TV-PGOctober 19, 2000: Someone cue the violins-- for the first time in years, Apple fails to beat Wall Street's expectations and a strangely wooden Steve Jobs struggles to prevent further stock price carnage. Meanwhile, the rumor-hating Uncle Steve finds himself compelled to drop a few hints about his company's upcoming product lines, and so far the numbers on Mac OS X's beta period look "very, very good"...
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Missing In Action: One RDF (10/19/00)

Oh, my my my... So we fired up our QuickTime Players and tuned into yesterday's live earnings report hoping for some good news, but that hope quickly self-destructed about thirty seconds into the proceedings when Nancy Paxton, Apple's Director of Investor Relations and Corporate Finance, introduced money dude Fred Anderson-- and Uncle Steve himself. Wuh-oh. Since when does Steve sit in on the earnings call? Obviously Apple was hoping to soften a nasty blow with the liberal application of Reality Distortion Field energy.

Indeed, the news was generally not the kind that makes people dance naked in the sunshine. While Apple posted a $170 million profit for the quarter, $62 million of that was from the sale of ARM stock, leaving a "mere" $108 million from recurring factors. That apparently comes out to thirty cents per share-- a penny less than the analysts' revised consensus. That's right; for the first time in years, Apple finished up its quarter below Wall Street's expectations, and thus the Street-beating streak has finally wound to a close. Worse yet, Fred essentially announced that the next quarter will also suck (though it'll still be profitable), and that things won't get back up to steam until 2001.

Now here's the really scary part. Did anyone else notice that Steve sounded, well, a little wooden as he tried to spin the bad news? Listen to the streaming-on-demand rebroadcast; the man is clearly reading from a script. He clears his throat, stumbles over words, and maintains the rhythm and pace of a fourth-grader reading out loud in front of the class. If we had started listening in the middle of his spiel, we wouldn't have guessed it was Steve at all; his usual dynamic range is gone, and there's no RDF in sight. Consequently, AAPL dipped as low as $16 in after-hours trading, and it's currently fighting at $18.50.

This is a dire situation indeed; Dr. Evil has clearly stolen Steve's mojo! We just hope he manages to get it back before the next Stevenote-- or the next earnings statement. In the meantime, Apple plans to fall back on other, less hypnotic methods to overcome the factors which contributed to the current financial "disappointment"... and as further proof that Steve just isn't himself right now, Fearless Leader himself was playing unusually fast and loose with the forward-looking info about Apple's product lines. Perhaps he's been replaced with a poorly-done android?

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The Great Q4 Lip-Loosener (10/19/00)

So during the earnings call, the RDF-bereft Steve Jobs was forced to fall back on hints of future insanely-great Apple products in hopes of preventing further Wall Street carnage. Can you imagine how tough that must have been for him? This is, after all, the man who rates Mac rumors slightly above the Ebola virus (and slightly below UPN's Monday night line-up) on the Despise-O-Meter™. And yet, there he was-- or, at least, a semi-passable facsimile-- dropping all kinds of maddening hints about the shiny new gear we're all going to get to spend money on over the course of the next year. Is faithful viewer The Professor correct? Is Steve the real "Worker Bee"?

Apple's biggest revenue-depressing factor this quarter was disappointing Cube sales, spurred by high prices, the mysterious random on-and-off bug, and the "Cube cracks" controversy. Steve maintains that there are no cracks in any Cubes, and that Apple has figured out how to make the "mold lines" far less noticeable. The bizarre spontaneous on-off behavior of some early Cubes has also been fixed; if your Cube is afflicted by that unnerving behavior, call Apple and they'll hook you up with a less disturbing replacement. And lastly, to counter the high-price problem, Apple introduced a $300 rebate on the Cube when purchased with any Apple display-- but that's just the short-term solution. Here's where Steve wanders into the usually-verboten "upcoming products" territory: as Macworld reports, the iCEO flat-out announced that Apple would release additional Cube configurations and "a lower entry-level price" this coming spring. Officer, arrest that man!

But what about the "megahertz gap"? First of all, can we just say that we're glad Apple is finally addressing this issue out in the open instead of pretending that the problem doesn't exist? Sure, Steve is still saying that a 500 MHz G4 "can be" as fast as a 1 GHz Pentium III, but at least he's acknowledging that, right or wrong, customers make purchases based on clock speed as much as anything. His plan to fix the problem? "We have been working closely with Motorola, and plan to offer Power Mac G4s with higher megahertz processors in the next six months. Our plan is to begin closing the megahertz gap during the first half of 2001, and to make substantial progress during the remainder of the year." So, straight from the mouth of Steve, there it is: the future of the Power Mac G4 line. It's not exactly earth-shattering news, but it's news nonetheless. And it's probably enough info that would have gotten a lesser Apple employee beheaded if it had been leaked by anyone other than Steve.

And what about this tantalizing news that Apple is planning to ship two more "iMovie-like applications" in the coming months? There was plenty of talk about creating software that would let customers do things on a Mac that couldn't be done (or couldn't be done easily) on a Wintel box, so we can assume that whatever Apple has up its sleeve, these "iMovie-like" apps are going to break new ground-- or try to, anyway. And while we haven't the foggiest idea of what those applications will eventually turn out to be, even that concrete yet vague glimpse into Apple's upcoming product plans is far more than usually escapes Steve's hermetically-sealed lips.

So why oh why is His Steveness still so maddeningly secretive about the handheld market? In response to analysts' repeated questions about whether or not Apple would ever return to the market it created with the Newton, the iCEO slipped back into clam-up mode, saying only "I really can't discuss that, I'm sorry." Sigh. And after all that talk about how he sees the PDA and cellular phone markets colliding soon... Well, take his "no comment" however you like, but now we're going to be dreaming of Apple-branded PDAphones for the next six months.

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Making Numbers Dance (10/19/00)

One nifty little bonus during the Steve 'n' Fred Financial Variety Hour yesterday was the unveiling of some interesting facts pertaining to everyone's favorite candy-coated but as-yet-unfinished operating system, the Mac OS X public beta. Mac OS X is clearly the horse upon which Apple is betting its future growth, so there's a lot riding on its success. Luckily, so far things are apparently looking pretty darn good.

First of all, there's the number of copies of the beta sold so far. Today's life lesson: don't believe everything you read. You may recall that mere days after the beta was officially unveiled, citing a "source close to OS X distribution," MacCentral reported that Apple had already sold 80,000 copies and, on continued average sales of 12,000 copies per day, expected to break 100,000 just a few days later. Unfortunately, the truth, while still positive, isn't nearly as mind-blowing. Steve announced that as of yesterday (more than a month since its release), the beta had actually racked up 60,000 purchases total, with ongoing sales of about 500 copies per day. (Now, admit it; if you hadn't seen MacCentral's numbers first, you'd be pretty impressed.)

Even better is the news that the beta testers are, in fact, beta testing. Steve reports that Apple has received over 45,000 separate and distinct feedback reports so far. We're guessing that 44,000 of those are about the Dock-- or maybe not, since Steve calls the overall response from those feedback reports "overwhelmingly positive" and says that things are "looking very, very good." In any case, with 45,000 opinions, bug reports, criticisms, and feature requests to dig through, we're increasingly sure of our gut feeling that Mac OS X's "early 2001" release will obey the letter of the deadline if not the spirit, and will surface sometime in May. But hey, we're willing to wait. After all, we've waited this long; you want it done fast, or done right?

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