Remembering Apple's One Serious Attempt At A Video Games Console

Today is a day a lot of folks will be remembering the good, the bad and the downright inspirational from the company Steve Jobs helped found all the way back in 1976.

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.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.
You can contact Luke Plunkett, the author of this post, at [email protected]. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.


    I had never even heard of this console before.

    But doa it is clearly an iBatarang

    Overpriced - just like every other Apple product!

      +100 so true!! You can build your own monster rig thats 20 times more powerful for...dammit, can't keep a straight face.

        Wait... you are saying that one cannot build a monster PC for less than a mac?

        I built a PC 2 weeks ago that is playing BF3 on Ultra settings for $500usd.

          Haha no I'm saying exactly that, you can do that, but it doesn't mean a Mac is overpriced, it just means you value different things. You can build an 800hp Commodore for only 20 grand, but personally I'd be happy to pay 60 grand for a VW Golf. Different strokes, different folks! Either way is cool, but its silly to say that one is 'cheap' and the other is 'overpriced' because they cater to different value systems.

            No that’s a bad example… a BETTER example would be

            You can buy a run down 70′s Ferrari for 10,000 and spend a bit of money fixing it up… or buy a new dihatsu for 30,000.

            The Dihatsu’s still gonna get you from a to b, but it’s more expensive and mums like new.

              Nah I disgree - the VW has great design and great craftsmanship in its manufacture, if you're the kind of person that can't tell the different between a golf and sirion, you're probably the kind of person that doesn't care about the design of their digital devices either.

      This stomping on a face forever.

        No that's a bad example... a BETTER example would be

        You can buy a run down 70's Ferrari for 10,000 and spend a bit of money fixing it up... or buy a new dihatsu for 30,000.

        The Dihatsu's still gonna get you from a to b, but it's more expensive and mums like new.

    Wasn't the Pippin around at Apple while Steve wasn't?

      Yes, a few years before they rehired Steve who shook up the company and cancelled all the crappy product lines like this Pippin.

    I reckon console tech may be actually start appearing again in set-tops/players at some point in the future, as its a great way to get people who have no intention of gaming, to actually, you know, try it! As simple as putting a disc into your new Samsung-Bluray-recorder-streaming-surround sound device.

      It seems to me that the best route to get people to try things they don't really wanna pay out would be some sort of interactive streaming service where the rendering was done cloudside. Getting them to pay out for a console just to try it out seems like quite the investment compared to say, a free trial / subscription service where they can pay a little over time rather than a lumpsome up front.

      I wonder if they still rent consoles out at dvd stores like they used to back when I was a kid and they rented videos. :p

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