March 9, 1996: Apple confirms that it will shut down its eWorld online service at the end of the month.
Part messaging service, part news aggregator — and all with Apple’s customary premium prices — Apple’s short-lived eWorld was ahead of its time. Subscribers are advised that they can switch to America Online (AOL) instead.
Apple’s first go at the internet
Apple had launched eWorld on June 20, 1994, less than two years earlier. It represented Apple’s first deep dive into being a provider of internet services — several years before Steve Jobs returned to the company and embraced the importance of going online with devices like the iMac G3 and iBook.
The impetus behind eWorld was a proto-social network, called AppleLink, which link Apple with its dealers and support centers. In the early 1990s, when John Sculley was still running Apple, the decision was made to turn this idea into a consumer-facing service.
Years before Apple launched iTunes, iCloud and other internet-based services, Apple acquired a data center in the San Francisco Bay Area from banking giant Citigroup. It also came to a licensing agreement with AOL, the company that built the basic technology eWorld was based upon.
Typically for Apple, the idea was for eWorld to be a “walled garden” so Cupertino could totally control the user experience. Today, of course, Apple’s moderated approach to its App Store makes it something of a rarity. In the 1990s, however, it was not a big departure from the norm. AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe were all attempting to do similar things, since nobody was quite sure yet what the internet would ultimately turn into.
eWorld didn’t just contain material written by Apple. A bit like the Apple News app, it served as an aggregator of news and entertainment from other sources, all filtered through a familiar Apple interface.
Looking at eWorld today, the big surprise for a lot of people will be how cartoonish it looks. The notion of turning the internet (or, at least, a version of it) into a Sim City-style settlement, with different buildings representing different services, seems very unnecessary — and non-workable — to users in 2017.
It makes sense, though, when you consider that what eWorld was narrativizing an abstract idea in much the same way that the graphical user interface “borrowed” the metaphor of the desktop to explain computing concepts to a new audience. Full web-browsing support didn’t arrive until 1995.
The other massive shock for modern audiences will be how expensive it was. Two off-peak hours with eWorld’s dial-up service cost $8.95, while hourly costs beyond this (or during the day) set people back $4.95.
Sadly, while Apple is today superb at gauging the right moment to leap on new technologies, in the 1990s its ability to do so was somewhat diminished. eWorld only attracted 147,000 users at its peak.
You can get a more detailed, Flash-based demo of how eWorld operated by clicking here.
Do you remember eWorld? Leave your comments below.