Some may have noticed that there has been an absence of these Retrospective articles for a while and I apologise to anyone who was been looking forward to them. Recently I have moved house and had to jump through hoops to get a half decent Internet connection, which made researching these articles a little difficult. Now I’m back on track and eager to take people down memory lane and or learn a little about the vast history in videogames.
This time round I decided to do the Retrospective article on the Apple Pippin. The reason being that not too long ago, a discussion on MyPS3.com.au about any manufactures possibly making videogame consoles to compete against Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony was started. Within this discussion someone made mention of Apple and that got me thinking about the last attempt Apple made at the videogame market. Now arguably the Apple Pippin was more of a multimedia system than a videogame console, however games were developed for the system, and it did come with a controller designed for gaming. During the mid 90s the videogames industry was very interesting with a good number of systems released and in development and back then I was one of those people that simply took an interest in things just because it was something new. So, naturally, this was one of the items that made it onto my wish list. Sadly, for someone with eyes bigger than their wallet the Apple Pippin was clearly out of reach due to its hefty price tag. The majority of this information in this article is all new for me so looking this one up was quite interesting. Ok then, enough about me, lets take a look back at the Apple Pippin, a console I’m sure many may not have heard of before.
Long before Apple was renowned for their stylish computers and hugely successful iPods, they took a lunge at the gaming market by releasing the Apple Pippin in the mid nineties. Not wanting to tackle this endeavour on its own Apple teamed up with Japanese toy manufacture Bandai who at the time were keen on entering the videogame market them selves. Katz Media also joined the team to produce the Pippin platform with Katz and Bandai investing their own money into manufacturing the Pippin in a similar fashion as to how the 3DO was produced. The Pippin was released in what is known as the “fifth generation” of consoles which consisted of the Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn and the soon to be released Nintendo 64, the Atari Jaguar and the 3DO also took a small share of the market which left the current market place looking like a shark infested pool, and the Pippin being a little fish shivering in the centre. During this era multimedia was all the rage with most gaming consoles offering some form of alternate feature in their consoles weather it was built in or as an add-on and given that the Pippin was marketed as a multimedia device this made things even tougher for the new console trying to get noticed. One would assume that when entering an already divided and competitive market, pricing would be an area that you would want to have the advantage in, however, the Pippin hit the US markets in 1996 with a whopping price of $599USD.
Now a high price tag would be justifiable if the technology on offer was ahead of its competitors but the Pippin have the gaming grunt when compared to what Sega, Sony and Nintendo were offering. Prior to the Pippins release Apple was not well noted for its videogame expertise, and their lack of experience showed with the Pippin’s sales performance, a total of only 42,000 units were sold before it was discontinued in 1997. The embarrassing sales figures earned the Pippin the number one spot on GamePro’s top 10 worst selling consoles of all time.
The Apple Pippin is a slimmed down version of the Macintosh with the main processor being 66MHz Power PC 603 processor. Apple’s goal with this system was to produce a cheaper alternative to a home computer that featured multimedia functions, online networking and could be plugged straight into standard television sets. The unit was first shipped with a 14.4kbit/s modem but 28.8 and 33.6kbit/s modems were available and easily interchangeable due to being an external accessory. The Pippin used CD-ROM discs as its chosen format, which was accessed by a front-loading 4x CD-ROM drive, which was double the speed of the Saturn and the Playstation. Above the CD drive bay a row of easily accessible multimedia buttons were present and below it was two game controller ports and a headphone jack. At the opposite end of the console there’s a panel of plugs used for accessories and AV connectivity. The Pippin offered plugs for standard television sets as well as the option to hook the system up to a computer monitor using the VGA plug. A maximum resolution out of 640x480 could be achieved when using an S-video or VGA cable. The option to attach a floppy disc drive attachment was available and integrated nicely by attaching its self to the base of the unit. Another interesting accessory was the Atmark Keyboard and Graphics Tablet with stylus that some what resembled a mini laptop, funnily enough there was more of these keyboard peripherals produced than actual Pippin units. RAM upgrade modules were also available in various sizes (some software required more RAM to function), a printer and adapters that allowed the Pippin to use Macintosh devices and Macintosh’s to use Pippin devices.
Left: Pippin with floppy disk drive attachment. Right: Keyboard/Graphics Tablet
Left: Rear of Bandai Pippin unit. Right: Rear of Katzs Media KMP 2000 development model
When the Pippin was first released in Japan in 1995 it was wearing a white outer casing and was produced by Bandai. In 1996 when the Pippin made its US debut it the same unit was used but in a black coloured casing and came bundled with the Keyboard and Graphics Tablet with stylus. The KMP 2000 model produced by Katz Media was also black and an unknown number of these units were released to the European market making it one of the hardest Pippin models to come by. Some development kits are still in circulation but are very rare to come by, these units can be identified by the SCSI ribbon protruding though the back or a 50 pin SCSI connector for external devices used for developing new software
The boomerang shaped Pippin controller was used to both play games and navigate though the systems operating system and features. A centre mounted trackball and two front mounted orange select buttons were designed to replicate the features of a computer mouse. Apart from that the Pippin controller basically resembles the majority of controllers for its era, a D-pad on the left and four action buttons laid out in the classic Super Nintendo
diamond design, even the button colours are a match for the PAL SNES controller. What sets it apart from the others is the extra three action buttons located at the bottom of the controller. The packaged controllers were all wired units but wireless versions were available as an extra.
An instructional video on getting started with the Pippin
The Pippin used a stripped down version of Apples System 7.5.2 operating system with each software release having a hidden Pippin Authentication File. Without this file present the Pippin would simply spit out the disc, which prevented the use of any Macintosh designed programs or games. As you would expect the homebrew community found ways to bypass this and even install later versions of the Mac OS. Software support was another one of the Pippins downfalls as the US released Pippin had only eighteen available titles. However things were a little more promising in Japan where over eighty games made their way to store shelves. For US Pippin consumers that desired more variety in titles they were forced to source the Japanese market where only the language barrier and dial-up compatible software limited the selection. Even though the Pippin had online capabilities, software updates were released on CD-ROM rather than downloadable patches like we have today, which made sense considering the speed limitations of the average Internet connection at the time. For any collectors out there that are keen on building a Pippin game library be wary that these titles are getting harder and harder come by and the asking prices start to enter the ridiculous zone for the good titles.
Overall the Apple Pippin was a failure and was quickly forgotten as both a multimedia system and a games console, horrendous sales figures, weak software support and a huge price tag gave pcworld enough cons to add the Pippin to its 25 Worst Tech Products of all Time list. Times have changed though as Apple today have a very strong grip on the electronics market and have even done well with gaming aspect of the iPhone, which is something that other phone manufactures have struggled with in the past.
- 66 MHz PowerPC 603 RISC microprocessor
- Superscalar, three instructions per clock cycle
- 8KB data and 8KB instruction caches
- IEEE standard single and double precision Floating Point Unit (FPU)
- 5MB combined system and video memory, advanced architecture
- Easy memory expansion cards in 2, 4, 8, and 16MB increments.
- 128K SRAM (Flash memory) accessible storage space.
- 4x CD-ROM drive
- Two high-speed serial ports, one of which is GeoPort ready, the other is Local Talk
- PCI-compatible expansion slot
- Two ruggedized ADB inputs
- Supports up to four simultaneous players over Apple Desktop Bus (ADB)
- Supports standard ADB keyboards and mice with connector adapters
- 8-bit and 16-bit video support
- Dual frame buffers for superior frame-to-frame animation
- Support for NTSC and PAL composite, S-Video and VGA (640x480) monitors
- Horizontal and vertical video convolution
- Stereo 16-bit 44 kHz sampled output
- Stereo 16-bit 44 kHz sampled input
- Headphone output jack with individual volume control
- Audio CD player compatibility
Previous Retrospective articles
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Written by: Matthew Armitage