TV-PGApril 12, 2001: Happy trails, Power Mac G4/667; we hardly knew ye. Meanwhile, with just six days to go before Apple posts its Q2 results, analysts are debating whether the company will manage to pull off its previously predicted "small profit," and the source of the Visuals in iTunes is confirmed-- and the mysterious subliminal image is finally explained...
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And Then There Were Five (4/12/01)

Is it just us, or is it getting a little cramped in here? For the first time in recent memory, Apple's Power Mac line boasts a startlingly high number of standard configurations; a quick check at the Apple Store reveals no fewer than six pre-built configs. First there's the entry-level 466 MHz model-- a nice starter Mac for people who need expandibility, though not necessarily a ton of speed. Then there are two 533 MHz models, one of which boasts two processors. Stepping up still further, the 667 MHz model was for speed freaks who didn't want to shell out the ducats for the DVD-authoring capabilities that originally came with every 733 MHz ÜberMac. And speaking of that mightiest of Macs, it's still topping out the high end, but a while back Apple added a second "special offer" 733 MHz model with a CD-RW drive instead of the SuperDrive. All told, that is one crowded product line.

But word has it that it's about to get a little breathing room, and soon. MacUser is claiming that even though it's only been available for a couple of months, Apple has unceremoniously axed the 667 MHz model. The reason given is the "short supply" of 667 MHz G4 processors, as Motorola's yields on the 733 MHz chips has allegedly been better than expected. In other words, why ship a chip at 667 MHz, when it can successfully be clocked 66 MHz higher?

However, our gut feeling is that the bigger problem was a lack of demand. When it was first announced, the Power Mac G4/667 seemed like a nice way to get a fast, modern G4 for $700 less than the only 733 MHz model. After all, if you have no need to crank out your own DVDs, why pay $700 for an extra 66 MHz of speed? But once Apple introduced the SuperDriveless 733 MHz config last month, suddenly the 667 was a whole lot less appealing. If you're going to blow $2800 on a high-end Mac, you might as well make it an even three grand and get the fastest one available. So the 667, which only became widely available in late February, suddenly became way less attractive when Apple announced the CD-RW 733 only a couple of weeks later.

Makes sense, right? And don't even get us started on the whole "667" issue; Apple missed out on a golden opportunity when it refused to label the thing as a "666" model instead. All they had to do was ship it in a jet-black case, flip the Apple logo upside-down (heck, they did it on the PowerBook for two years) and maybe color it blood-red, and voilà: you're looking at the computer of choice for the vast untapped market of cybersatanists and sullen goth teens shopping for their next parent-offending shock purchase / desperate cry for help. Apple could have hired Marilyn Manson for the commercials; heck, at this point, he'd probably work for food. We bet that the Power Mac G4/666 would have been Apple's best seller for at least a week. What a senseless waste of untapped potential...

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Q2: Straddling That Zero (4/12/01)

Red (or black) alert! There's less than a week left before Apple announces its end-of-quarter earnings, and this one's a real cliffhanger. Provided that you're a reasonably sentient being, you probably recall that Apple's Q1 results were brutally unpleasant: take a few missteps like the overpriced Cube, a botched education initiative, and a lack of CD-RW drives; mix 'em together in this tattered thing we still laughingly refer to as an economy; and out comes a quarter-billion-dollar operating loss. (Garnish with now-worthless stock options and serve cold.)

But, as usual, the real drama's just beginning-- because the reason why Apple posted such a monstrous loss last quarter was to take all its lumps at once and clear the books to start over again. Everything we've heard from Apple since even before last quarter's results were posted was that the company expected to "return to sustained profitability" in Q2. The window of time in which Apple could have issued an earnings warning has long past, which means that the company apparently isn't too far off on its prediction for "a small profit." So the question of the week is this: when Money Dude Fred Anderson goes to record Apple's final Q2 results, will he reach for the red pen, or the black one?

Most analysts seem to be betting on black; the consensus estimate is that Apple will post a profit of two cents per share. But at least one pessimist has an eight-cent-per-share loss dragging down the average, and Macworld reports that a Wit Soundview analyst named Mark Specker is seeing red after having "slashed his estimates" for Apple based on what he sees as "continued weakness in consumer demand for PCs during March." (Then again, the Macworld article also repeatedly refers to Apple's third financial quarter instead of its second; take that how you will.)

What this means is that, more than in any quarter in years, the pendulum can swing either way. While Wall Street is usually more concerned with whether or not Apple beats expectations, a profit of any size would be a tremendous psychological win, especially in this nasty financial climate, so keep your fingers crossed. (By the way, those of you that are itching to register your guesses in our quarterly Beat The Analysts contest should hang in there; our ongoing connection downtime has put the event on hold, but rest assured that it'll be up and running shortly after we're back on the air in our full capacity-- assuming, of course, that we're restored to full service sometime before the results get posted.)

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Now That's An EASTER Egg (4/12/01)

Hey, man, have you ever looked at your Visuals? I mean, really looked at your Visuals? Sure, iTunes's hippy-trippy light show looks like it sprang directly from one of Uncle Steve's more intense acid flashbacks, but now the truth can be told: the Visuals component isn't Apple's creation at all. That shouldn't come as any great surprise to people who already know that iTunes gets its MP3 action from SoundJam and its CD-burning tricks from the now-defunct Radialogic's former stable of products. It will come as even less of a surprise to the scads of you who took one look at iTunes in Visuals mode and said to yourselves, "that looks just like G-Force."

Well, guess what? It is G-Force-- as many of you already determined by digging through various program files. Now we've got official confirmation from the author himself, in the form of an article about Andy O'Meara over at Wired. Most of the story is about how "profoundly depressed" O'Meara is at being stuck in the Navy when he should be touring with Seal working his visuals magic and living it up as a hot young multimedia celebrity-- but if you can ride out the bummer vibe, you'll be rewarded with this little gem: "He signed a lucrative licensing deal with Apple that convinced him he can make a living writing code."

So now you know for sure: iTunes isn't feeding you Reality Distortion Field energy, as previously suspected, unless Apple managed to retrofit G-Force with an RDF generator module. However, what you are being fed is a subliminal Christian vibe; Andy just happens to be a born-again Christian. "Although he experimented with drugs in college, O'Meara said God had more influence on G-Force's hallucinogenic graphics than mind-bending substances did. 'I was at the height of my Christian zeal and it just popped into my head,' he said. 'It was definitely divine inspiration.'"

Finally, an explanation for the crucifix that faithful viewer Sergio Aguilera spotted in his Visuals a couple of weeks ago! At first we thought Serge was just pulling our collective leg, but now it all makes sense. If, after an extended Visuals session, you've ever felt a nagging urge to go to church and tithe, now you know why.

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