Today in Apple history: Apple’s eWorld online service goes live

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Enter Apple eWorld. Short of a Nirvana MIDI file playing in the background, you can't get more 1990s than this!
It doesn't get more 1990s than this!
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

June 20: Today in Apple historyJune 20, 1994: Apple launches eWorld, a subscription service for Mac owners that’s designed to compete with America Online and other nascent online properties.

Part messaging service and part news aggregator, eWorld is supposed to push Apple into competition with the likes of AOL, Delphi, CompuServe and Prodigy. Unfortunately, Apple’s online service is doomed from the start.

eWorld is an interesting premise

The origins of eWorld trace back to another Apple proto-social network, called AppleLink, intended to link Cupertino with its dealers and support centers. In the early 1990s, when John Sculley was still steering the ship at Apple, the decision was made to turn AppleLink into a more consumer-facing service.

To fulfill its ambitions, Apple acquired a data center in the San Francisco Bay Area from banking giant Citigroup. It also came to a licensing agreement with America Online, the company that built the basic technology eWorld was based on.

As with many of Apple’s services, the idea was for eWorld to be a “walled garden” so Cupertino could control the user experience its customers received. In the 1990s, however, this was not a big departure from the norm. Because nobody quite knew what the internet would transform into, everyone from AOL to CompuServe was doing something similar, with exclusive content intended to differentiate the companies’ offerings.

eworld
The electronic village comes to life.
Photo: Apple

In some ways, eWorld was a bit like Apple’s News app. It served as an aggregator of news and entertainment from other services, all filtered through a familiar Apple interface.

Looking at eWorld today, it appears overly cartoony in a way that distracts from, rather than adds to, the user experience. The premise was to turn the internet (or, at least, a limited version of it) into a Sim City-style settlement, with different buildings representing different services.

This made a bit more sense at a time when explaining the internet was still necessary. It was an abstract idea, so Apple did what it had successfully done with the graphical user interface — which “borrowed” the metaphor of the desktop to explain computing concepts to a new audience. Full web-browsing support on eWorld didn’t arrive until 1995.

A flawed execution

eWorld wasn’t cheap, however. Two off-peak hours with its dial-up service cost $8.95, while an hour of service beyond this (or during the day) set people back $4.95.

The bigger problem was granting access to eWorld. As anyone who remembers Apple in the 1990s (or has been keeping up-to-date with these “Today in Apple history” posts) will know, there was no shortage of great ideas at Apple in the 1990s. The problem was turning neat ideas into viable products.

A proposed 1995 Windows version of eWorld got abandoned due to budget cuts, despite being more than three-quarters finished. Thanks to a failure of strategy at Apple, eWorld also didn’t come bundled on Macs until late 1995 — even though some of its rivals did.

Ultimately, eWorld picked up 147,000 users before eventually being phased out in 1996, with remaining customers migrating over to AOL.

You can get a more detailed, Flash-based demo of how eWorld operated by clicking here.