TV-PGJanuary 9, 2004: If you thought yesterday's HewlettPod announcement was a surprise to you, wait'll you hear how Microsoft and Dell felt. Meanwhile, another Expo grinds to a halt even as scads of exhibitors choose to shun the July show in Boston, and AtAT has the real story behind yesterday's historic HP-Apple music deal...
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"Who? When? Whuzza?" (1/9/04)

Okay, we've had a day for the news to sink in, now, and we think we've finally gotten our heads wrapped around yesterday's whole "HP-branded iPod" curve ball. For those of you who spent the day with your heads stuck inside a large wheel of cheese (replica or otherwise), Hewlett-Packard and Apple stunned the world yesterday by announcing that, starting this summer, HP will be selling a rebranded version of the iPod and preloading iTunes for Windows on all of its consumer Wintels, with desktop icon links to the iTunes Music Store. How's that for news that'll blast the gouda from your ear canals?

And when we say "stunned the world," believe it: faithful viewer Mike referred us to a New York Times article which describes Microsoft as the proverbial deer in the headlights yesterday: "Thursday the company appeared unprepared for the Apple-Hewlett agreement, which clearly stung Microsoft executives." How unprepared, you ask? So unprepared that the company actually said the deal would "limit choice and harm consumers" because it didn't have time to realize just how butt-stupid that sounds coming from freakin' Microsoft. ("Justice Department? What Justice Department?")

Check it out, this was the best a company spokesperson could muster to undercut the announcement: "Windows is all about choice... we believe you should have the same choice when it comes to music services." Translation: "Use any service you want as long as it sells Windows Media, buy any player out there as long as it plays Windows Media-- but for heaven's sake, don't buy one of those wretched iPod thingies or we'll be completely boned with our whole plan to monopolize digital media commerce and then we might actually have to start innovating for our paychecks for a change." Or, to put it a little more succinctly, "you can have any color you want, as long as it's black."

No, there aren't black iPods. That was a Ford reference. Oh, never mind.

(And before the flood of corrections comes roaring through, okay, yes, there are black iPods, sort of.)

Back to the whole "industry taken by surprise" thing: What about Dell? Dell, as you know, used to be an iPod reseller, until what we laughingly refer to as its design department was able to cobble together its own copycat model, the Dell Digital Jukebox. (Actually, we're told it's a rebranded third-party product, but it's certainly ugly enough to have sprung malformed and dripping from the design lab at Dell.) So what was Michael Dell's reaction to the news that its player will soon have to compete not just with the iPod, but with a "stealth" iPod in HP clothing-- and one that'll be sold at retail stores, no less? Well according to a Cox News Service article pointed out by faithful viewer Bobbynow, when "asked about HP and Apple's iPod alliance on Thursday, Dell Chief Executive Michael Dell said he had nothing to say."

Now that's unprepared, and boy howdy.

Still, can you blame him? This announcement caught us all by surprise, and no wonder: the Times reports that the deal "was completed only after an extensive bargaining session that ran long into Wednesday night between Carleton S. Fiorina, Hewlett's chief executive, and Apple's Steven P. Jobs." Seems to us that Steve is a fan of late-night, last-minute deal-making; wasn't that landmark Microsoft agreement in '97 hashed out the same way? We suspect that Steve's Reality Distortion Field works better at night. So if you ever find yourself haggling with the man over the price of a falafel platter, try to position yourself so he's in direct sunlight-- you'll probably get a better deal.

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MWExpo Boston: "Spacious!" (1/9/04)

Meanwhile, we've come to the end of yet another Macworld Expo, and reaction to it so far has been somewhat mixed. Folks watching from home were largely underwhelmed by the Stevenote announcements, which amounted to miniPods (at a higher-than-expected price point), iLife '04 (and the related disappearance of iPhoto and iMovie as free downloads), and G5 Xserves (which most people will never have any reason to buy in the first place). Actual attendees writing in have been somewhat kinder, generally classifying the show as being a little on the sedate side, but still a positive experience overall.

Exhibitors, on the other hand, are apparently giving the show a big thumbs-up; The Mac Observer quotes several vendors who rate the gig as a solid success, although "not as strong as previous Expos." Peachpit Press reports "tremendous traffic and sales," the National Association of Photoshop Professionals says its booth was "packed for four straight days," MacCase says that "sales have been great," and MacSpeech actually sold out of its transcription software yesterday morning, which certainly counts as "a complete success." So hey, the Expo is great for business, right?

So will any of those four exhibitors be at Macworld Expo Boston in July?

Well, let's see... no, no, no, and maybe.

That's right, folks; whereas all four of the vendors mentioned above ranked this past week's show a success, only Peachpit Press is currently planning to attend the summer event, and that's still "tentative," with a final decision due in the "next two weeks." The other three-- including MacSpeech, which is just a stone's throw away in New Hampshire-- aren't even considering it. Why not? Well, duh-- it's because Apple won't be there either. And if Apple's not going, MacSpeech points out, "no one is exhibiting and no one will attend, at least not in large numbers."

It's not really going to be much of a Macworld Expo, is it? More of a sort of Macterritory Expo, or maybe a Maccounty one. On the plus side, as fewer vendors choose to participate, IDG World Expo will need to keep driving prices for booth space lower and lower to get enough exhibitors to keep tumbleweeds from rolling down the aisles. Could this finally be the year AtAT gets a booth? Hey, IDG-- we've got $42.48 cash money. Save us a 20x30.

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"You Forgot My Pickle Again" (1/9/04)

This just in: AtAT operatives have provided us with covert video footage of the first closed-door meeting between Steve Jobs and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, at which Carly raised the issue of rebranding the iPod! We can't post the video itself, because our mole kept leaning into the frame and making goofy faces at the camera, apparently oblivious to the fact that when filming illicit video in direct violation of nondisclosure agreements and trade secret laws, it's generally a bad idea to slap your own face all over the evidence. Rather than spend tedious hours digitally altering his appearance to protect his identity (some of us don't have the free time to go sticking iPods into twenty-year-old footage), we figured we'd just give you a transcript:

[Ms. Fiorina knocks, enters Steve's office.]

Carly: Steve?

Steve: Just leave it on the desk, there. And you forgot my pickle last time, so you can forget about a tip.

Carly: No, Steve, it's me-- Carly.

Steve: Carly?

Carly: From HP?

Steve: HP? What's that?

Carly: Hewlett-Packard. I'm the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I have an appointment, remember?

Steve: [Eyes narrowing] Who are you really?

[This, inexplicably, goes on for about fifteen minutes. Once identities have finally been established:]

Carly: Okay, now that we've got that settled, I'm here because I want to sell iPods.

Steve: Oh, sure, that's no problem. Dell used to sell them, too, you know, until the mind-control ray wore off.

Carly: Great, but there's just a few changes we want to make.

Steve: Changes?

Carly: Right. For one thing, we don't want to call them iPods. Our market research shows that the name is insufficiently descriptive for the Wintel consumer market, which is apt to become confused when faced with such a challenge. So we want to call it the "HP Digital Music Player."

Steve: Catchy.

Carly: Yeah, we thought so. Also, we don't want them to be white.

Steve: No white.

Carly: Right. In order to match our other products, we need them to be HP Blue.

[She hands him a color swatch which matches the prototype shown at MacMinute as pointed out by faithful viewer The Professor.]

Steve: I once saw a dead body this color.

Carly: Hey, who hasn't? That's why it tests so well among our target market. Lastly, we want to take the Apple logo off the back and replace it with the HP logo, just so any customers not tipped off by the delicate corpse-like hue and the catchy name will be sure to understand that this is an HP product, even though all we're doing is changing the name and the color of the plastic.

Steve: But the Apple logo will still appear on the screen when the thing is turned on.

Carly: Oh, that's fine-- our market research shows that most of our customers will never figure out how to turn it on anyway.

Steve: But you just press any button.

Carly: Exactly.

[Awkward silence.]

Steve: Rrrrright. Well, I think we can manage all that. Let me just run it by Jon, who designed the iPod for us. [Presses intercom button] Jon? Can you come in here for a second?

[Jonathan Ive descends through the ceiling, floating in the lotus position and bathed in a celestial glow.]

Steve: I told you to knock that off during work hours.

Jon: Right, sorry. What's up?

Steve: Well, Carrie here--

Carly: Carly.

Steve: Karin here--

Carly: CARLY.

Steve: Doris here--

[Fast-forward twenty minutes.]

Steve: Betsy here--

[Ms. Fiorina sighs raggedly.]

Steve: --wants you to cook her up a batch of iPods for sale in June, but here's the thing: they're going to be renamed the "HP Digital Music Player," you'll have to replace the Apple logo on the back with the HP logo, and you need to make them in this mouldering-carcass blue-grey sorta deal.

[Jobs holds up the color swatch. Ive immediately goes fetal in the corner, sucks his thumb, and emits indistinct whimpering noises. Jobs turns back to Fiorina.]

Steve: Cool, so no problem, we'll have 'em ready for you in two weeks.

Carly: Two weeks?

Steve: October.

Carly: October?!

Steve: [Eyes narrowing] Who are you really?...

So there you have it, folks: the birth of a ground-breaking high-tech deal. The agreement wasn't finalized until late Wednesday night when Carly produced a driver's license, a valid passport, a birth certificate, several family photos, dozens of news clippings about her, and haggard Canadian rocker Neil Young to personally testify as to her identity, but as you can see, most of the groundwork was laid earlier. We know, we know; Carly's been going around telling people that Apple came to HP, but video doesn't lie-- unless it's of an alien autopsy or a moon landing or something outrageous like that. We've got the goods, baby! And you trust us, right?

Wait-- who are you people, anyway?...

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