TV-PGSeptember 30, 2002: Apple releases iSync on schedule-- sort of. Meanwhile, the company extends the iTools-to-.Mac signup deadline by two weeks as rumors swirl about a possible education price break, and Apple's board of directors is one of the eight worst in the country, according to BusinessWeek...
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Getting An iSyncing Feeling (9/30/02)

Sure, we here at the AtAT compound may be bleary-eyed and sorely out of touch these days ("Is it Tuesday or March?"), but heck, even we know about iSync, that spifftabulous iApp demonstrated last July by a zenlike Steve Jobs as he effortlessly synchronized contact and calendar data between multiple Macs and a bevy of shiny Digital Lifestyle™ products with nary a care in the world. At least, that's how we remember it, though we won't deny the powerful effects of Wishful Thinking, e.g. wouldn't it be nice if our Handspring Visor and our iPod and our Power Mac all listed the correct date and time for our therapy session, instead of two of them still showing the old date prior to last week's rescheduling? Likewise, it'd be great if they also all had the same freakin' phone number for our shrink, instead of one of them listing the number from his old office back in Newton which is now evidently the number of a rug-shampooing service that was singularly unhelpful when we were sobbing into a pay phone about how our Inner Child desperately needed a hug and a home-baked muffin. You know, that sort of thing.

So, uh, yeah... we're looking forward to iSync.

So anyway, question: will Apple ship this sucker in "September, 2002," as originally promised? Answer: Nnnnyaybe. Basically, it all comes down to a simple question: does a beta count? If not, then we put Apple's odds at shipping iSync 1.0 before midnight tonight at roughly about the same as the odds of your winning the state lottery by purchasing a municipal bus transfer. If, on the other hand, you're the type who says "beta, shmeta" and blithely clicks through warnings about potential irreversible data loss the same way you tear those "DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW" tags off your mattresses, then hey, good news-- Apple already met its deadline with a couple of days to spare.

Yes, as faithful viewer kungfumaniac kindly pointed out to us over the weekend, Apple has indeed posted a public beta version of iSync and it's ready for download. And while we personally aren't the sort of folks who typically leap headlong into the murky waters of beta software, we had our Wheaties this morning and we were feeling reckless, so we figured what the heck-- we'd go for the gusto. (We hear some of you asking, "So what do you want, a medal?" Yes. Yes, we want a medal.)

As it turns out, installing iSync itself is a pretty straightforward process, and we were able to synchronize data to .Mac and an iPod with no trouble at all. Unfortunately, things get a little sketchier when you throw a Palm OS device into the mix; we'd been hoping we could use iSync instead of the official Palm Desktop software, but no dice-- iSync requires Palm Desktop 4.0 (or at least its HotSync Manager) to do its thing. Moreover, we had to turn off the Palm Address Book, Calendar, and To-Do List conduits before the iSync conduit worked at all, and even once it was all set up properly our visions of a single magical brushed-aluminum Happy Sync button promptly crumbled to dust when we discovered that clicking iSync's funky activation button simply popped up a dialog box telling us to press the HotSync button on our handheld's cradle. Granted, triggering a standard Visor HotSync then prompts iSync to do its thing, but it's still not exactly the simple and seamless process we'd hoped it would be. Ideally we'd be able to initiate a sync by thought waves alone.

Of course, it is just a beta, and there's a decent chance it'll get fundamentally better before 1.0 ships-- especially if enough people leave feedback. And even in its current state, while the Palm sync aspect of the process is a smidge unwieldy, we can't argue with the results: iCal, our Mac OS X Address Book, our iPod, and our Visor now all share the same data. It's a little spooky, actually. We have a sneaking suspicion that this is sort of what it probably feels like to be organized...

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Gotta Boost Headcount (9/30/02)

Say, remember a couple of weeks ago when Apple was crowing about how amazingly popular .Mac had turned out to be, what with a staggering 100,000 subscribers racked up since July? Well, if you found yourself thinking that a hundred grand actually sounded a little on the low side, you're not alone: as faithful viewer Jim Boulter pointed out, that's a pretty far cry from the oft-bandied-about figure of two million estimated iTools users that were out there before Apple suddenly donned its neon flashing PAY US hat. (Of course, what we always wondered was whether that "estimated" figure was really for two million iTools users, or just for two million iTools accounts. We knew individuals who collected iTools logins like they were restaurant matchbooks or those little soaps from hotel bathrooms, so it's a significant distinction.)

Regardless, despite Apple's claim that it's "thrilled" with the .Mac subscription rate so far, we can't help but read a little something into the company's occasional moves to boost those signups. Back in mid-August, iTools users received email from Apple promising "up to seven additional weeks of .Mac free," promising that users who signed up at any time prior to the September 30th deadline would get their first years' memberships automatically extended to September 30th of 2003. And now, as CNET reports, Apple has gone and extended the iTools-to-.Mac signup deadline to October 14th-- so if you were waiting for the last minute to fork over your $49.95, relax; you've got another fortnight to procrastinate. Seriously. Go make some soup or something.

Meanwhile, faithful viewer John hints that Apple may also be backing down on its "No Education .Mac Pricing" policy, most recently repeated by a company rep in a MacCentral article from last Thursday. Despite the fact that, just days ago, Apple "confirmed that educational institutions would not receive a discounted rate for .Mac subscription services," apparently there are rumors floating around that the company may yet announce some sort of plan to make .Mac a viable and affordable service for schools who had previously incorporated free iTools accounts into their lesson plans, but for whom $99 per student represents an insurmountable expense. At least some little birds are chirping that official details might surface as early as today-- so hang in there, teacher-types; rest assured, Apple wants as many .Mac subscribers as it can possibly boast, so we imagine that some sort of educational pricing for multiple school accounts is absolutely in the company's best interest. The last thing it needs is for .Mac to turn into another eWorld...

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BAD Board! No Cookie! (9/30/02)

Wuh-oh, prepare for an influx of bad korporate karma! According to a Reuters article that went to press last week, BusinessWeek has just published its list of the eight worst boards of directors in corporate America-- and somehow Apple made the list. How much do you want to bet there was much rending of flesh and gnashing of teeth in the halls of Cupertino when that issue hit the stands? Or at least someone frowned slightly and shrugged before unwrapping their mid-morning Snickers bar.

We know what you're thinking-- "Was Apple's board added to the list before or after Larry Ellison scampered off to play with boats?" Okay, granted, Larry wasn't exactly a model director, what with missing all those meetings and owning literally no Apple stock. But lest you think that Loquacious Larry was the one dragging Apple's board down into the muck, consider this: Gap Inc.'s board of directors also ranked among the eight worst. And guess which mercurial double-CEO just happens to sit on Gap Inc.'s board as well as on Apple's? Ayup: the Stevester himself. Meaning, of course, that Steve sits on one quarter of the boards lousy enough to be featured in BusinessWeek's Rogue's Gallery of Ickiness. Suppose he's proud?

For what it's worth, though, BusinessWeek stopped short of actually equating the presence of the Inscrutable Mr. Jobs on a company's board of directors with the ranking of said board at the bottom of the heap. Gap's board, for instance, reportedly made the Ick List for "deals that included construction contracts with Chairman Donald Fisher's brother and a consulting deal with his wife," which, granted, looks pretty cheesy-- and wholly Jobsless in its impropriety. However, BusinessWeek does raise the issue of Jobs being on Gap's board while Gap's Mickey Drexler sits on Apple's, so there's definitely a Jobsian factor in there as well.

So why is Apple's board included? Well, the general criteria for ranking included "board independence" (Micro Warehouse's CEO is on Apple's board; Micro Warehouse "accounted for nearly 2.9% of Apple's new sales in 2001") and "stock ownership" (despite all those stock options, Steve-o still holds just two shares of AAPL), as well as factors like "granting hefty compensation to flailing CEOs" (coughGulfstreamcough). Whatever. At least Dell wasn't listed among the ten companies with the best boards, otherwise we imagine there'd be some contract hits being arranged on BusinessWeek's publishers right about now.

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