I know there will be a handful of people who clicked this article wondering “Wait, Apple made a gaming console?” And some die-hard fans hearing about it the first time are probably on their way to buy an Apple Pippin to add to their precious Apple collection. But calm down (if you are that type of Apple fan).
This console failed for a lot of reasons.
But before we get into the history and the flaws that ultimately led to its demise, let’s watch the Apple Pippin commercial that aired back in 1996.
I think it perfectly reflects the Apple Pippin, as both the console itself and this commercial will probably have you asking, “What the heck did I just see?”
Apple Pippin’s History
Apple Pippin was made in 1996, right in the midst of Apple’s worst financial years. Steve Jobs had resigned back in 1985 and Apple’s CEO was Michael Spindler. The Pippin was one of the company’s many attempts to start making up for some serious declines in revenue. In this case, it was trying to make some quick cash by tapping into the gaming market which was booming at the time.
With that, it formed a partnership with Bandai to make the Apple Pippin. Apple would make the software and the internal components, while Bandai would be responsible for designing the casing, packaging, and marketing campaigns. And lastly, Mitsubishi manufactured the Pippin for Bandai.
Now, here’s the best part: Apple and Bandai didn’t really make the Pippin to be a platform for gaming only. They wanted to make it an open standard that could be adapted to many different uses including telecommunication or media playing. That way, the companies could make money through licensing the Pippin to other companies, which would build whatever systems they wanted onto it.
For developers to do whatever their hearts pleases, the Apple Pippin didn’t have an OS installed on the device itself. Instead, the OS and every file needed to run a game or any program is included on the CD-ROM game discs. That way, developers can customize the OS so it can run better with whatever app or game they were developing.
Lastly, one of Apple and Bandai’s goals for the Pippin was for it to be an inexpensive system that mostly runs multimedia content, but in the end, they slapped a price tag of $599 on it. And at that price, it was just too expensive, even if its features were way ahead of its time. $599 in 1996 is the equivalent of around $1000 in 2022 after being adjusted for inflation.
Apple Pippin’s Features
With the history lesson done, let’s take a look at what this game console can do. For starters, it sports a PowerPC 603 CPU running at 63Mhz, 6MB of shared memory, and 1KB of NVRAM. That might not sound like much to us running modern computers with a minimum of 8GB RAM and CPUs running 4-5Ghz. But by 1996’s standards, the Pippin was actually a pretty impressive system, even more powerful than competitors like the N64 and PlayStation 1.
The Pippin was also the first gaming console to have a built-in internet connection and one of the first consoles to have the option to have internet.
Basically, this console was also trying to be a computer. That becomes even more obvious when you see which ports were on the back:
It has multiple outputs! There are several AV connections with both audio input and output, and you can use this to hook your Pippin up to a standard TV as a set-top box. It also has VGA which you could use for your computer monitors.
To take it further, it also has printer and modem ports. There is even a switch on the back so you can toggle between NTSC and PAL, which was a huge deal at the time since it meant that no Pippin was ever region locked!
There are more ports, of course! On the front, it has the Apple Jack controller ports and a headphone jack (what a throwback huh?). At the bottom, the Pippin has a PCI slot on the Pippins’s bottom side.
This is where peripherals and other hardware would be installed. There’s not much but some that were made available for the Pippin were a floppy disk drive and an Ethernet interface. And since the slot was at the bottom, the PCI-based peripherals could essentially act as a docking system for the Pippin.
No, this is not the Applejack drink nor the cereal. This is the controller that shipped with the Pippin.
How would you feel about how this controller? I mean, sure it might look cool if you’re into boomerangs. But, from what I’ve heard and what I can only imagine, this controller is incredibly uncomfortable.
It has a D-pad on the left-most part and four main buttons on the right, but here comes the weird part. If you look at the middle part of the controller, you’ll see a trackball mouse sitting right there.
Why is it there? Well, remember the part where the Pippin runs on Mac OS? That means that you would have to use a mouse to navigate most of the UI in the games and apps made for the platform, and of course, you have to use a mouse if you boot Mac OS on it.
While the trackball mouse is required for you to navigate the Pippin’s UI, it’s extremely uncomfortable to use since you have to stretch your thumb out to the center. It’s the same reason the trackpad in the PS4 controller is uncomfortable to use.
The last feature of the AppleJack controller is the shoulder buttons. Like the trackball, it’s way too close to the center to be used comfortably. Despite that, it makes sense that it’s near the trackball since the shoulder buttons work exactly like the left and right-click on a mouse.
I’m sure a lot of thought went into designing this thing, but it doesn’t really show. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense! I mean, it would make more sense to put the trackball on a center handle which would make the design more like the N64 controller. It would look weird but it’d be much more comfortable than this boomerang.
To wrap things up with the AppleJack controller, I think it’s worth mentioning that despite the AppleJack controller being one of the most uncomfortable and tedious controllers to use, it also had a wireless infrared version. I get how the buttons would work on an infrared controller, but I don’t get how they could transfer the trackball mouse’s movements without it being too janky.
Why The Pippin Failed
While the PlayStation 1 sold a total of 102 million units and the N64 sold 32 million units, the Apple Pippin only sold a total of 42,000 units. It was a clear failure, and it certainly had a place in Apple’s trashcan.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest reason why it failed was the price. It cost $599 back in 1996 while its competitors were selling for around $200-$300. So even though the Pippin had superior hardware, it was just too expensive.
It goes downhill from there. The Pippin didn’t sell to developers that could’ve made apps and games available on the platform, again, because it was too expensive.
It was also just too powerful a computer for its time. Back in 1996, there was an issue with CRT TVs and Monitors not working well with the Pippin since those monitors couldn’t display text sharp enough yet. So text on a webpage would just look like goop.
The last reason why Apple Pippin failed has to do with Steve Jobs return to Apple in 1997. He had the philosophy that his Macintosh OS should only be used on Mac computers. With that, he ended any licensing projects and Macintosh clone projects, including the Apple Pippin project. I’m not saying that Steve Jobs is the reason why the Pippin failed. There were a lot of other reasons you can clearly see. Jobs merely pulled the plug on an already failing product.