With the recent release of the MacBook Air, there have, of course, been a flurry of reviews and, more relevant to this particular blog post, armchair quarterback style conjecturing as the relevance of the Air’s design within the current marketplace.
Not surprisingly, many of the reviews or commentaries mention The Apple Cube, pictured at left (photo courtesy of wikipedia).
At Daring Fireball, Gruber’s article said in a footnote:
Arguably, the main problem with the G4 Cube had nothing to do with its technical specs, price, or aesthetic appeal, but rather that its case was overly prone to cracking and/or unsightly injection mold lines. I.e., the Cube’s fatal flaw was in the design and engineering of its case.
Close, but not quite. Near the end of the cube’s manufacturing lifecycle, Cubes were on closeout and my company picked up 10 or so to use as general purpose workstations. None of them had noticeable cracking or mold lines.
However, the very design of the cube was fatally flawed.
In particular, the cube sacrificed function in the name of form.
To be blunt: Gorgeous to look at, absolute pain in the ass to live with.
The design was such that anything requiring a cable change was inconvenient. You had to physically tilt the machine over, often all the way onto its side, connect/disconnect the cables, and then very carefully re-route all the cables through the little gap in the back.
The top wasn’t much better. The top featured both the slot for the optical drive and the power button. Unless you paid careful attention, it was damned easy to brush the power button when dropping in or removing a disc.
Worse, the top of the machine was a magnet for dirt, hair and cats. Hair would fall across the optical drive slot and then get sucked right into the drive when you inserted a disc.
And, yes, cats. My friend had a cube at his home. The cats would love to sit on top of the nice, warm, flat cube. Which would both fill it with cat hair and turn it off… then on… then off… then on… then off for as long as the cuts stuck around. He finally had to put one of those pigeon guard kind of strip of nail things on top of the cube to keep the cats from corrupting his filesystem! (People seem to think I actually take the cat thing as a serious criticism or design flaw. Please. It was funny, that is almost all. Certainly, if the cube had been marketed like the iMac, it would have been a consideration — not a big one, but a consideration none the less.)
The cube was certainly a gorgeous piece of engineering. As a piece of art, it deserved all the awards it received.
However, as a computing device, it really sucked.
Update (responding to comments) on the full post…
I de-emphasized the cat thing. It was more funny than a real criticism of the design. It would have been a bigger issue if Apple had been targeting the home market with the same success or vigor as the iMac — not just for cats, but for the overall stuff-falling-into-computer issue.
The key sentences from your review:
“The very design of the cube was fatally flawed” … for “my company … to use as general purpose workstations.”
Yes, I don’t think they were designed for that purpose. Were you the guy who made that decision? The Cube: General purpose corporate cubical workstation. Nope.
Given that a general purpose workstation role is considerably more static — less cabling changes, less dealing with optical discs — than a media / personal / photography machine, the cube worked better in a workstation role than in a personal computing device role.
As I said, as long as you didn’t have to physically touch the machine, it was awesome. Gorgeous. Fast. Silent. A fairly ideal system at a great price!
For the brief time I had one at home, it was a total pain to constantly plug/unplug cables until I bought a USB hub. Then I had this ugly USB hub sitting next to my otherwise very nice looking cube.
Gary Horsman said:
That it’s cat-incompatible was a design flaw? I don’t believe cats are a normal consideration for computer case engineers. That would make couches equally poorly designed.
Good design requires extreme attention to detail. Every last detail. If the cube had been developed as an “everyday computer” similar to an iMac, I would bet that the power button and optical drive would have moved off of the top prior to release.
It isn’t just about cats (really, people, enough with the damned cats. Sorry I mentioned it. . It is about having a flat topped, conveniently sized, surface on top of which things will be placed, will fall, and — yes — may choose to nap.
Unless you are one of the few that can actually maintain a minimal, uncluttered, desktop, stuff stacks up. Having a computer’s primary ventilation, optical drive, and power switch built into a conveniently attractive target for stacking is just flat out a bad idea.