The Rumor Mill

iCube Aims for Trade Shows

- 2000.02.28

2/28/2K: Robert Leone wasn't too far off in last week's The MacRumor Millers on osOpinion. He postulated Apple would release a special cubical version of the iMac aimed at the trade show audience. Well, he was close.

Close, but no cigar. Apple knows how much companies are willing to spend on trade shows: renting space, expensive booths, giveaways, lots of hardware, booth babes, celebrities, etc. Apple is addressing that market with iCube, which will come in several versions.

The key component in the iCube isn't the computer inside the box, but the Apple Cinema Display. The iCube will ship in five different hand-built versions with one to four of these monstrous 22" flat panel displays per cube.

Using as small a border as possible around the screen, the iCube will be about 20" wide and roughly 14" high. The base iCube will have a single screen, the iCube2 will have screens on adjoining faces, the iCube3 will have screens on three adjoining faces, and the iCube4 will have screens on each side of the cube. (Each model can be upgraded in the field.)

Inside the iCube is a customized Power Mac G4 motherboard with four AGP slots, allowing the use of up to four AGP video cards supporting one Cinema Display apiece. AirPort will be standard.

The iCube is designed to sit on a square base which contains a UPS. The base will come in several sizes ranging from an 8" tall tabletop unit to a 5' floor standing base. Larger bases can support multiple iCubes.

Yes, you read it right: iCubes. Plural. The modular iCube ships with a square top that has handles for moving the device, but this can be removed so up to four iCubes can be stacked, sharing a common base, power supply, and UPS. In instances where iCubes are stacked, the bottom computer becomes a master, coordinating the work of all the cubes in the stack. In the case of multiple stacks, the master can communicate via AirPort with masters in other iCube stacks, creating some very intriguing possibilities.

But it even goes beyond that. The final version of the iCube, the one Apple thinks will be the most popular, is the iCube3+. On this model, the two panels on the side can be turned forward so they align with the central panel, creating a 60" wide triptych display. Stack four and you've got a 5' square display. Add more stacks beside these and you've got as wide a video wall as you could want.

Apple will have companies salivating to be the first with an iCube wall at their next trade show. With the regular Cinema Display adding $4,000 to the cost of a Power Mac G4 system, you can imagine how expensive the iCubes will be, bringing a steady high-profit flow to Apple, since Apple will only sell them directly to end users. Preliminary estimates are $10,000 for the basic iCube and $6,000 more for each additional display. There will be a premium for the iCube3+ box, since the hinges have to be carefully aligned.

To make sure everyone knows the iCube is an Apple product, the Apple logo will be clearly displayed on either the base or cap. As a condition of sale, the purchaser will be required to keep the 4" high backlit white logo visible to those viewing the iCube.

The possibilities are quite intriguing. A vendor could display four views of a new product on the four faces of an iCube4, creating a walk-around effect, or they could have a single 360° panoramic image wrap itself around the iCube.

Thanks to the Cinema display, AirPort, QuickDraw 3D, and many other Apple innovations, the company is uniquely suited to bring a specialty product like the iCube to market. It should be a real cash cow.

 - Anne Onymus

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