TV-PGJune 6, 2005: The evidence mounts; will a Mac-goes-Intel announcement come today? Meanwhile, Apple's stock drops because of the iPod amid class-action concerns and reports of slowing sales, even as Apple announces a recycling program that even grants discounts on replacement units...
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Caution: Bumpy Road Ahead (6/6/05)

Geez, ain't it always the way? We take a little time off to lug a 400 lb. dentist's chair across town for use by a demon barber and then wire two dozen strings of Christmas lights to three huge columns covered in perforated plating and fresh flowers, and blammo, all hell breaks loose. Not that there weren't storm clouds gathering ominously on the horizon as recently as a couple of weeks ago, when the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was in the early stages of ditching our ol' friend the PowerPC and betting all its moolah on a mass migration to Intel chips. At the time, of course, we laughed it off as nothing more than the perennial reappearance of a rumor so old it makes dirt look shiny by comparison and so ludicrous it's typically ranked a 7.0 or greater on the "Just Darn Goofy" Scale. Honestly, who could have guessed that this time some rain might actually fall?

See, it's gone rather further than the Journal's mutterings about the say-so of "two industry executives with knowledge of recent discussions"; faithful viewer Daniel informs us that CNET now cites the Big Guns™, i.e. "sources familiar with the situation." (It just doesn't get more ironclad than that.) And faith 'n' begorrah, these sources are insisting that Apple is indeed "scrapping its partnership with IBM and switching its computers to Intel's microprocessors," and that "the announcement is expected Monday" during the WWDC Stevenote. If that turns out to be true, here's hoping that Steve has fresh D-cells in his Reality Distortion Field generator, because we expect that Mac developers have enough headaches without a "phased transition" to a whole 'nother processor architecture. Indeed, long-time Mac developers who already slogged through the 68K-to-PPC switchover last decade are likely to suffer that uncomfortable malady known as "Imploding Brain Syndrome" when they realize they've got an even more annoying transition ahead of them.

Assuming, of course, that the reports are accurate. There's no doubt that Apple is probably a few degrees shy of ecstatic about its PowerPC situation; after years of Motorolan heel-dragging and a deep-seated inferiority complex instilled by the widening Megahertz Gap (which, at times, was more appropriately classified as a Megahertz Vast Yawning Chasm), IBM gave us what appeared to be the architecture's salvation: the G5, a chip so blindingly fast it allegedly made Intel's fastest processors weep quietly and soil themselves in a corner. How sad, then, that production problems made the G5 both late and scarce, that fabrication issues leave the promise of a 3 GHz chip still dangling in limbo a year after its expected appearance, and that the prospect of a G5 that can actually be wedged into a laptop remains the pipe dream of wistful road warriors currently fitting themselves for weightlifting belts and asbestos pants.

For what it's worth, the Journal has confirmed CNET's report, so for the sake of hardware performance parity with the Wintel world, maybe Apple really does consider the buttock-clenching inconvenience of a major processor migration to be a risk worth taking. When said transition is complete, people will no longer be able to differentiate Macs from Wintels by the numbers before the "GHz" in a Sunday circular, and then they'll have to fall back on making a purchasing decision based on the user interface and end-user experience-- you know, the stuff they should have realized mattered all along. It could be nifty... if the developers don't all shoot themselves first. Tune in tomorrow for tales from the Stevenote-- and the official body count.

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Turncoat! Traitor! NAUGHTY! (6/6/05)

Interestingly, rumors of impending Intellitude once again appear to have given Apple's stock price a bit of a boost-- albeit all too briefly, which is a shame, because boy howdy could AAPL use it after last week's sudden overnight tanking. If you were a shareholder, you likely emitted a tiny squeal of alarm when AAPL shed a buck-eighty in the blink of an eye at the end of the week. What was behind your sudden crippling paper loss? Well, if you're in the market for a scapegoat, on which to hang your suddenly-deflated college fund, you're in luck, because there's little doubt as to the culprit driving this downward spiral: it's the iPod.

Dunt dunt dunt duuuuuuunnnt!!

No, really, check it out: according to an Associated Press article, Apple has reached a "tentative class-action settlement" with all those iPod owners insisting that their batteries don't perform as long as advertised. Surely you remember this whole brouhaha; despite our own first-generation iPods holding an admirable charge after well over three years of solid use, apparently just to make the whole nightmare go away once and for all, Apple is now willing to admit that at least some units lost their oomph a little too quickly. The settlement as it currently stands grants up to two million affected customers extended warranties and $50 vouchers good toward non-iTunes Apple Store purchases; apparently the prospect of Apple shelling out $100 million in settlement vouchers has some investors getting a little skittish. The result? Stock go bye-bye.

"But AtAT," you protest, "surely a measly $100 mil settlement couldn't take nearly two clams off Apple's stock price all on its lonesome!" Well, actually, you may be right; as it turns out, there was more bad news on the iPod front last week. Even as Apple prepared to shell out up to nine figures to placate iPod owners with allegedly dicky batteries, word got out that the channel is "seemingly overstocked on most iPod models," indicating that iPod sales are "flat or declining this month" and the iPod's exponential growth has therefore finally hit the wall. (Sure, it's an AppleInsider report, which most might consider to be less than gospel, but said report was cited by and myriad other more mainstream news outlets, so it's all the same to Wall Street.) Is this the beginning of the end? Apparently investors thought it was enough of a possibility to knock a coupla bucks off the share price.

The iPod lowering Apple's stock price? Sigh... there go Anya's young girl dreams of Vassar. Still, we suppose we can forgive the iPod, given that it was largely the reason that Apple's stock price tripled in a year before shedding that dollar 'n' change last week. But we gotta eat, too, so if it doesn't stop slacking off and pulling its own weight, we swear, it's coming right off this year's Christmas card list. Think we're bluffing? Just try us.

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Good; We've Got A Sack Of 'Em (6/6/05)

There was actually one other bit of iPod-related news right at the tail end of last week, but we doubt it contributed much, if any, to Apple's little stock dip. What's the number one complaint among iPod owners that isn't related to battery life? No radio, you say? Well, okay, not what we were going for, but fair enough. So what's number two? Oh, right-- no music-quality line-in recording. Um, well, okay-- number three?

No fuzzy faux leopard-skin model? Really?

Um. Okay.

Look, this isn't quite going in the direction we'd hoped, so let's fast-forward a little: what's the number 14 complaint among iPod owners that isn't related to battery life?

Aha! Yes! They're not recyclable! Thank you! See, there are certain environmental groups complaining that the iPod is a totally disposable chunk of commodity consumer electronics; when iPods die, people are likely to just toss 'em in a landfill and buy a new one. And considering that an iPod consists of, among other things, bits of plastic and a potentially earth-unfriendly battery, there's a valid concern here, especially if the iPod's sales growth hasn't really leveled off and people keep chewing through them as quickly as they are. But have no fear, eco-angsters, because Apple has finally announced an iPod Recycling Program.

Yes, according to an Apple press release, if you've got a dead iPod or two kickin' around in your junk drawer taking up valuable used-disposable-lighter space, now you can bring 'em into any US Apple retail store for "environmentally friendly disposal." What's more, the program is free, which is good news for people who've always looked slightly askance at Apple's perfectly-reasonable-but-still-a-slight-bummer $30 fee for taking back old Macs. And hey, it gets even better than that: not only will Apple take back your old iPod for free, but it'll also give you an immediate 10 percent discount on a new iPod if you buy it when you turn in your old one. So for a base 20 GB iPod, that means they're paying you 30 smackers to recycle your 'Pod corpses. You can't ask for more than that. Not without getting slapped, anyway.

Now, obviously it costs Apple money to dispose of these things properly (what exactly does "Earth friendly" disposal consist of, anyway? Burying them on Venus?), and Apple is in the business of making money as opposed to throwing fistfuls of cash out the window of a speeding car-- so what's in it for Apple? Evidently, whatever Apple's profit is on a single $299 iPod, it's more than $30 plus whatever it costs to recycle one, so it's in Apple's best financial interests to push this program. And gee, we wonder how many participants are going to be customers with still-functional but "so last year" models using the program as a trade-in offer instead of as a trash recycling initiative? Will it possibly spur more and earlier iPod disposal/replacement, thus consuming more of the planet's resources and increasing the load of waste, albeit environmentally stored waste? Is this more of a shrewd sales promotion than an act of concern for the planet?

Not that we particularly care or anything. We're mostly just stoked that a dead 1st-gen iPod for ten bucks on eBay can score us $45 off a top-of-the-line iPod photo. Ha!

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