Apple’s Pre-iPod failure, the Pippin

Pippin As Sony and Sega entered the world of disc-based consoles, Apple also jumped into the race in 1996 with the Apple Pippin. The console stands as one of Apple’s biggest failures, but, at the same time its lofty goals of integrating internet access into the home is the basis for modern console gaming. What is this elusive console, why did it fail, and where can you get your hands on one?

Bringing Video Gaming and the Internet to mid-1990s Homes

Apple designed the Pippin to act like a mini-Mac that uses your television as a monitor. A plethora of add-on peripherals were added in order to make the video game console more computer like. One of the most interesting aspects of the Pippin is the 14.4k modem included – the Apple Pippin brought internet access into the home in the early days of the AOL movement.

While Pippin could connect to the internet, early, non-console GUI browsers (like Netscape) would not work out of the box on the console due to a lack of on-board storage. To use a non-included browser, consumers had to purchase the optional hard disk peripheral.

What the hell is a Pippin?

The name of Apple’s video game console is not derived from extensive market testing. The Pippin is a reference to the Newtown Pippin is a yellow apple common in the Northeastern United States.

The controller — the applejack — was quite a departure from current market trends. Lightweight and designed well, it featured a trackball in the center. One can almost see it as a design predecessor modern Xbox 360 controller. For a nice mid-1990s Apple flashback, check out the Apple-approved Pippin demonstration below.


A Bizarre Approach to Console Creation

The Pippin arrived in the early of days of brainstorming for Apple’s Think Different campaign, and the Pippin, for all its faults, certainly expressed a different methodology in creating a video game console.

Unlike Nintendo, Sega, and Sony did with their consoles, Apple never intended to distribute the Pippin. The company’s business model sought to license the hardware to video game companies (like Bandai), who would then mix and match available peripherals to create their “own” version of the Pippin.

This would provide to be a massive hurdle for Apple, as only one licensee, Japanese toy giant Bandai (riding the wave of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise in the mid-1990s) stepped forward.  Bandai licensed the Pippin for release in Japan (1995) and North America (1996).

Once hired back by Apple, Steve Jobs assessed the value of the Pippin to Apple’s product line and quickly ended production. Apple continued to support the system for several more years, with the Apple website continuing to host information regarding the console in 2012.


Unusual games

The Pippin came with a pack of six CD-Rom games, including the bizarre Garcia’s Guitars, a game based on the lead singer of Grateful Dead. In this platforming game, Jerry Garcia returns to Earth from “Rock ‘n Roll” heaven due to a lack of electric guitars. The gamer helps Jerry gather up guitars to take back with him, amidst a plethora of drug paraphernalia references.

Only 20  games were released in North America for the Pippin, hindering it’s retail success. The absurd lack of games has been blamed on the overall difficultly to program games for the Pippin as well as poor market projects.  The Pippin’s game selection is the definition of bizarre, with one game centering on learning how perform home improvements, a game starring Mr. Potato Head, and a game starring Bandai’s toy superstars, Power Rangers Zeo vs. The Machine Empire. Of all of the Pippins shipped to electronics stores in the mid-1990s, Apple/Bandai only sold 5,000 units in North America.

Gamers in Japan received many more titles (close to 100), including a Gundam and Dragon Ball game.

For retro-gamers, Pippins are still desirable, as they form a “missing link” if you will between 1990s gaming and 21st Century internet gaming, as well as a “white whale” for Apple collectors to pursue. When Pippins do appear on eBay, they routinely sell in the $400+ range.

Images from Evan-Amos/CC and the All About Apple museum/CC.

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