So today’s Total Recall will be all about Apple’s one and only crack at the video games market: the Pippin.
Sure, the iPhone and iPad have blossomed into powerful gaming platforms in recent years, and even the once-derided desktop and laptop Macs are getting more and more games, but it’d take a fanboy or a fool to suggest any of those devices were designed solely with video games in mind.
The Pippin, though, despite pretensions of being a basic home computer and/or educational platform, was a video games console through and through.
Unlike modern consoles, the Pippin was a beast of the highly competitive market of the mid-1990s, and like other machines of the time (like the 3DO), wasn’t intended as a proprietary, single console like we associate Nintendo or Sony devices as being.
It was instead meant to be something that could be licensed out to lots of different companies. Apple had designed the guts of the machine, but would leave the manufacturing to other firms. So, for example, Company A could build one version of the console, while Company B could use the same internal hardware but come up with its own competing product.
In terms of performance, the Pippin wasn’t terribly remarkable, but it did boast a few cool features, like the fact Mac computers could play Pippin discs, and that it had some crazy peripherals like a full keyboard and optional wireless controllers. You could even, in a nod to the machine’s educational and home computer aspirations, connect a printer to it.
Wanting to get in on the lucrative console business, Japanese company Bandai decided to be first to licence the tech, and in February 1995 the first Apple Bandai Pippin consoles went on sale in Japan. The machine’s US launch would take place a few months later, in September. The Japanese machines were a rather classy white, while American consoles were black.
Bandai may have been the first company to release a Pippin, but aside from a tiny production run in Ireland via a company called Katz, they were also the last. The machine was a complete failure.
It tanked for three simple reasons: it was too expensive (launching for $US600, a ridiculous price for the time), it launched into a market already dominated by Nintendo, Sony and Sega, and it had almost no games.
While with Bandai’s support around 70 titles would be released in Japan (including the inevitable parade of Gundam games) over the console’s short lifespan, in the US only 18 games ever hit shelves. And not a single one approached the “must have” status a console needs to attract new customers.
Bandai would cease support for the console in 1997 when it abandoned its deal with Apple and tried to align itself with Sega instead, a move that would ultimately end in about as success as the Pippin ever managed.
In all, the Pippin would sell less than 50,000 units in its two years on sale, which when you consider the companies involved surely makes it one of the biggest failures in video game console history.
Not that it spoiled the company on gaming. At least by its own internal reckoning, it’s doing much better on the video game front these days.