TV-PGJune 29, 2000: More evidence that a new iMac is just around the corner: the low-end iMac shows up as "discontinued" in CompUSA's inventory system. Meanwhile, rumors continue to spread that Apple's gearing up to launch its own Mac-only retail outlets, and those wild stories about Apple planning to ship a wireless mouse with every Mac don't seem quite so crazy in light of Logitech's product prices...
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More Evidence Mounting (6/29/00)

We think it's pretty safe to say that there is no way-- no way-- that Steve Jobs is going to leave the stage at Macworld Expo in three weeks without taking the wraps off of some shiny new hardware. If history has taught us anything, it's that domestic Expo keynotes bring us cool new gear. (There's also that thing about never fighting a land war in Asia, but that won't be strictly relevant on this show until Steve launches his full-scale world domination scheme in 2002.) Oh, sure, we hear you all rushing to prove us wrong by waving that whole January Pismo No-Show thing in our faces, but that just strengthens our resolve. Seriously, can you imagine Steve addressing two consecutive American Macworld Expos without rolling out new toys for the kiddies? He'd be ripped to shreds, RDF or no RDF.

And so, it is without the merest pretense of shock that we pass on this bit of inside info: a faithful viewer who shall remain nameless confirms the base-level iMac (as in, the Blueberry-only 350 MHz version) has officially received a "D01" product code in CompUSA's inventory system. D01 translates into humanspeak as "discontinued by manufacturer." That sounds like pretty conclusive evidence that Apple is mere weeks away from introducing a long-overdue replacement. On top of that, speculation about a new iMac has even hit the mainstream press, as this article at CNET proves: reportedly dealers all over the map are saying that Apple's flushing the channel clean of current iMacs, heralding the imminent birth of new models. But keep your pants on, Sparky-- there are a couple of interesting side notes we should mention, because things aren't always what they seem.

For one thing, apparently it's only the iMac/350 that's received the D01 toe-tag so far. The iMac DV and Special Edition are still showing up as A01-- meaning, a standard product normally carried by CompUSA. So is only the iMac/350 being speed-bumped, or is CompUSA just a little slow on the database updates? (We assume the latter, since it'd be sheer feeblemindedness on Apple's part to upgrade only the low-end iMac.) Consider, also, that none of the other current Apple products have been D01'd, so we're not getting our hopes up for new Power Macs or anything like that. And here's a little caveat on the timing issue: the last time our source noticed a Mac going D01 was when the PowerBook G3 Bronze received the designation last November-- and its replacement, the FireWire PowerBook, didn't show up until the following February. So while we'd consider the likelihood of at least one new iMac joining Steve onstage being extremely high, there are of course no guarantees in this game. (Well, we'd be willing to lay money on Phil Schiller cracking at least one lame joke that no one laughs at, but beyond that, all bets are off.)

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The Mac Retail Paradise (6/29/00)

While the "new iMacs" rumor hovers near the top of the Keynote Likelihood Scale, there are a ton of other whispers you may have heard that hit rather lower on the graph. For instance, damn near nobody is still talking about the possibility of an Apple-branded Palm-based PDA breaking onto the scene (small wonder, given Schiller's public denial of any such product), and in fact we've seriously considered flat-out stating that no such beast will ever see the light of day-- purely in hopes that Apple will then ship one just to prove us wrong. A little public humiliation is a small price to pay for Apple's re-entry into the PDA market. Of course, once we realized that no one at Apple with that kind of clout even knows we exist, we figured, hey, why disillusion the fans who still cling to a tattered shred of hope?

Anyway, if the Apple-Palm rumors have been done to death, then this other subject has been all but ground into dust-- but somehow it keeps crawling back from that great rumor mill in the sky. We're talking about the possibility of Apple opening its own retail stores. And the reason this particular scenario keeps popping up again and again like some kind of rumorological Whack-A-Mole is because, frankly, it makes perfect sense on several levels. Macs are different computers; they need to be sold differently for maximum effect. History has shown us time and time again that throwing Macs on the shelves with the Wintels in a computer superstore staffed by minimum-wage-slaves whose computer knowledge and expertise stops with all things "Quake" leads to a Mac-buying experience that's, uh, "sub-optimal." And while great strides have been made with the whole "store within a store" strategy, what Apple really needs is total control over the retail sales experience. Where the whole beautiful vision falls apart, of course, is where money enters the equation; Apple's market share just doesn't seem high enough to justify maintaining multiple Mac-only retail locations. But we can dream, can't we?

Mac OS Rumors sure can-- and this is one dream that still might possibly come true. A reader claims that a recent issue of The International Design Magazine reported that U.K. design firm Marc Newson Ltd. is "working with Apple to design [its] retail outlets." Now, we haven't a clue as to the reliability of that publication, but it lends more credence to this long-standing rumor. Apple does have a lot of cash in the bank, so we can't consider it so wacky a notion that the company might be banking on Apple Store retail locations to push its market share higher. And if it's a Gateway-Country-style peripherals-and-test-drive-only chain, as Mac OS Rumors suggests, then costs go way down, since product distribution becomes virtually nil. So just how far-fetched is it that Steve may announce brick-and-mortar Apple Stores when he takes the stage in a few weeks? Well, if we were the little gnomes in control of the Magic 8-Ball, we'd probably opt for "Reply hazy, try again," or maybe even "Very doubtful," but either of those is still a lot better than the dreaded "My reply is no."

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Wires Are So '90s (6/29/00)

Here's one more Expo quickie for the road: you've heard, of course, the rumors that Apple will finally ship a redesigned mouse and keyboard with this alleged new iMac next month, yes? Now, we had no trouble imagining that someone at Apple may finally have glanced at a market research report and noticed that the vast majority of the computer-buying public isn't crazy about small keyboards and tiny round mice, thus prompting the development of what will hopefully be more ergonomically-friendly replacements for what MacAddict once referred to as "Crampy and the Puck." The only thing that would surprise us about such a move is that it would almost be an admission of defeat, since Apple has steadfastly forced those almost-universally-reviled input devices down Mac users' throats for nearly two solid years now.

But what really set off the Skepticism Alarm for us was the description of the new mouse's features; AppleInsider makes it sound like The Mouse From Space. Allegedly it's based on the same Hewlett-Packard use-on-any-surface optical technology as Microsoft's hit Intellimouse Explorer. Okay, we can buy that. It's also claimed to have no conventional buttons; "clicks" are invoked through arcane squeezing motions or pressing down on different edges. We can sort of accept that, too, because it's just the sort of weirdness that we've come to associate with our differently-thinking pals in Cupertino. But then there's the whole rumor that this ÜberMouse is wireless. That's the part that had us doubting the whole story. A wireless mouse-- standard with new Macs? Surely that'd be too expensive to pull off.

But now we're reconsidering that opinion, ever since Logitech announced Mac support for several of their spiffy-looking input devices. In particular, we noticed that the Cordless MouseMan Wheel, which communicates via radio waves to a receiver that plugs into a USB port, lists for only $59.95. That's a lot cheaper than we would have expected for a wireless mouse-- especially since it's a mere $20 more expensive than the standard MouseMan Wheel, its cord-bearing sibling. So why couldn't Apple ship wireless input devices with every Mac? It would definitely put a lot of the "gee whiz" factor back into the iMac line. Although, if this rumor turns out to be true, we can only imagine the ingenious ways in which schools and retail stores are going to "discourage" the removal of the devices from the public systems. Here's hoping Apple includes optional security cables...

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