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Apple Halts Production of G4 Cube Computer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bowing to slack demand for one of its most innovative machines, Apple Computer on Tuesday pulled the plug on the year-old Power Mac G4 Cube, suspending production indefinitely. The visually stunning 8-inch machine, packaged in a translucent white case, looked more like a sculpture than a personal computer, but reviewers found too much that had been sacrificed in the name of sleekness.

The machine turned itself on and off when touched at the top, which often happened by accident. Connecting cables attached awkwardly, under the Cube, and many owners complained that cracks appeared in the translucent casing.

And the style did not come cheaply. The G4 was introduced at $1,799, and with matching flat-panel monitors, consumers were paying more than $2,500 for the package. Apple later cut the price, but the device was criticized as too expensive for consumers and students and not powerful enough for graphic artists and designers.

“It just didn’t work,” said IDC analyst Roger Kay. “It didn’t work as a price point, as a price-to-performance ratio, or as a design.”

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Analysts said Apple sold just 12,000 of the high-end machines in the quarter ended in March, out of 751,000 total Apple computers, and brought the Cube’s lifetime sales to 148,000.

Cube sales accounted for $212 million in sales, or about 5% of Apple’s total revenue of $4.3 billion in the last three quarters.

The Cube is not the first Apple product to be consigned to the scrap heap. Apple gambled and lost on an early device for recognizing handwriting dubbed Newton, and on a sluggish computer named Lisa, after Chief Executive Steve Jobs’ daughter.

As Apple continued to make its own software and hardware in the 1980s, the company almost failed under the onslaught of cheap PCs using rival Microsoft’s software.

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Jobs was brought back to revive Apple in 1997, after a 12-year absence, and introduced the curvy iMac PC, iBook laptops and the Cube, which he described as “simply the coolest computer ever.”

Because Jobs has slashed the number of products that Apple makes, each failure counts for far more than it would at a broader PC company such as Dell or Compaq.

“It’s a higher standard that Apple’s held to, because they chose this high-wire act of great design,” Kay said. “When Steve missed on the Lisa, he was basically excused from the company.”

Apple declined to say how much it had spent in developing the Cube. It said there was a “small chance” it will introduce another version in the future.

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The Cube’s decline has already had its impact on Apple’s bottom line, contributing to the company’s $247-million loss from operations in the quarter ended Dec. 30. Apple returned to profitability in the most recent quarter, and the stock has gained back some of the ground it had lost.

Apple shares slipped 6 cents Tuesday to close at $23.84 in Nasdaq trading.

With a small share of the overall market for personal computers, Apple has staked its future on the sophisticated design and marketing of a handful of products.

Some, like the fresh-looking iMac, have succeeded in bringing in millions of first-time computer buyers. But not every Apple offering had that level of success.

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Analyst Chris LeTocq of Guernsey Research said Apple has another big hole to fill with the Cube gone.

“People who bought it were the high-end iMac guys,” LeTocq said. “The question is, what is Apple going to have in its line for consumers who want more than an iMac?”

Times wire services were used in compiling this report.


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