TV-PGOctober 26, 2004: The U2 iPod is black (mostly)-- but was Steve's turtleneck? Meanwhile, the EU iTunes Music Store is live, but not all EU countries can shop there, and Apple announces the wonder of iPod Socks (and also something called iPod Photo)...
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Warning: Colors May Vary (10/26/04)

Okay, we understand how stressful this situation is, but if you can just keep it together for a minute, here, we can make it all better. Yes, we're well aware that certain photos from the big Apple-U2 music event show Steve Jobs wearing a brownish-red mock turtleneck instead of his trademark black one. And while we can't deny that this fashion plot twist is upsetting in the extreme, our in-house panel of spiritual scholars, seers, and doomsday prophets insists that this is not a classically-recognized sign of the apocalypse and you should come in off of the ledge. In other words, YOU MUST CHILL! YOU MUST CHILL! WE HAVE HIDDEN YOUR KEYS!

Indeed, if you just take a look at the evidence, you'll find that the Browngate Scandal never really happened at all. Faithful viewer Krishen Greenwell informed us that Apple has posted a QuickTime stream of the event, and watching it confirms that Jobs had actually worn black after all, and there's a serious color shift in those photos that extends to the black-clad Bono and The Edge as well. (So no, the three of them didn't all color-coordinate their outfits to the same lovely autumn hues of Chocolate and Rust. Sorry to disappoint.)

We've conducted an exhaustive study of the available footage to confirm that it was the photos and not the video that had the color shift, just to rule out any chance that Apple was attempting to cover up a major fashion scandal with a revisionist webcast. Incidentally, we apologize for the lateness of this episode's broadcast, especially with you getting all chilly out there on that ledge with visions of blasphemous turtlenecks dancing in your heads, but in addition to scrutinizing every frame of the music event's 49 minutes and 16 seconds Zapruder-style for signs of a far-reaching turtleneck cover-up conspiracy, we were also geographically obligated to get drunk after the Red Sox victory, which is really time-consuming when one doesn't actually consume any alcoholic beverages.

Anyway, after examining the footage, our in-house panel of photographic experts and color theorists-- yes, we have a lot of in-house panels-- also confirms that the new iPod U2 Special Edition is indeed black with a red Click Wheel... for better or for worse. Reaction to the color scheme of Apple's latest celebrity-related iPod model (no, it's not the first-- remember the Madonna, Tony Hawk, Beck, and No Doubt iPods?) is a bit mixed, and we have to admit, at least based on the photos so far, we're pretty lukewarm on the whole black-with-red-Click-Wheel thing. Most people giving it the thumbs-down seem to think that an all-black iPod would have worked better, and based on ColorWare's offerings, we tend to agree. Normally we like black and red, but somehow it just seems to hang wrong on the iPod. Which is weird, because it worked so well for the talking car on Knight Rider.

Nevertheless, the rumors were generally right about the existence of a black U2 iPod, although the early reports didn't mention the red Click Wheel or the band's signatures laser-engraved on the back. And our viewers' logic in figuring that no U2 music would actually be preloaded on the device (you couldn't get it back off again without third party software) turned out to be true; instead, the device comes with a $50 coupon to use toward the iTunes Music Store purchase of the 400+ tracks in the Complete U2 virtual boxed set, due for release next month. But hey, you also get a bonus poster and a smug sense of self-satisfaction! Surely all that's worth the extra $50 price premium?

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(Not So) Pan-European (10/26/04)

Speaking of U2, as specified in the press invite, half of the band (the half with funny names) appeared onstage with His Steveness to talk up both the iPod Special Edition and Apple in general, and truth be told, both Bono and The Edge were appreciably eloquent in their praise for iPods, iTunes, and their related technologies. There's nothing like an Irish brogue to lend a touch o' class to a marketing event, is there? Well, except maybe a big, heaping scoop of irony dumped right over the top. Mmmmmm, drippy!

See, it was at the very same event that, as expected, Apple announced a further expansion of Euro iTMS-- to nine more European Union countries: "Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain." After you toss in the original UK, France, and Germany stores, the fact that Apple's calling it the EU iTunes Music Store doesn't seem so wacky... unless you happen to live in an EU country that still isn't supported. Yes, there are still several, including all ten of the "second tier" members like Estonia and Poland. (What, no iTMS Malta?) Apple's got the original EU15 nations pretty well covered, but a few have still been left out in the cold, namely Denmark (undskyld), Sweden (ursäkta), and-- ready for the irony?-- Ireland.

Get it? World's most famous Irish rock band going all gooey onstage about the wonders of digital music distribution and Apple's role therein? Band's own country one of the very few original EU member nations that still can't use the EU iTMS to buy U2 songs? Any of this tickling your irony bone?

Well, we thought it was noteworthy, anyway. Maybe if Apple had invited Abba and... uh... some Danish supergroup onstage as well. (The Raveonettes, perhaps?) So anyway, when can Irishmen, Swedes, and Danes expect to chuck their Euros down the pipe in exchange for iTMSy goodness? Unfortunately, Apple isn't saying, but we're betting it'll be over a month. See, the Canada store wasn't launched at the event, either, but Canadians are still dancing their culture's traditional Merry Jig of Giddy Anticipation (we're told it's sorta like the Bunny Hop, only in the snow and drunk on Molson) because Apple has committed to launching the iTMS in the Great White North sometime next month. And since there was no mention of iTMS Sweden, iTMS Denmark, or even the iTMS of U2's countrymen, we figure those are at least over a month away.

By the way, reports that the iTMS would also make it as far as Japan and Australia at this event were obviously overoptimistic as well, and as far as official Apple word goes, those countries are barely on the radar. But if anything, Japanese and Australians have less of a legitimate gripe than the Irishmen, Danes, and Swedes, since Apple's promise of an October "pan-EU" store obviously still hasn't come to pass. Heck, the UK doesn't even use the Euro, and it's had an iTMS of its own for ages, now.

Not that any of this is Apple's fault, of course-- obviously the more coverage the iTMS has, the better, and Apple's growth is being stalled by licensing hassles from the record companies. Still, Apple said pan-EU in October, and the company will probably bear the brunt of the disgruntlement for not having delivered. Do we sense imminent public rioting in the offing?

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Oh, Stuff An iPod In It (10/26/04)

Okay, so we've covered the U2 iPod and the iTunes Music Store expansion, and that just leaves the biggest and best Apple music event announcement for last. We speak, of course, of the single most significant quantum advancement in iPod technology since the first 5 GB model touched down three years ago: iPod Socks.

What, no press release? That strikes us as strange, because what could possibly trump the heady gravity of a $29 six-pack of brightly-colored socks for your iPod? We've never been all that thrilled with existing iPod cases, because they're generally at odds with the players' simplicity or they somehow interfere with the functional design. What could be better than a simple little sock to protect the iPod from scratches while it's riding in a pocket and then slips off easily so you can caress your 'Pod the way it was meant to be fondled? Plus, frankly, our own iPods have been sweating pretty freely and stinking up their iPod Shoes something fierce, so iPod Socks are just what the doctor ordered. (That and a liberal dusting of Desenex.)

Apple, on the other hand, seems to think that the iPod Photo makes for a bigger announcement. And granted, it's pretty cool and all; take a 4G iPod, wedge in a bigger battery and a color higher-res screen, add video-out capabilities to its headphone jack, let it sync with an iPhoto library (or Adobe products or My Pictures under Windows), and hey presto: it's an iPod that also just happens to contain every photo you've ever taken in case you're seized by the compulsion to show random passersby 25,000 photos of your kid dumping oatmeal on his own head. (Plus, you know, color Solitaire.) The 40 GB model is $499, which means you pay a hundred extra clams for the color screen, the additional battery life, the photo capabilities, and the $39-when-sold-separately iPod case that can't hold a candle to the sheer brilliance of a six-pack of tube socks. If you're simply rolling in dough, you can even drop $599 and get a 60 GB model.

Drawbacks? Well, other than price, the main ones that spring to mind are size and weight; because of the color screen and the extra battery oomph needed to drive it, the iPod Photo is a fifth of an ounce heavier than a plain vanilla 40 GB iPod, and a millimeter and a half thicker. (We can hear the pockets splitting already.) There also doesn't appear to be a way to get photos from your digital camera directly into the iPod without using a Mac as an intermediate stopover point, which makes its use in the field far less useful than it could be; yes, you can still use the Belkin Media Reader, but that's an added expense, a relative pain to use, and a method that, more likely than not, stores the photos as generic data on the iPod's drive instead of as showable images that can be viewed in slide shows (but we're just guessing). We also imagine that some people are miffed that there isn't a 60 GB non-Photo iPod available, but there can't be too many folks out there with 60 GB of music that won't fall in love with a color screen. Sure, it may not be worth the $100 premium, but we'll say it again: color Solitaire.

Nice as it is, though, the iPod Photo is still just an evolutionary advance from the existing 4G design; the iPod Socks, on the other hand, are a technological breakthrough of the kind we don't often get to witness. Still not convinced that the socks are the more significant announcement? Then consider this: From a pure drama perspective, the iPod Photo is exactly what the rumor mill had predicted weeks ago; no surprises there (well, except for the price). In contrast, how many of you saw iPod Socks coming? Huh? Huh? Thought so. Punk.

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