TV-PGMarch 1, 2005: A former Apple exec sues the company for wrongful termination-- let the airing of grievances commence! Meanwhile, evidence reveals some rumored-but-missing Apple features really were planned after all, and the major record labels worry about the iTunes Music Store getting too popular, even as Apple announces that it's just sold its 300 millionth song...
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Wow, It Wasn't A Dud After All (3/1/05)

The truth will out! Remember last November when we killed some time wondering about a couple of mysterious departures by Apple executives? Probably not, since it wasn't exactly an A-list plot twist; after all, people join and leave big companies all the time. Indeed, the only drama we could really wring out of the whole thing stemmed from 1) AppleCare veep Mark Wilhelm possibly having been canned for not raking in enough subscriptions (which was utter speculation), and 2) Mac product engineering bigwig Tim Bucher having left in a suspiciously hush-hush manner, with no official announcement of his departure until at least a week after he went bye-bye. Not exactly the stuff of your finest melodrama.

At least, not until you let it simmer for a few months and add a pinch of litigation to release the delicious and sordid details locked within. As far as we know, the Wilhelm thing's a bust-- absolutely no drama to sink one's teeth into-- but man oh man, the Tim Bucher story is now just bursting with long-lasting flavor. CNET finally reports that Bucher didn't quit, but was in fact fired from Apple-- only technically not in November. Apparently it went something like this: Bucher, as you may recall, was the veep of Mac system development until last May, when he was named senior veep of Mac hardware engineering to replace Jon Rubinstein, who was getting shunted over to the new iPod division. What you probably didn't know was that, according to Bucher, Apple never filled his old position, and he had to juggle the duties of both jobs for six months... until November 10th, when he was sent home without explanation. Steve Jobs allegedly told him, "You're not a failure. Even God couldn't have done both of the jobs I pushed you to do."

But, see, even after being sent home, Bucher hadn't formally left the company yet, which explains the hush-hush nature of his departure last November; he was in Job Limbo, presumably "on leave" or some such thing. While he was on the bench, Steve reportedly informed him that some employees thought he was "manic-depressive" and that Steve might have to ask him to leave the company. According to The Mac Observer, the call to resign came two days after that; Bucher refused, and so Apple fired him-- eventually. It seems he got a letter in early January finally informing him that he'd been terminated as of December 31st.

Just to make things even juicier, when Bucher was escorted off of Apple premises, the company's human resources director reportedly informed him that he "should talk to a psychologist" and offered to rustle one up for him. Bucher said he didn't want a shrink; Apple insisted and booked an appointment, though neither CNET nor TMO know whether or not Bucher actually attended. But between the mandatory psych consult and Steve's cryptic comment about manic-depressive behavior, it's not too difficult to guess what "perceived disability" Bucher claims was responsible in part for his dismissal.

To top it all off, the reason all this dirt is coming to light is because Bucher is now suing Apple for wrongful termination, alleging that no one had ever found fault with his performance, and that he'd been fired only because he had fallen "victim to a corporate power play" and because of the aforementioned "perceived disability." Why, do we detect the distinctive scent of more dirty laundry to be aired, this time in a courtroom? It's almost a shame that Apple will most likely settle the case to keep the hamper closed. Since it's all just "he said / she said" at this point (well, okay, just "he said" so far), we can't even begin to guess whether Bucher's suit has merit. We hope that this whole mess gets resolved in a way that's fair to everyone involved-- and if not, well, we hope that we at least get some primo drama out of it all...

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It's All Really Real-- Really (3/1/05)

Does it ever bug you when Apple introduces new products that fall short of their rumored capabilities and features? We know, we know-- it's completely irrational to blame Apple for not living up to a standard it never announced in the first place and that's based entirely on unfounded rumor and speculation. But since we all slaver over the rumors to start with, who says we're rational in the first place? So, yes, we admit it: we were irked when the rumored "Asteroid" FireWire music interface didn't ship alongside GarageBand 2 last January, and while the Mac mini is undeniably cool, some of the featured it was rumored to include would have made it a whole lot cooler.

Here's the thing, though: if anything, we get even more ticked when we discover that rumors weren't quite so unfounded after all. Dig up some compelling evidence that a rumored feature was indeed planned-- or even partially implemented-- and simply didn't make the cut, and we're far more disappointed than we'd be if we discovered we'd just been chasing fiction all along. Case in point: AppleInsider was poking around in GarageBand 2's Contents package and unearthed an image file buried inside with a filename of "asteroid.tiff," and MacRumors reports that digging through the app's installer files with a hex editor reveals all sorts of references to "Asteroid Max Volume," "Asteroid Min Volume," "Select Asteroid Input," etc. Not that there's any doubt as to Asteroid's existence, given that Apple saw fit to sue people for blabbing about it, but this latest evidence makes it pretty clear to us that Apple did, in fact, intend Asteroid to ship concurrently with GarageBand 2. And now, AI claims that because of "poor initial execution," Apple has "postponed the project indefinitely" and Asteroid "may never see the light of day."

Likewise, do you remember when AppleInsider was dishing the dirt about the still-unannounced Mac mini, and suggested that it "was to include a built-in iPod dock," but that feature "was scrapped"? As it turns out, digging through the Mac mini's guts seems to support that statement. The Register reports that an electronics specialist by the name of Leo Bodnar has done some serious dissection of the mini's internals and found that the Ultra ATA-100 riser card which connects the optical drive to the motherboard also has an unused FireWire bus and "a connector pinout that takes the FireWire signal and provides a number of other lines" that probably carry "extra control signals." Leo's educated guess, based on the pinouts and placement, is that the riser was originally intended also to connect to-- you got it-- an iPod dock connector that would have been molded into the top of the mini's enclosure. Personally, we think that an integrated iPod dock would have sold a lot more Mac minis to iPod owners, both Mac- and Windows-using ones alike (heck, we might have bought one on sheer principle), and it's something of a disappointment that, for whatever reason, Apple didn't go through with it.

Of course, Asteroid could surface any day, and there's no reason why a Mac mini revision in nine months or so couldn't include an inset dock connector, so this stuff may all eventually make it onto store shelves. Still, though, it's tough not to dwell on the missed opportunities-- and the fact that right now we could have been jamming on Asteroid-plugged guitars via GarageBand 2 running on a Mac mini as it charged one of our iPods. But we'll survive. Probably.

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And No Slowdown In Sight (3/1/05)

Folks, just a quick update on yesterday's whole spiel about the recording industry trying to hike prices at the iTunes Music Store: as it turns out, the major labels aren't entirely evil after all. No, honestly! New evidence has come to light which reveals that they're only about half evil, and half incomprehensibly brick-stupid. Faithful viewer mrmgraphics dug up an extended version of that Financial Times article we cited yesterday, which goes a little deeper into the labels' motives for wanting to raise prices for song downloads: "The efforts to raise prices appear in part to reflect frustration over Apple's wildly successful music strategy."

Yes, folks, the labels are apparently frustrated because Apple's doing far too well. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting: "That darn Apple is selling too many songs! What on earth are we going to do with hundreds of millions of dollars in no-overhead, 100 percent pure profit? We have to put a stop to this, and fast-- quick, let's raise prices and send all those iTMS customers scurrying back to BitTorrent!" It's a veritable masterstroke of business strategy, to be sure. On top of that, check out the attitude of one "industry insider": "Our music is not something to be given away to sell iPods." Because, see, it's a terrible idea to add millions of people walking around out there with new, empty iPods just itching to fill 'em up with more music. So the labels are making 65 cents per song, spending absolutely zilch on production and distribution, and simultaneously creating demand for more music sales? Clearly this has got to stop right now.

Well, since they're so averse to free money and keeping music lovers happy, the labels must be positively aghast at the latest iTMS sales milestone. That's right, people, it's only been five weeks since the last time we did this, but it's that time again already: faithful viewer Jef Van der Voort tipped us off to an Apple press release celebrating the sale of the 300 millionth song at the iTMS. (It also mentions that the new all-star cover of the Beatles song "Across the Universe," available only via the iTMS with all proceeds going to tsunami survivors, "debuted as number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart," which apparently qualifies it as "the most successful exclusive digital track ever in its first week of release." Take that, Apple Records!)

Interestingly, this time around Apple decided not to do the math and tell us how many songs per day the iTMS now sells. But have no fear, because faithful viewer and semi-official AtAT iTMS Milestone Watchdog Scott Naness is on the job as usual, and he notes that, despite all sales since the 250 millionth having occurred after the post-holiday rush, the iTMS sell-through rate is still increasing. Last time around Apple had sold an average of 1,250,000 songs per day, and since January 24th, that figure has risen to 1,351,351. That's roughly six million dollars of pure profit for the major labels each and every week, all without them having to lift a finger; assuming zero growth (yeah, right), that means the majors are raking in enough from the iTMS to build a bionic man every week. In a couple of months they can have one heck of a baseball team.

Needless to say, that much free money-- with no iTMS slowdown in sight-- must have the labels practically apoplectic by now. We figure we're looking at an imminent industry-mandated price hike to, say, $34.99 per song download and $499.99 per album in order to slam the brakes on this runaway profit train and get consumers downloading music illegally again, the way God intended. That way the labels can get back to complaining about how piracy is killing CD sales, and then make its money by suing twelve-year-old KaZaA users instead. After all, isn't that what music is all about?

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