TV-PGDecember 30, 2003: You know it's a sick world when a supposed hard fact about the upcoming miniPods can be traced back to guesswork by analyst Rob Enderle. Meanwhile, two UK newspapers report that Apple has already announced the miniPod, and beware of software labeled as Mac-compatible but with nothing unWindowsy inside...
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He Said She Said They Said (12/30/03)

Consternation! Uproar! If you've been following the rumoric saga of the miniPod, you may be both intrigued and chagrined to hear that a site called PocketFactory now features this headline: "Mini iPods NOT Hard Drive Based." Yes, folks, PocketFactory has reliable word that the miniPods "will NOT feature built-in Toshiba hard drives, but will in fact be Flash memory-based." And from whence does this reliable word originate? Well, therein lies the story. Let's follow the trail, shall we?

PocketFactory cites an AudioRevolution article as its source, claiming that AudioRevolution heard the Flash RAM info from "an Apple Retailer." Of course, if you actually read the AudioRevolution article, it doesn't really say that at all; it states that "sources at an Apple retailer in Los Angeles tell that the rumors of the new budget priced iPod are completely true." In other words, a retailer confirms that miniPods exist, but as far as we can tell, said retailer had nothing to do with AudioRevolution's statement in a separate paragraph that "the budget-priced iPods are expected to be Flash Memory based"-- for the origin of that assertion, check out the sources listed at the end of the article: "CBS MarketWatch,,"

Now, at the time this article was published we're pretty certain that AppleInsider hadn't said anything about miniPods being Flash-based; the first mention of Flash RAM in miniPods from AppleInsider appears to have arrived when the site quoted-- ready for this?-- the very AudioRevolution article that cited it as a source. (Wheeeee, circles are fun! Pass the Dramamine!) So since AudioRevolution didn't get its Flash info from AppleInsider, we took a poke around at MacNN and found this piece, which mentions miniPods but not Flash RAM. However, it does contain a link to a Reuters report at-- ta daaa!-- CBS MarketWatch, AudioRevolution's third listed source and presumably the origin of the Flash RAM information.

Well, CBS Marketwatch won't let you see the article anymore unless you sign up to be a member; it's free but a hassle, and why bother? Since the article's from Reuters, it's syndicated all over the 'net like a rash. Indeed, we already mentioned it back on Christmas Eve, and our link to it at CNN/Money still works. Guess what? It's the Reuters article in which analyst Rob "Guess Which Orifice I'm Speaking From" Enderle states his opinion that "odds are it's a flash-memory-based player, something to position Apple against the low-cost offerings from Creative and Rio." Notice the presence of the words "odds are." Notice, also, that these words are coming from a man who, we can only infer, lacks most higher brain functions (but looks fabulous in an expensive suit).

Once again, we really want to reiterate that we're not saying that the miniPod won't be Flash-based; personally, we don't think it will, mostly because Flash RAM is so freakin' expensive, but that's just our gut feeling. We just wanted to illustrate how a single analyst's prediction (and we all know how good Enderle's predictions are when it comes to Apple) can turn into a sound bite for a syndicated article which is then cited as cold, hard fact by third- and fourth-hand news reports. The Flash thing went from Enderle's mouth (or something) to Reuters to MacNN to AudioRevolution to PocketFactory, picking up a little more unwarranted credibility each step of the way-- and thus is born a "fact" from the apparently drug-addled ramblings of an analyst who also predicted that iTunes for Windows would flop and Apple would have to switch to Intel chips by the end of 2003.

Okay, granted, there's still a day or so left for that second prediction to come true, but we're not betting the mortgage on it...

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They're Here... Or There (12/30/03)

All of this miniPod speculation is too late now, anyway-- the product is already here! And let us tell you, you could have knocked us over with something as light as a feather (but not actually a feather, see, because that would be a cliché) when we found out that Apple had decided to bail on the whole "let's announce it at the Stevenote" plan and just tell the press today. And only the UK press. Funny how these things happen, isn't it? But hey, if we understood any of it, we'd be running Apple ourselves instead of trying to come up with more Ballmer jokes involving sweat glands and monkey genetics. In any event, the miniPod is here.

What's that you say? You hadn't heard? Well, you're clearly not getting your fill of news from the London Evening Standard, then, because there it is, plain as day: "Apple launches mini iPod." And if you need to delve deeper than the headline (whatever you say, College Boy), the Standard makes things plain by reporting that "days after more than a million people paid up to £400 for the most popular hi-tech toy of Christmas, the iPod, manufacturer Apple has announced a cut-price mini version." See? It's been announced. By Apple. After all, if it's in the newspaper it must be true.

Still don't believe us? Then for corroboration, look no further than the Edinburgh Evening News, which declares that the "new smaller iPod is going for a song" and that "Apple has announced it is unveiling a smaller version which will cost around £65 - £185 cheaper than the current bottom-of-the-range model." So England knows, Scotland knows, and apparently the only one who didn't know is, well, you. Try to keep up, okay? You're embarrassing the rest of us over here.

Of course, you're right to raise the point that the Evening Standard then states that "Apple chief Steve Jobs is expected to unveil the cheaper iPod at a San Francisco exhibition next week," which somewhat contradicts the whole "Apple has announced..." bit just three paragraphs earlier. And the Evening News mysteriously includes almost the exact same line ("Apple chief executive Steve Jobs is expected to unveil the new iPods at an exhibition in San Francisco next week"-- darn close, isn't it?) at the end of its otherwise quite different article. What do you reckon: intentional misinformation campaign by the UK purely intended to mess with the heads of us bloody colonials? Geez, dump one shipload of tea in the harbor and they taunt you with fake iPod announcements a couple of centuries later. Talk about bearing a grudge.

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Care-Not-So-Much-At-All (12/30/03)

So there we were, sitting around with one scene to go and wondering what feeble bits of news out there might possibly pass for drama during this interholiday pre-Expo lull, when the phone rang. Turns out that the kid of one of our cousins back in the Midwest received a copy of Care Bears Care-a-lot Jamboree (we swear we're not making this up) as a Christmas gift, and it was causing something of a problem in the installation department. Did we perhaps have a few minutes to help our cousin figure out what was wrong?

We said "hey, sure," because said cousin isn't the most technically-inclined person around and we are naturally helpful people who are already lobbying for inclusion on Santa's "Nice" list for next year. (We don't take chances when it comes to free loot.) The problem was that, whether she inserted the CD-ROM in her original Blueberry iBook running Mac OS 8.6 or her Snow G3 iMac running Jaguar, she wasn't seeing any obvious "Click Here To Install" sort of thingy that software developers are usually so careful to make obvious, particularly in consumer software like this. She read off a few filenames from the twenty-seven in front of her: carebearcd.ico, SETUP.INS, uninst.dll. "Those are Windows files," we explained to her. "Try not to look directly at them. Is there maybe a folder that says 'Macintosh' or something like that?"

No, there was nothing of the sort, we were told-- at which point we asked her to read us the system requirements from the box, because we had a sneaking suspicion that she'd been given a Windows-only piece of software. But no: Win/Mac CD-ROM, the box proclaimed, with Mac requirements that both her systems comfortably met. So what was the deal, we wondered? Had the disc mounted as two volumes? Had she opened the Windows one by mistake? No, there was only one icon on the Desktop. Could she open the file "readme.txt"? Yes, she could, but its contents consisted of the words "Care Bears README:" and then a blinking cursor. Ahhh, yes... software documentation at its finest.

When in doubt, we figured, read the manual. What did the instructions say? She informed us that the only installation instructions began with "1. Click on 'Start.'" There was no Mac installation procedure to be found. After a brief search on the 'net, we eventually found these installation instructions on the ValuSoft support site (and with a name like "ValuSoft" you just know it's going to be good stuff). The Mac directions, which were inexplicably omitted from the package, tell you to "double click on Care Bear Installer and follow the on-screen directions." Our cousin insisted that there was no "Care Bear Installer," but there was a "CareBearInstaller" and a "CareBearInstaller.rsrc," both with generic icons, and when double-clicked they just pulled up Mac OS X's "The application that created this file could not be found" dialog. Now what?

Okay, we admit it-- at this point we figured she just had to be missing something obvious. We talked her through taking a screen shot of the CD-ROM contents and emailing it to us, and lo and behold, she was right: "Care Bear Installer" was nowhere to be found. Time to contact tech support.

Of course, this being "ValuSoft," no phone number for tech support was given; there was a web site, a mailing address, and an email address. The web site was singularly unhelpful, with the "Installation and troubleshooting" section providing nothing more than installation instructions that referred to a nonexistent installer. (Tellingly, the "Support Request" page for Care Bears has a menu for "Operating System" that lists ten versions of Windows... and "Other." All of the tip links, like "How to find out how much RAM your computer has," contain Windows-only instructions. You get the picture.) From the mailing address we were able to find a phone number via Switchboard. Our cousin took the number and said she's call us back after she'd yelled at them a little.

The phone rang again barely five minutes later; "they knew exactly what I was talking about," our cousin said. It seems that someone goofed just a smidge and ValuSoft shipped out several thousand CD-ROMs in boxes that said "Win/Mac" but with no actual Mac software inside. The Mac version of the game exists; it just hadn't been included on the first pressing of the CD-ROM. Whoopsie. By the time they'd discovered that teensy error, ValuSoft executives evidently decided that a recall would be too expensive, especially since only a few of those lame Mac users would ever even notice the problem. Instead they just left a bunch of Windows-only software out there in boxes advertising Mac compatibility, and figured they'd ship replacement disks to anyone who complained.

The only problem with that strategy is that it's obnoxious to the extreme, especially since the company didn't even provide a tech support phone number, let alone a toll-free one. ValuSoft's Mac customers are expected to click around in frustration and call relatives who produce Apple-themed 'net-based soap operas a thousand miles away before finally consulting the Care Bears support page (assuming they all have Internet access, of course), which, amazingly, makes absolutely no mention of this problem anywhere that we can see. We can at least understand the business decision not to spend money on a recall (even though we may not like it)-- but what's the rationale behind not even putting a link on the support page that says "Mac Users with Install Problems: Click Here Because We're Royal Boneheads And You Need A New Disc"?

Anyway, our cousin's replacement disc is (allegedly) in the mail, but only because she called a number that ValuSoft never gave her in the first place. Had she tried to contact tech support through the web form, her kid would be waiting even longer; "answers are usually received within 2 - 3 business days." With "Mac-friendly" developers like these, who needs a sharp stick in the eye? So, a word to the wise: the Care Bears may Care-a-lot, but ValuSoft clearly doesn't.

But at least it gave us something to write about.

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