The Cube Project, Part 2
I almost never start a Backstage entry with the word “I,” since so few of these entries are entirely personal. Today’s two posts are very personal—stories that I will tell substantially through photos, explaining each as I move through them. Together, they explain how one beautiful computer convinced me to switch back to the Macintosh platform after years of using Windows PCs. And how I didn’t actually buy that computer until five years after I switched.
That computer is the Power Mac G4 Cube. It was quite possibly the most impressive piece of industrial design ever assembled by Apple, back when “Apple Computer” only made Apple computers. And it was discontinued after only a year on the market. After spending the last two weeks hunting one down and rebuilding it with parts purchased from Newer Technology, I think I understand exactly why it was killed, and also why Apple has never replaced the Cube in its product lineup. The tour, of both the Cube and the understanding it inspired, begins here.
I’d like to start with some photos that illustrate just how detail-obsessed Apple’s industrial designers were back in 2000. Even the Cube’s power supply—a part you’ll virtually never see—is more thoughtfully and attractively designed than most full-fledged consumer products of the past 10 years.
The power cords—actually, all of the system’s cords—are tipped with comparatively expensive clear plastic, letting you see what’s inside. No one spends the cash or the time to do this any more, and sure, that’s probably smart, but just like the old origami-like iPod boxes, basically every one of the Cube’s parts has something that makes you say “wow.” This is Apple design in the pre-commodity era.
Transparent and translucent plastics were found in Apple’s other products at the time, including mice and keyboards sold with multiple Macs, but with the matching Cube, they’re especially cool. I still use a one-button clear Apple mouse with my primary Mac today because I like the look so much—and because the Mighty Mouse is comparatively so annoying.
Apple partnered with Harman Kardon for the Cube’s globe-like speakers. Transparent save for their metal and plastic transducers, they’re at least as cool as the system’s other accessories. The only oddity is that these speakers required a USB port, and came permanently tethered to a clear box. Apple later chucked the USB shackles in favor of a more compatible plug design, but preserved the shape of the speakers.
Apart from the technology inside, the Studio Display of that era was arguably even cooler than the Cinema Displays of today—I say that as an owner of both. A simple clear plastic hinge on the back allowed you to adjust the monitor’s position, while a single silver and clear braided cable on the back connected to the Cube for power, video-out, and data functionality. Two USB ports on the rear of the monitor paralleled the ones on Cinema Displays, sitting alongside vents that let the display breathe through its clear plastic enclosure.
That brings us to the Cube itself. Apple outdid itself with this design—a rounded metal box encased in a thick clear plastic shell. CDs get inserted into the top, like a toaster, and a touch-sensitive, glowing power button is found behind the fanless machine’s top-mounted air vent. Cosmetically, there is no computer on the planet that I’d rather have sitting on my desk. But the Cube did have a relatively serious problem.
Cracking. My Cube arrived with a small crack next to its top air vent, which spread over the course of several hours to the system’s side, deepening in the process. According to the original owner, the crack wasn’t there when the Cube was shipped to me, which I believe based on watching the damage spread after it arrived. But back in 2000, users found mold lines and cracks in their Cubes’ casings, leading to a number of complaints that Apple’s most aesthetically pleasing computer was also the most likely to make owners cry over its faults. I know the feeling. The old Apple logo never made sense to me until I got the Cube.
Even before my Cube arrived with a crack, I was determined to rebuild it from the inside out, and spent some time researching and executing on that plan. But doing so led me to some surprising conclusions about the Cube, Apple, and the state of the personal computer industry in general. They follow in part 3 of The Cube Project, coming later today.
If you have a comment, news tip, advertising inquiry, or coverage request, a question about iPods or accessories, or if you sell or market products, read iLounge's Comments + Questions policies before posting, and fully identify yourself if you do. We will delete comments containing advertising, astroturfing, trolling, personal attacks, offensive language, or other objectionable content, then ban and/or publicly identify violators. Wondering why we're talking about something other than iPods? Check the Archives: Backstage has been here and kicking it since 2004.
- AT&T opens up Wi-Fi calling for iPhone
- Battery impact of Samsung vs TSMC A9 chips overestimated? (Update: Apple response)
- Apple TV, iPad Pro to be sold online in late October, in stores early November?
- iBooks adds exclusive enhanced editions of Harry Potter series
- Report: Barclays to launch Apple Pay support in the UK early next year
- Apple reveals Beats Pill+ speaker
- Antitrust monitor: Apple is ‘its own worst enemy’
- Report: Apple holding $181.1 billion in offshore tax havens
- Apple releases fourth iOS 9.1 beta, third tvOS beta to developers
- Apple taking reservations for new iPhones in six European countries
- Griffin Survivor Journey and Survivor Summit for iPhone 6/6s
- Parrot Jumping Night and Jumping Race Drones
- Trident Case Aegis Pro Case for iPhone 6/6s
- Scosche boomBOTTLE+ Waterproof Wireless Speaker
- Just Mobile Quattro Folio for iPhone 6s
- X-Doria Defense Lux for iPhone 6s/6
- Spigen Perfect Armor for iPhone 6s, Slim/Tough Armor for iPhone 6s Plus
- Spigen Neo Hybrid / Carbon / EX + Ultra Hybrid for iPhone 6s/6s Plus
- Speck CandyShell Clear and CandyShell Inked Jonathan Adler for iPhone 6/6s
- BenQ treVolo Bluetooth Portable Electrostatic Speaker
- Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 9.0
- Under the Radar: A closer look at smaller iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus changes
- A First Look at iOS 9’s Transit in Apple Maps (Updated for watchOS 2)
- Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 12.2
- Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 8.4 + Apple Music
- CE Week 2015: IK Multimedia, Monowear’s Apple Watch bands + More
- Live From CE Week 2015: Brand New iPad, iPhone + Mac Accessories!
- Opinion: The ‘Grand Experiment’ of shifting to Google Photos
- Will removing a credit card from Safari also remove it from Apple Pay?
- Can I mute Handoff calls coming into my Mac from my iPhone?