Mac Musings

iBox Value and Avoiding Apple Legal Complications

Daniel Knight - 2003.04.09

Ever since Wired published Pizza Box or iMac? No, an iBox, the Mac Web has been abuzz about the possibilities of a low-cost Power Mac G4 clone.

John Fraser, the man behind the iBox, hopes to retail it for US$250-350. For the price, you'll get a case, a power supply, and a "gigabit ethernet" Power Mac G4 motherboard.

What you won't get are a CPU, memory, hard drive, video card, or operating system.

What Fraser is likely to get, as John H. Farr explains in Comments: Doomed iBox effort?, is a cease and desist from Apple's legal team. And I suspect Farr is right.

Avoiding Apple Legal

For almost as long as there has been Low End Mac, we have advocated for a low-cost Power Mac - something that might be perceived as cost competitive with the world of cheap Windows PCs. We absolutely believe there is a market for such a computer and wish Apple would produce it.

Failing that, we wish Fraser the best with his project and offer one suggestion on avoiding legal problems with Apple.

Don't Sell Any Apple Parts

Instead of selling a case, a power supply, and a motherboard, avoid the potential legal problems and sell just the case and power supply. With absolutely now Apple components, there's not a thing Apple could do to stop Fraser from selling his iBox, which could be promoted as an after-market repackaging kit instead of a clone.

Fraser could then let iBox buyers know where they can buy hard drives, memory, CPUs, video cards, replacement motherboards, and other components for the iBox. Maybe he could even set up an affiliate arrangement with some vendors and get a commission on sales generated through his website.

This means reduced overhead for Fraser, since he won't have to buy, install, test, and resell Apple motherboards. It means minimized legal risk. And it means he can concentrate on the components he can sell without drawing Apple's ire - an attractive case and a quiet power supply.

The iBox Economy

I'd much rather Apple did something along these lines, because I believe there is a huge consumer market for a low-cost desktop Mac that doesn't have a built in monitor. Instead of serving that market, Fraser will have to go after more knowledgeable customers who won't be afraid to cobble together their own computer from parts - the same thing PC users have been doing since the early 1980s.

I've found a listing for Power Mac G4 Gigabit Ethernet motherboards at MacResQ for $199. New G4 "upgrade" CPUs are available from $370 for 700 MHz (and used G4s start at under $100 on eBay). I've seen new AGP video cards for under $120 (and still less on eBay). Hard drives - $100 can get you an incredible amount of storage. ramseeker pegs memory at $32 per 256 MB module today, so 768 MB would cost about $100 shipped.

Then you've got your choice of CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, Combo, and SuperDrives to complete the package. Add a copy of Jaguar for $90, and you've got a G4 computer for as little as $800 plus the cost of the iBox case and power supply (maybe $100?).

Compare that with the used Power Mac market. In this price range we'd be looking at the older 100 MHz motherboard, a lot less memory, smaller hard drives, older video cards, and used components. Given the opportunity to build a faster, more up to date Power Mac for the price of a used G4, a lot of Mac hobbyists would find the iBox tempting.

Low End Mac wishes John Fraser the best with his iBox project. However, if it's too successful, Apple may realize that Fraser has tapped a market they've ignored, finally decide to pursue the low-end desktop market, and create a consumer desktop - which would never really compete with Fraser's hobbyist box.

I'd like to see that.