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Back in 2000, Apple released the Power Mac G4 Cube, a funky small PC designed by Jony Ive himself. It was a good-looking piece of hardware, but it flopped so hard that Apple discontinued it after a year.
In a talk at Oxford, Apple CEO Tim Cook reflected on the “spectacular failure commercially” of the Cube, and what he learned from his mentor Steve Jobs about failure amid the whole experience.
“It was a very important product for us, we put a lot of love into it, we put enormous engineering into it,” Cook said of the G4 Cube on stage. He calls it an “engineering marvel.” At the time, Cook was Apple Senior VP of Worldwide Operations, recruited personally by then-CEO Steve Jobs.
But the Cube never found its audience. While the design was a hit, it was $200 more expensive than the regular Power Mac G4, a more traditional-looking PC with very similar specs. And some Cubes would develop cosmetic cracks in the acrylic cube casing due to a manufacturing flaw.
In his talk, Cook says that Apple knew the Cube was flopping “from the very first day, almost.” And so, in July 2001, just under a year from its release, Apple published a press release playfully titled “Apple Puts Power Mac G4 Cube On Ice.”
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Ultimately, Cook says, it was a lesson in humility and pride. Apple had told both employees and customers that the G4 Cube was the future. And yet, despite Apple’s massive hype, demand just wasn’t there, and the company had to walk away.
“This was another thing that Steve [Jobs] taught me, actually,” says Cook. “You’ve got to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and say I was wrong, it’s not right.”
In a broader sense, Cook says that Jobs taught him the value of intellectual honesty – that, no matter how much you care about something, you have to be willing to take new data and apply it to the situation. Cook says he actually struggled with Jobs’ propensity for changing his tune.
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“Steve, of everyone I’ve known in life, could be the most avid proponent of some position and within minutes or days if new information came up you would think he’d never, ever thought that before […] He was a pro at this,” says Cook. “And at first I thought, oh, he really flip flops! And then all of a sudden I saw the beauty in it. Because he wasn’t getting stuck, like so many other people do when they just say I’ve got to keep going on, my pride, you know. So be intellectually honest – and have the courage to change.”
As a postscript to this story, the Cube may not have been a smash, but it did find a cult audience. Even today, dedicated Apple fans are hacking their Cubes with more modern hardware and newer versions of the Mac operating system.
Watch the full talk here: