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Some things we may not see again from Apple

Sang Tang
March 1, 2010

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Conan O'Brien once had a recurring segment on Late Night called "Guests We Won't Have Back," during which he would look back at guests (who were fake) that he regretted having on the show. There was bug expert Sara Wiggins, who ate a live beetle in front of the camera. And there was wine expert Charles Nance who, during his on-air wine tasting session, drank himself into a drunken stupor.

Despite its fairly strong record over the last decade, Apple has not been without its lapses and major changes. And, in the spirit of Conan O'Brien's "Guests We'll Never Have Back," let's take a look at "Some Things We'll Never Have Back" on the Apple front.

G4 Cube

When it was introduced at Macworld 2000 in New York, the G4 Cube was unique. Its small form factor and elegant industrial design made it a wunderkind of sorts in the personal computer market at the time. But this wunderkind never lived up to its expectations. Despite its many virtues, it also had many vices. While targeted at a more pro-oriented user, it lacked some standard features in its comparably-priced siblings: it lacked PCI slots and a full-length AGP slot, had fewer memory slots, and didn't have built-in audio in/out.

The G4 Cube is a product we'll never have back.

iPod HiFi

The marketing copy for the iPod HiFi was that it was the "Home stereo. Reinvented." It was an effort by Apple to cash in on the iPod speaker dock accessory market and align with changing listening habits. Consumers had eschewed traditional HiFi components -- such as receivers, subwoofers, and large speakers -- in favor of iPod speaker docks.

During his introduction of the product, Steve Jobs, who counted himself as an audiophile that had forked out his fair share of beans on audio products, raved about the iPod HiFi's audio fidelity. Not taking El Jobso's words as the be-all and end-all of audio fidelity, reviewers subjected the iPod HiFi mixed reviews. Part of this was due to the level of scrutiny they applied to it. When compared to other iPod speaker docks, the unit received its fair share of favorable reviews for sound quality. Nonetheless, they noted that it lacked the quality to replace a traditional high-end stereo system.

Motorola ROKR
It wouldn't be too far-fetched for one to hint at the possibility of friction between Apple and AT&T. With the iPhone, Apple, notorious for its incredibly detailed control of the user experience, has left a large portion of defining that user experience to a third party. Just imagine what it must have been like for Apple to relent to both Motorola and Cingular (now AT&T Wireless Mobility).

This was what happened with the Motorola ROKR.

While the ROKR could sync with iTunes, one of its shortcomings was that it had a 100 song limit. According to then-Motorola CEO Ed Zander, this was done on purpose to prevent cannibalization of the iPod nano, which was unveiled at the same time. The fact that the ROKR lacked the traditional fit, finish and ease-of-use of an Apple product didn't help things much either.

The Fatboy iPod nano
Just prior to the third generation iPod nano's release during Fall 2007, purported images of it circulated around the web. At first, many wondered (actually, hoped is the better word) whether these images were real, as they represented a departure from the narrow form factor of its predecessors. It wasn't until Apple legal had the images pulled, which was shortly followed by Steve Jobs's unveiling of the third generation iPod nano, that confirmed that the iPod nano had, in fact, gone fatboy.

The fatboy's added girth provided support for video playback, a first for the nano at the time.

Even if going fatboy was change just for the sake of change, that change was short-lived. The iPod nano would return to its traditional slim form factor for the fourth and fifth generation.

Internet Explorer

Macworld 1997 marked a pinnacle for Apple. In addition to Steve Jobs's return, the company also forged an alliance with Microsoft. A major component of this alliance was that Internet Explorer would be the default browser on the Mac. But, because Apple "believes in choice," other browsers would be available for users to choose.

Fast forward six years later to 2003. After learning that Apple would be building its own browser for the Mac, Microsoft higher-ups shortly after decided to cease development and support for Internet Explorer on the Mac.


Once upon a time, "free" was a bit more common around Apple. For instance, for a while, iMovie was available as a free download -- which would later change, when it required a new Mac purchase or when it was bundled with iLife.

Then there was iTools, the granddaddy of .Mac, which makes it the great granddaddy of MobileMe. iTools was free to Mac users, and provided free web publishing, storage through iDisk, and free email address and publishing of e-cards though iCards. As costs rose, Apple began charging for the service and renamed the now fee-based service to .Mac, which we currently know as MobileMe.


In a short press release in December 2008, Apple announced that Macworld 2009 would, in fact, mark Apple's last official year of exhibiting at Macworld. The company cited new and alternative means to reach consumers as its reasoning for bailing out of the trade show -- as well as its declining footprint in other trade shows.

The "CES for Apple products" was the scene of many Apple milestones, such as the unveiling of the iPhone.

If there was one thing that Macworld provided, it was a date to look forward to. Something would always be unveiled. And that was also another part of Apple's reasoning for pulling out, as it gave the company a fixed, and sometimes unnatural, product release schedule.


In a February 2007 letter entitled "Thoughts on Music," Steve Jobs laid out his arguments for abolishing DRM. Almost two years later, at Macworld 2009, Apple announced that it had reached an agreement with the major record labels to remove DRM from iTunes music sales.

This meant sayonara to authorizing tracks on different computers, and changing or rearranging songs playlists after burning. It's still a DRM world, however, when it comes to movies and TV shows, and (we're told) the forthcoming iBooks app for the iPad.


In a classic case of "the enemy of your enemy is your friend," Apple, together with once-nemesis IBM (and with some of help from Motorola), collaborated on the PowerPC-based chips that would live in Apple computers.

This collaboration lasted until 2005 (Apple would continue to make PowerPC-based computers for a short time after), when Apple made the transition to Intel processors. Apple cited disappointment with the progress on notebook-based G5 chips and the future roadmap of the PowerPC architecture when compared to Intel.


It seems like it was just five years ago that U2's Bono and Edge joined Steve Jobs on stage to unveil the U2 iPod. Oh wait -- it was five years ago. Nowadays, Apple is no longer making U2 iPods, and U2 is 360'ing their way across the world with BlackBerry as the title sponsor of their tour. Apple, being Apple, has moved on from the relationship as well. However, it still needs to pick up its lava lamp and CDs, which are still at U2's apartment.

The Color White

Sometimes, white is the new black, and sometimes black is the new black. For Apple, aluminum is currently the new black. For the better part of the decade, the color white dominated Apple's design language -- from the iBook, the iMac G4 and G5 and some of Intel iMacs, and, of course, the original iPod and its then-unique white earbuds.

However, the introduction of the iPhone marked a shift toward aluminum. While aluminum has always had a presence (notably in the PowerBook/MacBook Pro and PowerMac G5/Mac Pro), this presence has increased even more in recent years. Among the notable white-to-aluminum converts are the iPod classic, iPod nano and the iMac.

White may not exactly fit into the "we'll never back" category, but it's definitely taken a back seat to aluminum.

While we're on the topic of colors, I would be remiss if I didn't mention another couple of items that we probably won't ever see return: the rainbow or original Apple logo used for branding purposes.

Readers, tell us what you'd like for Apple to bring back.

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