TV-PGFebruary 2, 2004: The Super Bowl is over, and while there was no Apple commercial, at least you can watch the Pepsi one over and over. Meanwhile, rumor has it that Apple is working with Microsoft on compatibility between AAC and WMA, and it turns out that the G5 Athlon thingy was a hoax-- sort of...
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From the writer/creator of AtAT, a Pandemic Dad Joke taken WAYYYYYY too far


 
The Ugly Death Of Hope (2/2/04)
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Okay, well, judging by the smoldering overturned cars in our local Boston-area streets and the shirtless, face-painted individuals passed out in doorways with grins frozen solid to their skulls while still clutching empty six-packs, we're going to take a wild, flailing stab at it and assume that the Patriots won the Super Bowl last night. Good for them, and good for us; the local constabulary is likely to cut us all sorts of slack this week while the afterglow lasts, so we'll probably take full advantage of the situation by violating all sorts of laws. That's right: we're going to park more than a foot from the curb, cross against the traffic light, and loiter. Brazenly.

To bring this at least within spitting distance of being on-topic, we should point out that Panthers fans aren't the only people with dashed hopes this Monday morning. Mac rumor addicts who refused to take Apple at its word and clung to desperate hopes that a surprise Apple ad was in the offing have TiVoed through the entire broadcast six times (strangely, we keep overhearing the phrase "pausing on Janet"), searching for Appley goodness to no avail. At this point we have to think it's safe to say that the reports of Steve's utter indifference to the event were legit and Apple really doesn't plan any big celebration for the Mac's 20th birthday, because the Super Bowl was probably our last reasonable shot at it.

So that's it, then: the Mac turned twenty, and Apple only marked the occasion with a few introductory comments by Steve Jobs during his last keynote address and a "special edition" reissue of the 1984 ad-- a reissue that was never actually broadcast, during the Super Bowl or otherwise. What, no stunningly original new Mac? No Cookie Puss ice cream cake from Carvel? Not even a stinkin' celebratory press release? We bet the anthropomorphized Mac platform feels just like Samantha in Sixteen Candles, only it doesn't even get to make out with the school hunk at the end. (Well, as far as we know.)

So, sorry, Super Bowl hopers; apparently the Pepsi-iTunes ad was the closest thing to an Apple commercial you'd get. On the plus side, if you've decided to obsess over it in lieu of having an actual Apple commercial to watch, Apple has accommodatingly posted a crisp and clean QuickTime version in multiple resolutions, and as of last night, the full version of the just-for-the-ad cover of "I Fought the Law" by Green Day is now available for download from the iTunes Music Store. Drink a Pepsi or three and you can even get it for free. Is sixty ounces of sugar water enough to drown your disappointment? Maybe. But at the very least you'll probably be able to sing the entire birthday song in one continuous burp, and really, what's more special than that?


 
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Format Wars: Cease Fire? (2/2/04)
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Now that the Pepsi 100 million song giveaway has officially been launched, we think it's probably safe to assume that the iTunes Music Store is going to enjoy a significant increase in traffic over the next few months. There'll be more songs downloaded, more people installing and using iTunes, maybe even more iPods sold as a result. (There'll also be a lot more fizzy syrup purchased and a lot more teeth rotted away, but that's not strictly relevant. Although we can't stress enough the importance of daily flossing; have you tried Glide? Because it totally changed our lives. Seriously.)

The upshot, of course, is likely to be that the number one music download service will extend its already massive lead over what we chortlingly refer to as its "competitors" (chortle, chortle-- told you) and the iPod will retain its position at the top of the market share heap for portable players, both in units sold and cash pulled in. Oh, and don't forget about the boost Apple will get once Hewlett-Packard comes online with its bluePod and its iTunes-on-every-Wintel plan. All told, it sounds like Apple has the market nicely sewn up for at least the next eight or nine months.

But is the company resting on its laurels? Are we doomed to watch Apple get complacent and toss its lead out the window as copycat competitors churn out cheaper products and services that aren't nearly as good but are "good enough"? It'd be heartbreaking to watch Apple's digital music lead go the way of its GUI and ease-of-use lead in desktop operating systems, but with the iTMS's use of the AAC file format and proprietary Digital Rights Management code restricting native iTMS song use to iTunes and iPods only (while every other device and service climbs into Microsoft's overcrowded bed and licenses WMA), several analysts and pundits think that's exactly what's going to happen.

Personally, we get the feeling that Apple is boosting its digital music market share so strongly right now, it's actually got a decent shot of beating Microsoft at the format game. If the iPod keeps selling until it becomes ubiquitous, other music download services will either have to switch to an iPod-friendly music format or close up shop. If that happens, makers of portable players would follow suit. It's a war that Apple might conceivably win-- even though it's battling Microsoft. Crazy stuff.

Still, though, we're a little relieved to hear even questionable reports that Apple and Microsoft may be working together to resolve the WMA vs. AAC conflict before anyone gets hurt. Billboard claims that, at the behest of the music industry at large, "hardware makers and digital format developers" (including "bitter technology rivals-- most notably Microsoft and Apple") are "engaged in private talks" in hopes of improving compatibility between competing devices and services by next year. So far the talks are apparently centering on a means to convert between the protected AAC and WMA formats, which is clunky, but not nearly as clunky as burning an audio CD and re-ripping the song.

The implication is that eventually a more transparent solution might be found-- but Billboard acknowledges that, as the market share leader, Apple holds all the cards right now, and has just about zero incentive to make iTMS songs compatible with non-iPod devices. Apple makes money on iPod sales and just about loses cash on each song sale, so selling songs for other manufacturer's players would be silly. So hey, maybe the war will continue after all. Wouldn't it be nifty if Apple won this time around?


 
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A Welcome Relief-- Of Sorts (2/2/04)
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Fished in! Fished in!! We probably should have mentioned this on Friday just so's you wouldn't be needlessly nauseated all weekend, but whatever. We were busy; lots of tapes of "What's Happening!" to watch, you know? But basically, you remember that Athloned-up, green-neoned Power Mac G5 that had you retching in the corner and weeping uncontrollably at the now-undeniable presence of unconquerable Evil in this world? (Of course you remember; as if you could ever wash that hideous image off of the defiled canvas of your mind.) Well, as it turns out, it was just a hoax. Sort of.

Yup, a hoax. But don't go unknotting your intestines all the way just yet; we said "sort of" because the green-glowing x86ified Power Mac enclosure does, in fact, stain our plane of reality by virtue of its very existence. (Short version: it's real.) The hoax part was the story behind its construction. Faithful viewer Clayton Romer notes that the original URL for the butchered G5 now includes a note from "Andy," the vile perpetrator of the beast's unholy assembly, in which he reveals that, no, his parents didn't give him a dual-processor Power Mac G5 for Christmas which he subsequently mutilated in order to install a hodgepodge of icky Wintel parts just so he could play MP3s in Windows XP. Instead, he actually just came into possession of a "free G5 shell" and stunk it up with junkyard crap, primarily to "pull a prank on a Mac-loving friend." In other words, no G5s were harmed in the making of this nightmare.

We admit it: we fell for it completely, largely because if someone has little enough taste to violate a G5 enclosure (free and empty or not) with a hacksaw, green neon, and PC parts, such a person seems capable of any contemptible act, no matter how vulgar. While we're still appalled beyond mortal understanding at knowing that an abomination like that exists, we can at least take the slightest bit of solace in the knowledge that at least a brand new, fully functional, never-hurt-anyone G5 wasn't destroyed to create it. As far as acts of optimism go, it's sort of like saying "well, at least Ed Gein got most of his corpses from the graves of people who had already died." It is a little bit better, right?

Then again, if you were really digging the persecution complex, consider this: by his own admission, "Andy" received 1300 hate mail messages in two days. (Well, actually, 60% of that was probably MyDoom mail, but still, he was getting flamed pretty badly.) So how sure are we that his "it was a hoax" explanation isn't the real hoax? After all, if he really did gut a brand new G5 and then received death threats because of it, wouldn't he try to convince everyone that he was "just kidding"? Think about it: who gets a free G5 enclosure from "a buddy"? That's right up there with "Gee, officer, I was just standing here and this guy asked me to hold this TV for him and then he just took off..."

Anyway, we suppose the point is largely moot. There's no question that Andy's going to Mac Hell for defiling a G5 enclosure and causing thousands of Mac fans severe gastrointestinal distress; the only question is whether he killed a G5 to do it, and that'll only determine how hot they'll crank the flames. Enjoy your remaining time on earth, "Andy," because the place you're headed may have four distinct thermal zones, but it sure doesn't have nine fans to keep you cool...


 
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