December 13, 1994: Apple strikes a deal with Bandai, Japan’s largest toy maker, to license its Mac technology for the creation of a new games 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.
It shoulda been a contender
The Pippin is one of those frustrating mid-1990s Apple tales which should have had a happy ending, but didn’t.
For one thing, it was an example of Apple licensing its Mac technology in a deal that would diversify its business portfolio by bringing in software revenue, rather than relying on the shrinking Mac business. This was what seemingly everyone was demanding that Apple do at the time, and on paper this should have been a great deal.
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 that was sold) but was manufactured by toymaker Bandai, who bore the brunt of the costs. Bandai also seemed a good business partner for Apple, as the company responsible for the (white hot in 1994) Power Rangers franchise, which had established its name in the U.S.
Creating a games console was certainly a departure for Apple, but it wasn’t any less of a departure than the iPod or iPhone later on. While it’s not known as a gamer’s company these days, in the 1980s the Apple II had absolutely fallen into this category.
It was also a move that fellow tech company Sony was just making with the Sony PlayStation, which was launched in Japan just 10 days earlier. 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 spec, the Pippin sounded promising. It had a CD-ROM drive at a time when games consoles were more associated with cartridges. It also allowed for internet browsing and compatibility, which only really became a feature of games consoles with the later SEGA Dreamcast.
So what went wrong?
As noted, there was a lot to like about the Pippin. Inside Apple it was viewed as a potential saviour 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/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 it was in stores in early 1996, that cost was compared not with computers (which had features which extended way beyond the Pippin’s), but instead 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 a subpar line-up of games, which was pretty much the kiss of death. It had just 22 titles available, 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 which took forever to load pages.
In the end, only 42,000 models out of the 100,000 ever built got sold, and the project was cancelled in 1997.
Do you remember the Pippin? Leave your comments below.