Today in Apple history: Apple strikes deal with toymaking giant

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How quickly we forget Apple's biggest flops.
The Pippin wasn't the savior Apple was hoping for.
Photo: All About Apple

December 13: Today in Apple history: Apple strikes deal with toymaking giant December 13, 1994: Apple strikes a deal with Bandai, Japan’s largest toymaker, to license Mac technology for the creation of a new videogame console.

Based on the PowerPC 603 CPU and running a stripped-down CD-ROM-based version of Mac OS, the resulting games machine is called the Pippin. Unfortunately, it’s a sales disaster.

The Pippin shoulda been a contender

The Pippin is one of those frustrating mid-1990s Apple tales that should have had a happy ending, but didn’t.

The device served as an example of Apple licensing its Mac technology in hopes of diversifying its business portfolio. The idea was to bring in software revenue, rather than relying on shrinking Mac sales. Seemingly everyone demanded this type of strategy from Apple at the time. And on paper, the deal with Bandai made perfect sense.

The Pippin ran a basic version of Apple software (it didn’t actually ship with an operating system, but one came baked into every Pippin CD-ROM sold). Japanese toymaker Bandai manufactured the game console — and bore the brunt of associated costs. Bandai, the company responsible for the (white hot in 1994) Power Rangers franchise, seemed a good business partner for Apple.

Apple tries to get into gaming market

Creating a gaming console was certainly a departure for Apple, but it wasn’t any less of a departure than the iPod or iPhone later on. While Apple is not known as a gamer’s company these days, in the 1980s the Apple II absolutely fell into that category.

Meanwhile, Apple competitor Sony was making a similar move with the PlayStation, which launched in Japan just 10 days earlier than the Pippin. In true lagging-behind-Apple style, Microsoft would take a (far more successful) crack at the market more than half a decade later with the 2001 launch of the first Xbox.

In terms of specs, the Pippin sounded promising. It packed a CD-ROM drive at a time when gaming consoles were more associated with cartridges. It also allowed for internet browsing, which only really became a feature of game consoles with the later Sega Dreamcast.

Pippin fails

As noted, there was a lot to like about the Pippin. Inside Apple it was viewed as a potential savior for the company in its hour of need.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out that way. Part of the problem was the price. If you looked at the Pippin as a computer, it was cheap. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Macs were astoundingly pricey — even by today’s standards. The SE/30 Mac, for instance, cost a whopping $4,369. The Pippin sold for just $599.

Sadly, by the time the Pippin hit stores in early 1996, consumers compared that price tag not with computers (with features that extended far beyond the Pippin’s) but to the $299 PlayStation and Nintendo’s $250 N64. (Apple also received subpar royalties of just $10 to $20 per machine and $1 per game disk.)

The Pippin also came with an anemic lineup of games — pretty much the kiss of death for a console. Gamers could choose from just 22 available titles, and one of these was a “Web Browser.”

Internet connectivity wasn’t really a thing for most people in the mid-1990s (and certainly not on the kind of low-resolution television sets people owned at the time). To make matters worse, the Pippin included a 14.4-kbps modem that took forever to load webpages.

In the end, Apple sold only 42,000 Pippins out of the 100,000 built. The project was canceled in 1997.

Do you remember the Pippin? Leave your comments below.