TV-PGSeptember 19, 2000: Repeated shipping confirmations make the public beta orders even more surreal, but at least Apple's racking up a ton of them. Meanwhile, Apple licenses Amazon's 1-Click technology to make the Apple Store a truly dangerous prospect, and CNET can't seem to keep its operating systems straight...
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"The Order" By Franz Kafka (9/19/00)
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Okay, this is just getting too bizarre for words. Last Wednesday morning, we awoke from unsettling dreams to trudge downstairs and order the Mac OS X public beta from the Apple Store. While we can't include the $29.95 price tag for beta software too out of the ordinary (somehow that just utterly failed to surprise us), little did we suspect that everything after clicking the "Add To Order" button would be weird enough to make Franz Kafka hang up his pen, because truth is indeed more surreal than fiction.

It's not that anything's been particularly inexplicable about our beta-buying process, but lots of little strangenesses are really starting to stack up. First there was the odd claim that our Mac OS X beta CD-ROM was "being assembled" for two days; either they're talking about nanotechnological molecular construction, or every order for the beta CD includes a fabulous hand-tooled leather wallet. Then there was the report that Apple had, in its infinite product forecasting wisdom, decided that a thousand copies of the beta ought to be plenty to go around. According to MacCentral, the Apple Store has now booked over 80,000 orders for the software, and expects to crack the six-figure unit sales barrier within the "next few days." There's nothing quite like underforecasting by two orders of magnitude.

Next, there's the whole shipping saga. When we received email confirmation that our order had shipped on Friday night via Federal Express, it included a tracking number for UPS instead. The online Apple Store reported the same incorrect information. Okay, so Apple's shipping system had a glitch... fine. If our order shipped Friday via FedEx (and we had been assured that it had), we figured we'd receive it on Monday. We didn't. What we did receive was a snail-mailed order confirmation telling us that we had paid ten bucks for FedEx three-day delivery. Oops. Never order online first thing in the morning, folks-- it makes you susceptible to glossing over important little details like that.

So, given this latest development, now we're expecting our copy of the beta to show up tomorrow. In the meantime, the Apple Store still reports that our order shipped via FedEx with a UPS tracking number, but at least the Powers That Be have removed the link to FedEx's tracking page. And for some reason, we've now received three copies of the same enthusiastic email message from Apple stating that our order has shipped, but that "due to an error we encountered with our shipment tracking system, your tracking information may not be correct." Tell us something we don't already know, bubby. And tell us three times, just to be sure.


 
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Click Your Savings Goodbye (9/19/00)
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Meanwhile, surprised and stung by the boos generated by his keynote mention of the Apple Store, Uncle Steve scrambles to make Apple's online sales experience that much more lickable for the recklessly e-buying public. The result? According to faithful viewer Ryan Kuczynski, 1-Click has arrived-- thus bringing the bane of weak-willed impulse shoppers everywhere to Apple's e-commerce initiative. An Apple press release has more on this dangerous little development.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Amazon.com's patented (ahem) 1-Click technology, it's an insidious menace that essentially brings the impulse-shopping dynamic to online sales by securely storing your credit card and delivery information on the server end. That way you don't have to fill out a lengthy form to buy stuff-- one click, and your order is on its way. But this isn't like regular impulse-buying; whereas tossing a pack of Juicy Fruit and a copy of the Weekly World News on the belt at checkout in the supermarket will cost you only a couple of bucks, 1-Click ordering at Amazon has siphoned cash from the AtAT staff's bank accounts at an alarming rate. "Oh, the entire first season of The X-Files is out on DVD?" (Click.) Bye-bye $120. It's just that easy! Doesn't technology rule?

So now 1-Click has been licensed by Apple and is available right away for use at the Apple Store-- and we haven't heard of anything so dangerous since a disgruntled coworker casually asked us if there was a gun shop nearby. Set up 1-Click on Apple's servers, and you will vastly increase your susceptibility to RDF-influenced purchasing. Just watch; when the next Stevenote rolls around, frenzied fans will be 1-Clicking PowerBook G4s like it's a cure for cancer. Wall Street knows exactly what 1-Click might mean for Apple's online sales; AAPL shot up 10% yesterday. But sure, it's a revenue booster for Apple in the short term, but is it really a good long-term business strategy to bankrupt one's user base?

Apple's pushing the technology by offering iMovie 2 as a $49 1-Click download, so if you're so inclined, go for it. But we've learned our lesson from Amazon, thank you very much-- we'll leave 1-Click turned off at the Apple Store, lest we wind up ordering an iMac in each color and a six-pack of Cinema Displays in a late-night attack of rampant consumerism. "You can always cancel it later" our Aunt Fanny. What we need is technology that makes it harder to buy things online. Hasn't anyone patented 127-Click ordering yet?


 
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A Mac In Me's Clothing (9/19/00)
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WinMeXThank heaven that faithful viewer Milo Auckerman has a boring job, or he may never have discovered the strange doings over at CNET's Help.com. He was cruising through the operating systems section when he noticed something a tad... askew. In the upper right corner of the page, there's a link to a review of the Mac OS X public beta-- but it shows the Windows Me logo instead. (The link was still there at broadcast time, but we've included a screenshot here just in case it vanishes.)

Now, as we see it, there are two possible explanations for this odd mismatch. The first is that CNET wouldn't know its hinder from its elbow, let alone be able to distinguish between two operating systems from competing companies. But given that one of them is a beta of an industrial-strength operating system from Apple, only available online and (for a few days last week) in Paris, while the other is a actual consumer release of Windows from Microsoft available in stores all over the globe, that's an uncharitable stretch of the imagination. Could CNET truly be so slow-witted as to think these two products are one and the same, just because each was released within a day of the other? Perish forbid.

No, given that nobody could be that dim, we figure the second explanation is correct: namely, that Apple is doing everything it can to fulfill its massive and overwhelming backlog of beta orders in a reasonable time frame, and rather than wait another two days while more Mac OS X boxes get printed, the company has resorted to shipping copies of the beta in unused Windows Me boxes instead. Yes, kiddies, when your beta order finally shows up on your doorstep, don't have a coronary when you find a Window Me box inside; packaging is only skin-deep. And thanks to the insightful and timely reporting by CNET, now we're all prepared for the shock.

(There's also the remote possibility that it was neither stupidity nor insightful reporting, but merely a casual mistake-- but where's the fun in that?)


 
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