TV-PGOctober 23, 2001: It's here, it's gear, get used to it: Apple unleashes the iPod digital audio appliance. Meanwhile, that iWalk "photo" looks a lot less convincing now that the hype level is back to normal, and Apple releases a limited number of $499 iMacs-- but you need to live in a troubled area to buy one...
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Attack Of The iPod People (10/23/01)

Well, we kept waiting for the punch line, but it never came: Apple's new device that's had us all speculating 'til our brains turned into warm JELL-O is the iPod: a portable digital audio player. It plays music. That's uh, about it. Let the class action lawsuit against Apple for misusing the term "groundbreaking" commence, because unless the thing also makes espresso, walks the family dog, and houses a phaser than can be set to "stun" or "kill," YADAP ("Yet Another Digital Audio Player") does not break any ground. At best, it dents it a little.

That said, however, based on what we've heard so far (thanks largely to MacMinute's excellent real-time updates), the iPod is indeed one mother of a ground-denting product. This thing boasts a backlit LCD display, a scroll wheel for easy playlist navigation, and a blazingly-fast FireWire interface. Why FireWire, you ask? Because the iPod also packs a 5 GB hard drive, which would take ages to fill up via standard USB; suddenly 400 Mbit/sec vs. 12 Mbit/sec makes a whole lot of sense, because the iPod allegedly lets you "transfer a whole CD in less than 10 seconds." In addition to that 5 GB of storage, the iPod also packs a 10-hour lithium-polymer battery pack which fully charges in just one hour-- via FireWire-- and the entire device is reportedly only the size of a deck of cards. In other words, this could be one seriously kickin' YADAP.

But wait, there's more: Apple has also taken this opportunity to announce iTunes 2, whose biggest new feature is-- of course-- a ridiculous level of integration with the iPod. Get this; apparently whenever you plug your iPod into your Mac, iTunes 2 will launch and automatically synchronize all your playlists via FireWire. In that sense, the iPod really does become a seamless portable extension of iTunes. Pretty spiffy, right? (Oh, and if you're not impressed with the whole iPod spiel, iTunes 2 also finally adds automatic crossfading and that equalizer you've been begging for since January.)

So there it is; all that's left to do is watch the commercial, scope out the promo video, and place your preorder. If you're just dying to get your hands on an iPod of your very own, you'll have to sweat it out for a little while longer: these things won't be available for about another three weeks. Still, it's probably a good thing, because you'll need the time between now and November 11th (otherwise known as "International iPod Day") to raise the $399 you'll have to drop to get one. If that sounds a little pricey, do some comparison shopping. Examine price and features and you'll find that this is classic Apple: yes, it's expensive, but you get more than you pay for.

So will the AtAT staff be biting? Probably. Our only portable MP3 player is the MiniJam SpringBoard module for Jack's Visor, and considering that it 1) currently has a 64 MB storage capacity, 2) isn't recognized by iTunes, and 3) requires a whopping fifty minutes to fill its single measly memory card (yes, fifty minutes-- as in, five times longer than it would take to fill an entire iPod), you can see why we'd consider the iPod a pretty nifty trade-up. It may not be groundbreaking, but sometimes it's enough to make a bunch of dents in the dirt instead.

Oh, did we forget to mention that you can also use the iPod as a standard store-anything 5 GB portable FireWire hard disk?...

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The Effect Of RDF Overdose (10/23/01)

Now, we're not going to say that we told you so, because we're better than that... and because we didn't tell you so-- at least, not en masse. But a kajillion of you wrote in begging us to look at the photos over at SpyMac which supposedly revealed Apple's groundbreaking product of the day: the iWalk. The iWalk, SpyMac would have you believe, is "a kind of PDA with a lot more features than one could have previously expected": built-in AirPort wireless networking, a built-in modem, a FireWire port, audio-in and -out ports for playing MP3s through other devices, a 512x256 16-bit color touch-screen, Newton-style handwriting recognition, and a "lite" version of Mac OS X at its core.

There's just one problem. Actually, make that two problems. The first is that this shining beacon of portable technology would probably cost about fifteen hundred bucks; then again, the Apple of old did once sell a PDA for a cool grand, so maybe that's not entirely out of character, but we fervently hope that the current administration wouldn't pull that kind of move again, especially in this economy. But the other problem is slightly more irksome: the photo posted over at SpyMac is about as convincing as, say, the average Microsoft defense witness.

Look at it; surely you've all spent enough time at the Xtrem site to know a 3D rendering when you see it, right? Pasting it into a digital photo of an iMac keyboard and adding unrealistic shadows doesn't make it look any less fake. No wonder the site pulled the earlier series of "photos," which allegedly showed the iWalk in various poses in a tiled bathroom; instead of an unrealistic 3D rendering with fake shadows, we had unrealistic 3D renderings with fake shadows, fake reflections, and the coup de grace: a lens flare straight out of Photoshop's filters list. Ooh la la.

We realize this sounds like an example of 20-20 hindsight (though at least some of you can confirm that we called those photos obvious fakes well ahead of the iPod announcement), but really, we're not passing judgment on anyone. In reality, this is less about gullibility and more of an illustration of the willing suspension of disbelief whenever Apple is involved. Heck, maybe we would have been taken in, too, if we hadn't been largely RDF-free for the past two weeks. As it stands, even "actual tech journalists" were swallowing the bait; faithful viewer Jens notes that, as of broadcast time, digitalMASS was still touting the iWalk as described by SpyMac, "an Apple information Web site." Never mind the fact that until now, no one had ever heard of SpyMac before. Consider your sources, kidlings.

So what can we learn from the SpyMac hoax? Well, mostly that Apple inspires unbounded confidence in its ability to innovate-- so much so that fans are perfectly willing to accept doctored photos and pie-in-the-sky product specs from an utterly unproven source as gospel. Do you think anyone would have believed the story if it had been Dell creating this amazing device instead of Apple? If you believe that, then you're gullible. Oh yeah, one more thing about that iWalk: the Apple logo's upside down again. D'oh!

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New Cheap iMacs-- Or Not (10/23/01)

Hey, we fully realize that, particularly in this economy, not everyone has cash to burn. If you happen to be among the ranks of the financially-challenged, it's entirely possible that even that new stripped-down "entry-level" iMac is just a hair too extravagantly priced for your budget. Does the very thought of spending $799 on a bare-bones iMac conjure forth images of subsisting on gruel and cigarette butts and hocking your own kidneys for rent money? Well, heads up, penny-pinchers; the word on the street is that the cover charge for admittance into the New Mac Club just keeps dropping-- and there's still only a two-drink minimum, if you catch our drift. (Actually, we don't know what we mean by that. Never mind. We're still getting back into the swing of things, here.)

Here's the deal: according to MacCentral, Apple has stripped down some iMacs still further, resulting in a limited number of "barer-bones" models that are even more affordable. How much more affordable? Well, let's just say the savings could keep you happily in frozen burritos for the next three months. These super-skinny iMacs are going for the low, low price of just $499. Yes, kiddies, Apple is now a sub-$500 computer manufacturer-- you know, just like, uh, eMachines. Alrighty then. Who's up for a hearty snowball fight in the Netherworld after we go ice skating on what used to be the lake of fire and brimstone?

There are, however, a couple of catches. (Well, duh.) The first is that the specs of this extremely affordable iMac aren't exactly state-of-the-art: it's packing a 400 MHz G3 processor, 64 MB of RAM, a plain ol' CD-ROM drive, and a 10 GB hard drive. Sounds a little like this iMac hasn't been eating its Wheaties, right? Still, considering that the standard "entry-level" system costs you $300 more for another 100 MHz of clock speed and an extra 10 GB of storage space, it's probably well worth the savings-- especially since there are plenty of people out there for whom even a 400 MHz G3 and a 10 GB drive are overkill, anyway.

The other catch is the doozy, however: you have to be a resident of Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, or New York. Why, you ask? Because these cheap iMacs are strictly for the areas of the country most directly affected by last month's terrorist attacks. Apparently Apple's doing its part to help stimulate the stricken economies of those communities by offering inexpensive yet perfectly serviceable Macs to those in need. So if you happen to live in one of those places, see your local Mac dealer to pick up a great little Mac at a dollar-stretching price. If you don't live there, no fair making the road trip and faking your proof of residence-- that's just not nice.

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