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A Brief History of the Apple Pippin

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On August 2, 2018, Apple made history when it became the first publicly traded U.S. company to be valued at over $1 trillion. Their line of successful products such as iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iMacs have been immensely successful among consumers. Something that a lot of people don’t know is that Apple was once a participant in the gaming industry. They wanted to reestablish their reputation as an innovator after years of poor sales.

Initially titled “Sweat Pea”, the console was supposed to be handheld with a built-in LCD. Unfortunately, the concept didn’t come to fruition as the technology wasn’t available. Apple shelved the idea until the following year when Bandai approached them to collaborate on the idea. Technology had improved, so the console would be a lot less costly to manufacture. Apple incorporated their MAC O.S into the device so that it could perform as a computer and a gaming console, thus appealing to a wider audience. It was designed at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, and titled “Pippin”. Pippin was unveiled on December 13, 1994 at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. There were three features of Apple Pippin that appealed to users:

  1. It offered low-cost access to the internet.
  2. It brought the internet to the television.
  3. It added convenience for consumers who wanted video games, word processing, and internet access in one device.

Impressions of the console were initially positive, with columnist Satjiv Chahil saying “when you introduce a product like this, it is totally intimidating. You attach it to your TV the same way you attach a VCR, and all of a sudden, you’re in the world of multimedia and the computer.” Apple didn’t have the resources to mass-produce hardware, so they used a business model where they licensed the technology to Bandai who would sell the console. The hardware was manufactured by Mitsubishi. Bandai projected that they’d see 14 million users within the first year of the console’s release. It was an ambitious goal that proved to be na├»ve, as their proved to be obstacles along the way.

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Apple aimed for the console to be released in September 1995 before the holidays, which would increase sales. That didn’t happen due to various delays. Another issue was that there weren’t any licensees besides Bandai, which led to software developers refusing to support the software. There weren’t a lot of video games released for the console as a result. The various delays led to a release date of March 1996 when the technology was outdated. Other companies were now offering affordable internet access, with Sega offering that service for their “Saturn” console. Furthermore, the price of $599 was too expensive for consumers. Apple was criticized for abandoning the console upon its release, leaving Bandai to try and sell it. After its release, critics panned the device. One critic, Mike Langberg, called it a “shockingly bad piece of engineering and interface design from a company that credits itself with leadership on both counts.” The biggest failure of marketing the console -despite Bandai’s pledge to spend over $100 million to promote it- is that it wasn’t sold by retailers. Instead, it was sold online at MAC Zone and MCA Warehouse during a decade when a lot of people didn’t have the ability to purchase products online. Bandai failed to meet its promise of releasing 100 video games for the console, instead releasing 20. Racing Days, Exotic Sushi, and Gus Goes to Cyberopolis were some of their original titles, while Power Rangers Zeo Versus The Machine Empire and Mr. Potato Head Saves Veggie Valley appealed to children.

Bandai abandoned Pippin after negotiating a merger with Sega, while Apple stopped licensing the software at the urging of Steve Jobs who had recently rejoined the company. A dismal failure, Pippin was discontinued in 1997 after having sold a mere 42,000 units. It’s an obscure console that could’ve been more successful had it been released earlier. It is popular among some gamers, as a lot of its video games haven’t been emulated or re-released. A lesson regarding Pippin’s failure is that if you don’t have enough software (video games), the hardware (console) will fail.

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