Why the Cube Failed

Well, let’s get this part out of the way first. The folks over at the Cube-Zone (G4 Cube Forever!) will tell you the Cube didn’t fail, still has life in it, won x-many awards, and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, we can all agree that the Cube’s sales have been, shall we say, less than phenomenal.

Power Mac G4 CubeMuch has been written on this topic, mostly about the price point of the Cube (a view I agree with), but the true answer, I think, is more complex than simply price.

It has to do with perception.

When you purchase an iMac, the first thing the novice computer user asks (believe me, with several Demo Days under my belt, I know) is, “Where’s the computer?”

“It’s inside the monitor,” I say. “It’s all right in there,” I would reassure them as they looked at me in wonderment. Pointing at the CD-ROM, I’d show the translucent cover and how there was circuitry visible inside.

“Oh, how clever,” they’d say, and then I could proceed to show them all the features of the computer.

Now consider the novice user – or even a non-power user in an office setting, someone not interested in accelerated graphics cards and PCI slots – encountering a Cube.

G4 Cube with monitor and speakers“Is the monitor included?”

“Uh, no,” you’d have to reply. “That’s extra. But what a great LCD display this is! Look how bright! Look how high the resolution is! And the wide viewing angle! And the active-matrix-that-doesn’t-let-your-cursor-disappear!”

As you pause for breath, the customer fires off a question: “Is the LCD monitor included?”

“Uhmm, no,” you say, following up with, “No fan! Slot loading! Touch-sensitive on-switch! Gigabit ethernet available!” And even though the ethernet card is as expensive as many PCs and makes the Cube a real steal, the next question is inevitable.

“So – there’s no monitor?”

“Uh, no.”

“And without a monitor, it costs more than an iMac?”

“Uh, well, yes, more than the low-end version at least. But not more than….”

“So why am I paying more and getting less?”

Paying More, Getting Less?

And there you have it. Gigabit ethernet, G4 processor, and crack-free external clear case notwithstanding, the casual user sees the Cube as a purchase which requires additional expenses not necessary with any other computer. You see, almost no one sells CPUs in a retail setting without the monitor. Not to novice users anyway.

20th Anniversary MacWhich brings us back to the price point. Apple is sure to discourage folks from noticing that VGA port under the Cube. They want you to buy one of those new ADC (Apple Display Connector) LCD panels, but that makes the Cube seem much more a premium item than it is. The audience for the Cube is apparently the same audience as for the 20th Anniversary Mac: People interested in making an aesthetic statement at the expense of expandability and versatility. And the 20th Anniversary Mac was not a huge seller; no one expected it to be because of its enormous price.

To a novice user, a $1,200 Cube without a monitor can seem more expensive than an $1,600 computer that includes a monitor, because deciding on a monitor and listening to salesmen make their pitches is a hassle and a pain. Now any experienced user (and all of our readers at LEM) would sneer at such a thing, but remember we’re talking about the novice users Apple must lure in to make sales. Even an experienced Windows user is a novice Mac user and will have many of the same perceptions about value, and hassles, and features.

Sans monitor, the Cube should have been (should be) priced less than an iMac, because to a novice, a monitor is more important (hence more valuable) than all the internal hardware that brings such value to the Cube as it currently exists – for those of us in the know.

There you have it, my theory regarding the Cube. The Cube wasn’t so much too expensive but under-featured, the primary feature missing at the advertised price being an included monitor.

Is the Cube’s dilemma about price, or is it about features? The market will eventually decide.

Update: Three weeks after this article was first published, Apple “suspend production of the Power Mac G4 Cube indefinitely” after selling about 150,000 in just under a year.

Keywords: #thecube #powermacg4cube

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