea that I have to pay £500 sim unlocked for a phone that does the same or less than something I can get for £100. The only improvement that has been made with smartphones since 2006 is the induhvidual-friendly UI's, and even most of those are rip-offs of freeware ideas that have been around for years.

But you know what I hate most? Its nerks who spend a small fortune on a phone with a dual core processor... and then winge about the battery life.. when if they werent a fashion-slut they could buy a smartphone thats just as capable, £400 cheaper, more secure, had TV-OUT in 2006 and has a 4 DAY average battery life, and then act like a member of the spanish inquisition when you mention the fact that your 6 year old phone doesnt drop calls and die after 20 minutes..

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This post has been deleted by its author

A Blade Runner Moment

"I have seen touchcreen phones with TV built in, multisim units running android, winmo 6.5 (which is still a perfectly capable smartphone OS), spin-hinge QWERTY, tablet conversion phones. And woo hoo Apple manages a slab with a touch screen, im sure their design department stretched themselves."

Don't ask me why but for some reason I had Rutger Haur reading these lines to me. Time to ... go home for the weekend

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I once saw

A room containing 15 cubes die one after the other out in Cannes due to heat failure so the high tech chimney wasnt their best idea to date . Was an Apple training course for the old ACSE . Was around the time the first raft of OSX appeared .

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Title

A friend was on design course in 2001 and the college had just splashed out on loads of G4 cubes, but they couldn't spring for the full monty model, so the G4s were sans Radeon card.

This meant that running Maya 3D was like swimming through treacle. The desks were also laid out so that one cube sucked in the hot air from the cube next to it, so over heating was an issue.

Having said that, it was a wonderful looking piece of kit...

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1.21 jigawatts

"...and you'll be stuck with a Parallel ATA drive that needs special drivers for drives larger than 120MB." GB maybe? It's not that old.

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A machine with no purpose.

I loved the idea of the Cube, but hated the price. $1799? Ridiculous! The Mac Mini might not have been quite so pretty, but at $499 it actually felt like a bargain.

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Coat

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

"It should never have been made - we should be glad it was.", that's my opinion also.

I worked at an Apple certified repair centre at the time, and I have a vivid memory of applying duct tape around the on/off sensor base to reduce sensibility on all the cubes that would inevitably return because of some sort of problem.It was funny how some cubes would boot up just by turning the room lights on.

Also, may I say, that was some gorgeous piece of kit!

nuf said

Mine's the one with the duct tape in the pocket.

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At least is didn't light up blue...

...like all my pc enclosures seem to when they arrive...

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jai
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still got mine!!

not using it though, it's an ornament that the missus wants me to get rid of. but it's staying, along with my MacPlus and angle poise G4 imac.

i swapped out the processor on my Cube with an OWC replacement. brought the performance right up to date at the time. shame, in a way, that they switched to Intel and there wasn't an way to make the Cube an Intel machine

the price was ridiculous, but then again, there was nothing else like it at the time.

and it definately wasn't style over substance. it was style AND substance.

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LCD not LED

"The new marvel was launched alongside three new matching monitors, two LED and one CRT..."

As advanced as Apple is, I don't believe they were shipping LED-backlit monitors 10+ years ago.

I ran a 17" Apple Studio LCD on my MDD G4 which while the monitor's performance numbers were not up to 3rd party monitors half its price, side by side the Apple Studio was always easier to read. Also liked the all-in-one cable where video, USB, and power all came on the same connector, including the on/off switch.

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WTF?

What?

"After July 2001, Apple's design team never again attempted anything as daring or distinctive."

I beg to differ: That about the iMac/G4/'iLamp'?

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Well now if they could only teach the writer some basic technology skills

The graphics card obviously had 32 Megabytes not Gigabytes.

Maybe the cube was the end of the time when people actually had computers on their desks. I mean back then people slowly started abandoning optical media in favour of harddisk and digital transfer of data.

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Coat

Sick Sick Sick

Your last few paragraphs sum up the average Apple user nicely. First one DOA, 2nd one broken just a few weeks later after a long wait, 3rd time the charm. Would any sane person put up with this for ANY other consumer device? Doubtful...

Mines the one with the K7 motherboard in the pocket....

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Flame

Poor old John 104

"...average Apple user..."

Pure sophism - or, as the 'average PC user' would more likely say, utter bollocks.

I've had four new Macs (Beige G3, Sawtooth G4, G5 Tower, and recently an 8-core MacPro) in the last 13 years, got my first iPhone 3 months ago, and have had nary a problem. My 6-yr old G5 tower is still in daily use and is a damned sight more usable than any 6-yr old PC would be...

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