TV-PGFebruary 1, 2005: Word has it that Microsoft employees are all about the iPod-- and management is none too thrilled. Meanwhile, availability of iPod shuffles and Mac minis is even worse than we could have possibly imagined, and Apple Korea attempts to bring the iPod above its less-than-1-percent market share by slashing prices and inciting a price war...
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Look Who's Buying What (2/1/05)

Oh, my my my-- how do you solve a problem like Maria? Or slightly more to the point, what do you do if you're the world's most powerful software company desperately trying to unseat your competitor from the digital music catbird seat by forcing your own proprietary music format on everyone through sheer market ooomph, but even your own employees opt for your competitor's tech instead of your own? Just think how the bigwigs in Redmond must feel; they sunk all that time and money into their insipid little "PlaysForSure" FUD campaign, and even people on their own payroll are passing up the dozens of WMA-based portable music players in favor of buying and using various iPods. Oooo, that's gotta sting.

No doubt you've seen it by now, but on the off chance you haven't, faithful viewer Xur and the Codan Armada alerted us to the existence of a WIRED article all about how "Apple Computer's iPod is wildly popular among Microsoft's workers"-- to the "growing frustration and annoyance of Microsoft's management." One "high-level manager" in Redmond estimates that 16,000 of Microsoft's 25,000 employees are members of iPod Nation, an intolerable situation that's got managers "increasingly sending out memos frowning on [iPod] use." Oooh, memos. We bet they were sternly-worded ones, too. Scary.

To appease management hysteria, some employees have reportedly taken to putting their 'Pods into "stealth mode" and wearing less conspicuous headphones while grooving on Microsoft's campus, but evidently the one thing they won't do is toe the party line and ditch the iPods for WMA alternatives. Indeed, if anything, the reverse scenario is happening far more often; the same manager claims to have "heard from several executives who dutifully bought Microsoft-powered players, tried them, failed to get them working, and returned them in favor of an iPod." Redmond, we have a problem.

So it sounds to us like Microsoft is getting a little nervous about the Format Wars, having witnessed so many of its own troops succumb to the enemy. Apple, on the other hand, must be giggling like a schoolgirl; when your biggest ideological competitor turns out to be cutting paychecks to so many people buying and using your product instead of their own, clearly you're doing something very, very right. Here's hoping that consumers at large stay at least as smart in their digital music player purchases as Microsoft's own employees seem to be.

By the way, the backlash from those media pundits who happen to be proud members of Bill's Bootlickers Brigade is immensely entertaining, so poke around a little and listen to them sputter apoplectically about WIRED's shoddy reporting and lack of evidence-- it's fun. The single best moment, though, definitely comes from our ol' buddy Paul Thurrott of "Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows" fame; as noted by faithful viewer Macintosah, at "Paul Thurrott's Internet Nexus" he froths uncontrollably for nine paragraphs before offering up this gem of irony: "I'm tired of this style of journalism. People like [WIRED columnist] Kahney just demean my profession."

Uhhhh, yeah. This from a guy who, just to pick a single handy example, blithely editorialized in his "reporting" by referring to "Microsoft's superior Windows Media Audio format" as he claimed that Hewlett-Packard's deal with Apple was predicated on the condition that Apple add WMA support to the iPod by mid-2004. HP more or less proclaimed him to be a raving loony, and a dead wrong one at that (and so did history, since mid-2004 is long gone and iPods are still WMAless); so we suppose that if anyone knows about shoddy journalism and the hazards of single-source reporting, well, that'd be Paul all over...

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Where Da Tiny Things At? (2/1/05)

So much for things being different this time around, right? We know we've already raised the subject of the iPod shuffle's demand exceeding its supply by insane degrees despite Apple's valiant attempts to avoid repeating last year's iPod mini debacle, but we'd really hoped it was just a launchtime bubble that would flatten out in a week or two. Well, apparently it wasn't-- and now the problem no longer seems limited to iPods, either. Apparently people looking to grab themselves a nice, shiny fistful of Mac mini are finding the cupboards bare, too. High demand? That bodes well for Apple's unit sales and market share... assuming that the company can ever crank out enough minis 'n' shuffles to meet demand. According to the latest numbers, that may be a bigger "if" than you might think.

According to MacMinute, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster earned his paycheck by calling each and every one of Apple's 98 retail stores to see how many iPod shuffles they had available to sell. Guess how many he found? Zero. As in, zilch. Diddly-squat. Captain Goose Egg and his trusty sidekick Nothing Boy. Can you believe it? 98 retail stores and not a single iPod shuffle to be found. And what's worse, each store keeps a waiting list for customers who want to reserve a shuffle for when the shipments finally start coming in-- and the average length of those waiting lists is a staggering 120 customers. Average.

The Mac mini fared slightly better, and when we say "slightly," boy howdy do we ever mean it: Gene actually found a grand total of three of those in stock. No, he didn't specify which store or stores had them, and the point is probably moot anyway, because the way demand seems to be stacking up, those three Mac minis probably sold to some wild-eyed guy (who fought his way to the front of the mob by beating everyone else to death with his own severed right arm) before Gene had even hung up the phone. And the average waiting list length is shorter, too, but still, 18 people per store is nothing to sneeze at.

Meanwhile, AppleInsider adds that its own "reliable sources" have access to Apple inventory and sales data confirming the delivery date slide: a week ago, Mac minis and iPod shuffles showed lead times of just 3 and 4 days respectively; now those times have ballooned into 3 and 4 weeks. So what does all this mean? Well, Gene says "we believe initial demand for the Mac mini and the iPod shuffle has exceeded what Apple had been expecting," which may just win both a "Just Slightly" award for the most gratuitous use of understatement in a serious screenplay and the coveted "This Is An Award" award for the week's most shining example of stating the blindingly obvious.

Unfortunately, insanely high demand for a product is useless unless the manufacturer can dish out an insanely high supply to match; the good news, though, is that reportedly most stores "expected to have ample supply by the end of February." Whether or not that winds up just being unfounded optimism remains to be seen, of course, but we've got a good feeling about it. After all, have you seen the iPod shuffle and Mac mini? They're teeny. Seriously, how long could it take to make a bunch of those?

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Are You Sure This Is Apple? (2/1/05)

These days it seems like everyone you see is sporting an iPod of some flavor-- that is, unless you happen to live in Korea, where white earbuds are reportedly about as common as forehead tattoos of the haunting visage of the late great Jim Varney. And we know it seems like we're singling out Korea even though (given the Asian market share numbers that have been kicked around) we're sure there are other technically-developed countries on that continent where iPods are about as popular as suppurating lip sores, but really, it's just because it's the only country that's consistently mentioned in the press as a real iPod dead zone-- and not in the cool Christopher Walken way. So just for giggles, how about we take a quick peek in on one market in which the iPod isn't sitting victorious on a enormous bloody throne lashed together from the bones and entrails of its many competitors?

You may recall that just a couple of months ago, we noted that Apple's stated goal for the iPod in Korea was to work its way up to third place by the end of this year-- which sounds deliriously unambitious to anyone living in a country where Apple chews on two-thirds of the market, but which represents some seriously hard work in Korea where, as we mentioned, the iPod accounts for less than 3 percent of the portable player market. Well, we've got some clarification on that "less than 3 percent" figure: faithful viewer Tuner Equalizer sent us a JoongAng Daily article which indicates that the iPod's share of the Korean market is actually "less than 1 percent."

That puts us in a touchy situation, because while we enjoy many aspects of Korean culture-- the food rocks, Tae Kwon Do is nifty in its way, and some of the horror movies are top notch-- and we certainly would never want to disparage any nation or race for its cultural differences (especially when said nation or race is responsible for producing nearly all of our beloved animated television series-- Go Team Venture!), we find ourselves at a loss as to how to describe any society in which the iPod holds less than 1 percent market share without using the unfortunate phrase "endemic and catastrophically pervasive lack of good taste." So we just won't go there at all and we'll move on to what Apple is actually doing to rectify this terrifying scenario.

In a nutshell, it's waging a price war. Yes, Apple.

In Korea, Apple has reportedly slashed prices of its non-shuffle iPod models by roughly 13 percent as one prong in its year-long strategy to claw its way up into third place; now the 20 GB iPod costs the same as some of its competitors' (admittedly fuller-featured) 5 GB models. And perhaps embarrassed to be resorting to such base measures, apparently Apple reps have "even asked the media to 'keep quiet' about the price cuts." Zowie, iPods with less than 1 percent market share? Apple instigating price wars? No doubt about it, folks: foreign lands don't get much more foreign than this...

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