Today in Apple history: G4 Cube makes its (ill-fated) debut

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00cube
Do you remember Apple's G4 Cube?
Photo: Apple

July 19 July 19, 2000: Apple launches its futuristic-looking Power Mac G4 Cube. The clear computer is one of the company’s most jaw-droppingly gorgeous machines, but ultimately becomes one of its biggest disappointments.

Technologically, the G4 Cube was a game-changer. Financially, it was one of Steve Jobs’ most notable failures.

Unlike the childlike, candy-colored iMacs Jobs had introduced upon his return to Apple, the G4 Cube had a sleeker, more austere industrial aesthetic that hinted at the minimalist, upscale design direction the company was heading in.

The idea of a cube-shaped computer was a theme Jobs returned to a couple of times in his career: He was always in search of the perfect Platonic form for a computer. The G4 Cube harked back to the NeXTcube — another computer that met limited commercial success — although it was a fraction of the size. (Jobs had worked on the NeXTcube during his wilderness years outside Apple.)

NEXTcube
Produced a decade earlier, the NeXTcube was Jobs’ first attempt at a cube-shaped computer.
Photo: Wikipedia CC

Instead of being an ugly beige tower like rival PCs, the G4 Cube was a 7-inch-by-7-inch cube of clear plastic that appeared to be floating in midair thanks to a transparent base.

It wasn’t just the visuals that were impressive, either: The Cube operated in near total silence because it was cooled by air convection instead of a fan. Unlike the sealed-off Macs of the past, the G4 Cube’s internal components could be easily accessed through the bottom of the machine, complete with pop-up handle.

In terms of specs, the G4 Cube packed quite a punch. In some ways, it was a return to the “high right” market Apple had aimed for in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when Macs operated at the top-end of both the price and performance charts. The Cube started at $1,799 for a basic model with a 450-MHz G4 chip, 64MB of memory and 20GB of storage. A more expensive Apple online store exclusive — retailing at $2,299 — boasted a more powerful processor and extra storage and memory.

G4 Cube ad
One of the print ads for the G4 Cube.
Photo: Apple

However, despite being revolutionary in its technology and appearance (the touch-sensitive power button was an early example of the tech Apple would later use for the iPhone), the G4 Cube proved to be a costly flop in the marketplace. Although Jobs called it “simply the coolest computer ever,” Apple only sold around 150,000 units total — just a third of what the company had forecast.

Along with the price point (the G4 Cube cost more than other Macs, and didn’t come with its own monitor), the G4 Cube also suffered a damaging PR blow when customers started reporting tiny cracks appearing in the clear plastic casing.

The G4 Cube was, in Apple’s words, “put on ice” on July 3, 2001 — just less than a year after it debuted.

While it has since gone on to become something of a cult hit among Apple fans, the Cube was ultimately replaced by another display-less Mac, the Mac mini, half a decade later. In contrast to the Cube, the Mac mini was aimed at a more budget-conscious consumer.

Do you remember the G4 Cube? Leave your comments and recollections below.

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  • UZ

    I was watching the video when I realised, if I saw this product for the first time today, 17 years after it was introduced, I might actually believe it was built today. Production issues aside, it shows how far ahead Apple thinking was back then.

    I’ve always loved the cube, and could never understand why they didn’t try again. Then again, if I look at the Mac Pro, maybe that’s exactly what they did!

  • Ben

    My Dad had a Cube. It was a really awesome design, as well as a great computer. Really nice specs at the time, and it just had such nice elements all around. I remember my uncle, a PC diehard, being amazed at the great sound that came out of those little circular speakers.

    • lee scott

      My Dad gave me his last year. It’s in the box, mint and I’m trying to decide if I’m going to do something with it. Such a lovely little computer, and I’d hate to just toss it out.

  • bdkennedy

    I worked with a guy that had one in engineering and sure enough the cracks happened. This was a time when Apple was trying to turn itself around so I remember how angry people were over it.

  • I loved the Cube and wanted to buy one, but my older PowerMac G4 was still working just fine and I couldn’t justify the cost of buying a new computer. By the time I was ready to buy, the Cube was no longer for sale. It was a bit too pricey for a computer which was only minorly upgradable (as compared to a PowerMac at the time), but I loved the design. I have the latest Mac Pro black cylinder now, which is really just an evolution of the Cube. What I’d like to see is a slightly larger Mac Pro with enough internal space for at least 2 hard drives and maybe an expansion card or two. While they’re at it, I’m hoping Apple comes out with an updated Cinema Display with a matte (or at least anti-glare) screen. I’ve owned Apple displays for over 15 years and I don’t relish the thought of buying a Samsung/Acer/HP or other 3rd party monitor.

    • PMB01

      A matte display isn’t happening. Glass is much better for color accuracy, anyway.

  • bIg hIlL

    A wonderful and beautiful product killed by excessive and uncontrolled Greed.

    • JFairweather

      It was killed by the cost of manufacturing. Except for the memory, the hard drive, and the connectors, everything about the cube was custom designed. The thing used convection cooling. There was not even a fan. The miniaturization was a huge part of the development cost as well. In fact, it was so far ahead of its time that the current MacPro can trace its heritage directly to the cube.
      This cost was also increased by the issue of uneven cooling of the inside and outside of the acrylic shell during manufacture, which would lead to a high number having hairline cracks and which were replaced for free.
      Where does greed come into it?
      I used to demo this model for Apple at Best Buy and elsewhere. I loved it. I didn’t need to replace my existing machine at the time and the price was high, so I never did.
      Years later, when speed, IPS and capacity had far surpassed the Cube, I bought an empty shell in pristine condition, removed the top grill, inserted a micro-sized bungee inside and use it as a swanky tissue dispenser.