TV-PGJanuary 8, 2004: Holy Hannah, Hewlett-Packard is rebranding the iPod! Meanwhile, someone dupes Exposé as a $10 app for the Windows crowd, and the analysts keep talking up AAPL as the price continues to rise...
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Skip Copying, Go For Cloning (1/8/04)

Apologies if we seem even less coherent than usual today, folks, but we're a little distracted; we're still digging tiny shards of skull out of our ceiling. See, we figured that today would bring another Herculean struggle to unearth some wee morsels of dramatic interest from the post-Stevenote glut of third-party Expo product announcements and overblown media analysis. Little did we suspect that faithful viewer Rene Franco had forwarded us an Apple press release that, when we read it, blew the tops right off our craniums. Honestly, brains flying everywhere. And before breakfast, no less.

If you somehow dodged this story and kept your skull in one piece, prepare for detonation: Hewlett-Packard (you know, that other computer company trying to reposition itself as a consumer electronics provider) will indeed be selling its own branded digital music player as previous reports had hinted, but said player will actually be a rebranded iPod. It won't be called an iPod, mind you, and it probably won't look much like an iPod, but it'll have iPod guts through and through-- Apple's even going to build the things, and they'll display the Apple logo when they're turned on. What's more, all of HP's consumer Wintel systems (meaning, every "HP Pavilion, Media Center and Compaq Presario desktop and notebook consumer PC") will come with iTunes preloaded, with "an easy-reference desktop icon to point consumers directly to the iTunes Music Store."

If your braincase is still intact (it shouldn't be; this is almost-- almost-- a licensing deal we're talking about, here), faithful viewer Kevin Crossman points out that analyst Rob Enderle has given this deal his personal seal of approval-- which, given Enderle's track record, either means Apple just made its biggest mistake ever, or Rob walked into a door and knocked his neuron back into place. We can't tell which, but we're leaning toward the latter, because hello, market share, anyone? With AOL and HP backing the iTMS and that Pepsi giveaway slated to kick off in three more weeks, Apple is poised to grind all other music downloads services into the pavement. Once the dust finally settles, the iTMS will emerge as the de facto standard means of purchasing and downloading music, the iPod (and its HP-branded cousin) will be lodged so firmly in first place that people carrying other players will be rounded up and banished from modern society, and Apple can begin its thousand-year monopolistic reign as Emperor of Digital Tunage. Good times.

Oh, and just to make absolutely sure your head explodes, the press release also quotes Steve Jobs referring to HP as "an innovative consumer company." KABOOM!

And so, due to Apple's irresponsible behavior, we're still left on brain detail like Jules in Pulp Fiction. Seriously, what kind of a stunt is this? Apple barfs out no fewer than ten press releases on Stevenote Day, and then issues one that's potentially more significant than all the rest put together two days later? We can only assume that the deal hadn't yet been signed on Tuesday, because this is clearly the sort of announcement that would normally rank some primo airtime during Steve's dog and pony show. It just goes to show that you've got to be ready for anything in this business, or you wind up spending entirely too much time worrying about stubborn fluid stains.

On a related note, does anybody know if OxiClean gets out grey matter? 'Cause if not, this Elvis wall hanging is never going to be the same again...

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"It's Just A Coincidence!" (1/8/04)

You know, it's been hours since we've been infuriated by an especially shameless Wintel knockoff of an Apple product, and you'd think that would be a good thing. But as it turns out, we've become so conditioned to acute indignation caused by the blithe theft of Apple's best ideas, when we go without it for too long our blood sugar drops sharply and we get the shakes. Prolonged deprivation would probably lead to coma and, eventually, death-- so thank heavens faithful viewer Nicolas sent us a self-righteous outrage booster all the way from Belgium in the form of a link to a certain little software product called WinExposé. You get three guesses what it does. The first four don't count.

Yes, kiddies, it was only a matter of time; someone's copied Panther's Exposé feature and made it available to users of Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP for the low, low price of just $9.95. And when we say "copied," we don't mean that someone sat down and wrote some software that does something kinda sorta similar; we mean it was copied, down to the teensiest detail. One keystroke scales, tiles, and moves all application windows and lets you click on one to bring it forward; another keystroke does the same for only the current application's windows; a third reveals the desktop. It also supports screen corner activation. Run the (admittedly nifty) Flash-based demo to see just how similar it is. So much for Apple's claim that "you won't find it anywhere else."

Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, there seems to be absolutely zero reference on the entire WinExposé web site to Exposé, Apple, or Mac OS X. There is a "Frequently Asked Questions" page, however (which only contains one actual question, but hey, whatever), although we find it hard to believe that the company's most frequently-asked question is "What is it?" and not "Have you no shame?"

Of course, what some Mac users might find most galling of all is that there's no Mac port of the product. We know at least a few Jaguar users who would gladly shell out ten clams for MacWinExposé instead of paying $129 for Panther's 149 other new features. Maybe when 2.0 comes out, hmmmm?

We haven't a clue as to whether or not Apple has grounds for legal action. We don't know if the company patented Exposé's window-switching method, and strangely enough, the Exposé page is noticeably devoid of ™ and ® symbols; Exposé isn't listed as a live Apple trademark in the database of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, nor is it listed (registered or otherwise) on Apple's own Trademark List, which includes such obscure titles as "En Passant®" and "Noiroia™." We have a feeling that if Apple's legal team felt it had any case whatsoever, the WinExposé site would already be down, so it looks like we'll be able to tap into this particular source of copycat outrage for a while, yet. And it's a good thing, too-- we haven't felt this healthy since the eOne!

ADDENDUM: Well, isn't this interesting-- faithful viewer CookieCrisp notes that Exposé now does show up in a USPTO trademark search on "Apple Computer," whereas mere hours ago we can assure you that it did not. We still have last night's original search window open, with 259 live trademarks found; now there are 260, and Exposé tops the list, filed on December 22nd, 2003. As of right this second, it's still not on Apple's January 2004 trademark list, but we suppose that could change any time now. Bring on the lawyers!

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And The Love-In Continues (1/8/04)

Say, remember yesterday when we mentioned that a couple of analysts had said really positive things about GarageBand? It struck us as odd, because we're really not used to analysts being nice after a Stevenote, particularly one that was relatively light on big announcements. Well, the weirdness continues, because now they're actually going ga-ga over the iPod, too; faithful viewer bRaD Weston notes that there are a few choice analyst quotes in a CNN/Money article called "Sweet music for Apple," which asks, "Will [Apple's] new mini model help lift the stock?"

Before you can say "self-fulfilling prophecy," we can tell you that the answer is "yes." AAPL has closed higher for three straight days following the Stevenote, with today's gain being the biggest so far: 77 cents, or 3.41%, with an additional 24 cents tacked on in after-hours trading. And while you can bet that today's lift was due mostly to the Bizarro World announcement of HP-branded iPods coming this summer, we have to believe that positive analyst comments published by CNN/Money itself sure didn't hurt. Matt Kelmon of Kelmoore Investment Co. just doubled his fund's holdings in AAPL because he thinks Apple's about to report a "blowout quarter" due to iPod sales; "I haven't felt this good about a stock in a while," he said.

Need more? Well, Vinnie Muscolino of David L. Babson (David L. Babson is a firm, not a guy-- it's not some freaky indentured servitude arrangement or anything) says that "the success of the iPod could help drive sales" of Macs and that Apple stands to clean up in a major way as the economy improves and people start tossing money around like confetti again. He states that AAPL is "an under-appreciated stock," and Kelmon concurs, noting that shares are only trading at less than twice the company's book value, thanks to that $4-plus billion in cash.

Okay, so they're not talking about the miniPod in particular, but since the mini was the big iPod news this week, we think it's safe to read between the lines. Deliriously unscientific anecdotal evidence suggests that a fair number of people are preordering the lil' puppies (although their absence from the Apple Store Top 20 is slightly worrying), and according to Newsweek, Steve even thinks that "one of the biggest customers for the mini is going to be current owners buying a second iPod. They're going to have both-- when I go on a trip I take my whole library and when I go to the gym I take the mini." We'll need a quarter or so to see whether the miniPod sinks or swims, but it seems like Wall Street, at least, thinks it's got fins.

No, not literally. Sheesh.

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