TV-PGMay 23, 2001: Apple seems surprised by the popularity of its combo drive iBooks, but adapts commendably. Meanwhile, pundits are pondering the possibility of an Apple buyout of either Palm or Handspring, and Apple finally gets the GeForce3 out the door-- while the whole "Mac first" plan went out the window...
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"Now Batting For CD-RW..." (5/23/01)

One of the problems with the way in which Apple chooses to introduce its products (i.e. developing them entirely in secret using a neverending stream of disposable laborers who are shot after they drop so as not to compromise security, then springing the results on an unsuspecting public at major press events and trade shows) is that the company can't very well just ask the public what it wants. Instead, Apple's product development teams appear to rely on instinct and inspiration rather than broad and open market research. Sometimes a product is also the result of a hole in Apple's product line so gaping that external cues are obvious-- such as, say, the new iBook materializing after three solid years of customers screaming "Subnotebooook!" until their throats bled.

Now, if Apple didn't prize secrecy so highly, maybe the company would have collected a few dozen regular people together a couple of years ago and asked them, "say, how many you would like to shell out $1799 for a computer whose primary distinguishing characteristics are a marked lack of expandibility and an enclosure that's a gorgeous eight-inch cube?" The resulting blank stares may well have changed the course of history. Likewise, that whole "DVD-ROM vs. CD-RW" thing might have been avoided, too, if Apple could have asked customers which they would have preferred instead of just having to guess. Luckily, not all of Apple's missteps are large enough to figure heavily in earnings warnings and mea culpas.

For instance, if you follow Apple's product line with the tenacity befitting the drooling Mac fan you are, then you already know that the iBook comes in four configurations, each with a different optical drive option: CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, CD-RW, and CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo. Furthermore, you've earned your bonus points by knowing that the first three systems are available via the retail channel, while the last config is an Apple Store-only special edition. Kudos for learning your lessons-- and kudos to Apple for learning a thing a two, as well: according to MacCentral, the Mac-maker is playing musical chairs with its iBook distribution scheme after having noticed something interesting about the relative popularity of its various models.

See, it seems that the combo drive iBook is selling so well online that Apple couldn't resist making the $1799 wonder available via retail, as well. (Today's lesson: if people want to give you money, it's a good idea to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.) But rather than flood the channel with four separate configs of one product and risk ensuing inventory problems, Apple has chosen to pull the CD-RW iBook (which evidently hasn't been selling quite as quickly) out of the retail line-up and stick in on the bench as an Apple Store exclusive. Of course, if Apple could have asked its customers in the first place, we probably could have told them to expect results like that; for most people it's a lot more attractive to be able to watch movies on the move than to burn CDs-- an occasional task generally suited well to a stationary external CD-RW drive sitting on the desk at home-- and plenty of people would love to do both. Still, no harm, no foul-- and without all this pesky secrecy, things wouldn't be nearly as much fun. We'll let it slide this time.

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Is It Time To Go Shopping? (5/23/01)

Long live the Apple handheld rumors! And in lieu of any of those classic "Apple is about to get bought out by [Disney/Sony/Ross Perot]" rumors that are wont to crop up from time to time, why not spend some time chewing on an "Apple is about to buy [insert name of proposed chompee here]" story instead? Especially if you can tie both rumors together into one tidy little piece of rampant guesswork; it's two great tastes that taste great together. Mmmmm, speculicious!

See, when we watched our Palm and Handspring stock spiral down the toilet last week in the wake of Palm's announcement that it's even more brain-damaged about channel inventory control than anyone ever expected (seriously, Apple would need lessons to screw up that badly), our minds wandered back to the fact that Apple (or, more accurately, Steve) tried to buy each company in the past and was rebuffed by both. But in each instance, we're pretty sure that neither company was publicly traded yet, and in light of the fact that last week both companies' stock prices were scraping rock-bottom, we found ourselves wondering whether Apple might consider making a new offer to either "beleaguered" outfit.

We wouldn't have bothered mouthing off about our own such idle speculation here if some other people hadn't started mulling over the possibilities in public first. (Well, not unless we got really bored.) Last Friday after Palm's share price meltdown, Mac OS Rumors indicated that the company might start looking for a buyer, and posted some contemplative ruminations on why Apple could throw a Palm in its shopping cart, but probably wouldn't. And then just today, a article mulls the possibility that Apple might try to buy Handspring again instead, noting the cheaper price tag: $1.3 billion versus $3.7 billion for Palm-- interestingly enough, Apple could buy either in cash. There's also the fact that with a Handspring purchase, Apple would be getting the original Palm creators, and a handheld platform that's not exactly married to the Palm OS; Mac OS X Visor, anyone?

Keep in mind, of course, that Apple buying either Palm or Handspring isn't even a rumor yet; this is all just speculation and idle thought springing from those PDA companies' beleaguerment and Apple's sizeable war chest-- not to mention its complete lack of a presence in the handheld market that it created way back in '93 with the Newton, and Uncle Steve's prior attempts to assimilate those very companies into the Apple family. Still, it's fun to dream. Plus, if it actually happens, we can say "we told you so."

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Well, So Much For Gloating (5/23/01)

Gamers take heed: according to MacNN (and an Apple Store customer's shipping confirmation), Apple is finally shipping Macs ordered with that drool-inducing, polygon-pushing nVIDIA GeForce3 that Steve first announced amid much fanfare last February in Tokyo. Sure, it's two months late, but hey, considering that it's not an Apple product, maybe we can't exactly fault Steve's minions for the delay. Or can we?

After all, the thing that was so exciting about the Tokyo GeForce3 announcement wasn't just that the long-awaited best-of-breed 3D graphics card was coming to the Mac-- it was also that said graphics card was supposed to be coming to the Mac first. PC gamers had been slavering all over themselves for this card (code-named NV20) for ages, so getting it for the Mac platform first was a real coup-- or would have been, if Apple had been able to ship them in March as originally promised. And now that the first GeForce3-equipped Mac has left Apple's docks, it's worth noting that GeForce3 cards have been available for Wintel systems for weeks now. On the plus side, though, at least Apple got to announce them first. And Mac users got to, uh, order them first. Probably.

To be fair, if the hold-up was partially due to Apple's work on OS support for the hardware, the company had a few other things to work on since the GeForce3 announcement: Mac OS X, the new iBook, the new servers, the 17-inch LCD Studio Display, those retail stores, returning to profitability, etc. Plus, to be fair, Apple did meet its revised ship date of "late May." Personally, we're just thrilled to be getting the card at all-- and the price has dropped significantly since the option first showed up at the Apple Store. So if you're the type of Quake 3 Arena player that figures $400 is a small price to pay for the most lovingly realistic and fluid gore ever to grace a Mac screen, your wait is finally over!

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