TV-PGMay 23, 2000: IBM's new chip technology will surface in an "Apple portable device" later this year, but don't expect anything more than a spiffy new PowerBook. Meanwhile, the "buttonless mouse" rumors continue to spread, and Kodak licenses QuickTime for its new line of digital cameras-- but where are the thrills and spills?...
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Pickle On The Side (5/23/00)

Okay, at first we thought it was just us, but now it's clear that the rest of the Apple-watching public is also still obsessed with the concept of a new handheld computer springing forth from Cupertino. Case in point: IBM announces some new chip technology, states that it'll show up in an Apple "portable device" sometime this year, and suddenly there's a flood of speculation that, despite Phil Schiller's public denial, this new "portable device" is the mythical Apple PDA. See? That interpretation never even occurred to us, which means that on the distribution graph of Handheld Wackies, we actually fall somewhat to the left of the far right of the bell curve. Who knew?

In fact, we had pretty much responded to IBM's announcement with a noncommittal grunt, since we'd heard them talking about this technology ages ago and it's only just now turned into a commercial reality. The idea is this: take a layer of silicon. Slap it onto a layer of insulation. Stick the result under a chip's transistors, and voilà-- you've got a processor using one of the least interestingly-named technologies to emerge from the semiconductor industry in months: "silicon-on-insulator." (And here we thought they were talking about the hot new sandwich at the Carnegie Deli-- "Gimme a silicon on insulator, toasted, hold the mustard.")

Faithful viewer James Lindley shuttled us over to a MacWEEK article which summarizes SOI's benefits. The insulation apparently reduces current leakage, meaning the transistors need to be fed less power to function properly. The upshot? A "25 to 35 percent performance improvement," not to mention the fact that lower power consumption means longer battery life in portables, as well as the ability to use processors in laptops that previously ran too hot to be practical.

Now, that's all great. But when IBM's spokesperson said that SOI-enhanced chips would be used in an Apple "portable device" this year, we just figured he meant "PowerBook." After all, SOI is just what the doctor ordered to let Apple cram the supercomputer G4 into a toteworthy laptop. While we certainly haven't written off the possibility of an Apple handheld device, we doubt SOI has anything to do with it; the technology is expensive, and therefore unlikely to appear in a cheap and consumer-oriented device. So unless Apple's planning a $1000 PDA (no Newton cracks!), SOI's merely the key to this fall's increasingly-likely PowerBook G4. (By the way, other than the chips used in IBM's high-end AS/400 servers, PowerPC chips for Apple are the only processors likely to benefit from SOI for a while. Take that, Chipzilla!)

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Buttons Are SO '90s (5/23/00)

Wow, the no-button mouse rumors aren't just persisting-- they're actually growing. For those of you who missed AppleInsider's original report, sources claim that Apple's finally making headway on what we imagine must be one of the most frequent customer complaints in the history of the company: "Where's the mouse? All I found in the box was this round hockey-puck thing that I can only assume must be a complimentary Apple-branded cat toy." Reportedly Apple's new mouse is minimalist in the extreme: no mouse cord (it's wireless), no mouse ball (it's optical), and, taking things to the next logical step, no buttons (you shout obscenities when you want to click).

Okay, maybe the details on the obscenity-shouting are sketchy at best (and completely made up by us at the worst), but AppleInsider has since "confirmed" that development on the new buttonless mouse is indeed underway. Apparently one squeezes it or pushes down on it to click. Mac OS Rumors has more details on this quizzical new input device, claiming that Apple has departed from the long-held standard of "simplicity" by rejecting the single-button, single-click paradigm and has instead embraced a bizarre set of rituals by which the user may invoke several functions using the buttonless mouse. Reportedly squeezing the sides of the unit does one thing, pressing down on the front of it does another, pressing the back does still another, etc. Default inputs built into this puzzle-box include standard click, control-click, scroll up, scroll down, and minimize window. We hear you can even easily invoke the "Close Window" command by shaking the mouse three times, licking its lower-left quadrant, submerging it in cold water, and then shoving it in one's right ear. What could be simpler?

For those of you concerned that Apple has learned nothing about ergonomics over style, fear not-- rumor has it that this new mouse is at least oblong in shape. And there are even whispers that Apple's USB keyboard is being revamped, too, so hopefully it'll get a size boost. Of course, if the buttonless mouse is a reality, then who's to say Apple isn't also working on a keyless keyboard? We don't want to think about what horrors that may bring...

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Forgot The Car Chase (5/23/00)

You know things are quiet in the Apple world when the news sites trip all over themselves to leap on a piece of info as emotionally inert as Kodak licensing QuickTime for use in future digital cameras. It's not exactly the kind of story that gets the heart pounding faster, nor is it the feel-good hit of the summer. It's unlikely to inspire rave reviews like "I laughed, I cried, I bought a digital camera!" In fact, it'll be lucky to draw a five share in the post-Sweeps ratings-- unless someone punches it up with a little rewrite, of course. Because let's face it, Apple's joint press release is okay for a first draft, but it needs a little zazz if it's going to hold the audience's attention.

How about something like this: "Amid falling meteors that plunged most of Rochester, NY and Cupertino, CA into fiery chaos, Kodak today proclaimed its passionate love for Apple's QuickTime, to be used in future digital cameras and alien-hybrid weapons technology." That introduces both meteors and aliens right off the bat, and gets the obligatory love story out of the way quickly so it doesn't slow down the action.

Continuing: "'The ability to use multimedia files in both Mac and Windows environments was an important consideration,' said Willy 'Crusher' Shih, senior veep of Kodak. 'QuickTime is established, broadly used, and most importantly, incredibly hot in a bikini.' Phil 'Blabbermouth' Schiller agreed: 'More than 50 million copies of the QuickTime 4 player have been distributed worldwide, taking out drug-trafficking overlords and corrupt police forces with extreme prejudice all over the globe. And by the way, there's no Apple handheld.'" Let's see, here... Bikinis, drug rings, dirty cops, and a conspiracy coverup. Yup, we think we covered all the necessary hit-making ingredients.

Of course, a summer smash is no good without a product tie-in, and that's where Kodak comes in. When its new consumer-oriented digital cameras ship later this year, they'll feature the ability to capture short video clips directly in QuickTime format, which can be exported to Mac or Windows systems for editing and playback. Between that and the collectible QuickTime wind-up action figures scheduled to appear in Happy Meals during the premiere week, we figure commercial success is a virtual certainty. Art, schmart-- we're talking mass appeal, here!

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