TV-PGFebruary 10, 2004: Apple makes Macs-- at least, the historians assure us that it does; so where are those new Power Macs and displays and whatnot? Meanwhile, shadows whisper of gross impropriety in Apple's relationship with its own retail store employees, even as the company faces no fewer than five class action lawsuits based on chintzy iPod battery life...
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It's A Scene About Nothing (2/10/04)

Gather 'round, children, and your grizzled and ancient AtAT staff will regale you with tales of Olden Times. (Just as soon as we find our teeth.) Believe it or not, way back at the dawn of human civilization, dieters counted calories instead of carbs, Ashton Kutcher dated women only slightly older than him, and Apple used to make a computer called the Macintosh. No, really, it's true! We know that today the company seems to be all about the music, but, see, back then, music was something people bought on these shiny flat discs called "CDs," so you can appreciate how different an era we're talking about, here.

Seriously, with no new Macs (other than Xserves, which sorta count, we suppose) introduced since waaaay back in the Mesozoic era-- meaning, November, which was like three whole months ago-- it's no wonder people are starting to forget that Apple makes Macs as well as iPods. Even the memories of the faithful are starting to drift, especially since none of the Mac gear that's been wearing out its welcome in the "Any Day Now, Honestly" bins at the 'net's seedier rumor sites has seen fit to show up yet. Every day we get Apple historians writing in wondering what's up with Apple's displays, which still feature decidedly G4-era translucents-'n'-pinstripes styling. Wasn't there supposed to be a 30-inch Cinema Display by now, they wonder? And then they start asking about speed-bumped Power Macs, which have been on the "Maybe Tomorrow, We Swear" list since they were a no-show at last month's Expo. And, of course, the historians who are too fresh-faced to have had all their optimism and youthful idealism stomped out of them so far even ask about the PowerBook G5, which at least one report last year had described as a Q1 product.

So we figured we'd take a break from all the recent Pepsi bottle cap coverage to address some of these retro-chic Mac issues, and our official take on all the aforementioned products is this: We Don't Know™. Really, we haven't the foggiest idea when or if any of that stuff is finally going to surface and remind the world that, hey, Apple makes these computer thingies, too. But we can point out a few noteworthy indicators that may turn your own guesses into educated guesses, and you don't even need to mortgage the house for tuition money. (You can still do it if you want to, though; we're sure we can scrape up a $50K Karmic InvisiShirt™; if you're really in the market.)

We can't shed any light on the display sitch, other than to say that a couple of people have posited that Apple was holding them for release alongside the speed-bumped Power Macs, which allegedly keep getting delayed. We can't say whether the Power Macs are delayed or not, but we can remind you (as faithful viewer Mikey kindly informed us) that Apple Australia has been running a trade-up promo for a little while, now, by which Aussies can turn in their older Blue-and-White or Graphite Power Macs for credit towards a new aluminum beastie. The program runs through March 26th, which some people have interpreted to mean that speed-bumped G5s aren't likely to show up before then. Personally, we don't see how this promo necessarily precludes an earlier revamp of the G5 line, but the good news here is that you get to make up your own mind. Yes, just like a big kid in a coming-of-age drama, but don't go all after-school special on us, okay?

As for the PowerBook G5, Mac OS Rumors is claiming that it won't materialize until "the late third quarter," which may be disappointing even though it's well in line with Apple's official statements that it hopes to have it on the market by the end of the year. So if you've been hanging on that "PowerBook G5 within the first 3 months of 2004" thing, this is probably as good a time as any to wave goodbye to the dream (although there are some intriguing yet maddeningly unspecific whispers floating around about something "huge" coming in April). PowerBook update junkies need not despair completely, though, since MOSR claims that before the G5 reaches the PowerBook line, Apple will bump the G4 line up to as high as 1.533 GHz in the spring, with additional cache, better graphics, and bigger and faster hard disks. Of course, this is all pretty speculative at this point, but you knew that already.

So there you have it: in terms of hard Mac facts, there's a whole lotta nothin' goin' on, just like always. No wonder the Mac is fading from memory. But actually, come to think of it, what's this "Mac" thing you people keep talking about, anyway?

Hey, howzabout them there miniPods? Pink! Wacky!

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Evil Comes Home To Roost (2/10/04)

But enough baseless speculation about potential upcoming Macs. Come on, people, don't you ever feel a little silly engaging in that sort of behavior? What good does it do anyone in the long run? Responsible citizens are spending their time trying to cure cancer and end world hunger, while you're sitting around trying to predict how long it'll take Apple to squeeze a G5 into a PowerBook. It's shameful, isn't it? Seriously, folks, it's time to but such childish endeavors behind us so we can instead move on to far loftier pursuits.

You know, like the dishing of unsubstantiated dirt. It makes the world go 'round.

So didja hear the scuttlebutt about Apple maybe not playing fair with its own retail employees? This is a slight departure from the norm ("Norm!!"), which is, of course, widespread reports that Apple isn't playing fair with its resellers and retail partners. You've all heard that spiel umpteen times: Apple promises not to ship short-supply merchandise to its own retail stores first (and then does it anyway); Apple promises not to turn the Apple stores into service centers that would compete with Apple Specialists (and then does that, too); Apple revises reseller contracts to include all sort of nasty conditions (and says sign it or buh-bye); you know the drill. Indeed, you've probably heard this particular drill so often you could pick it out of a Black & Decker line-up by sound alone.

But AppleInsider reports that Apple is breaking promises to its very own employees in its very own retail stores, and, well, that's news to us. The story goes a little something like this: Apple reportedly promised $1000 sales bonuses to any of its retail sales reps who could meet or exceed the company's set and stated goals for sales of Macs or iPods over the last holiday shopping season. Sales clerks' eyes turned into big green dollar signs, their tongues popped out with a "ka-ching!" sound, and they proceeded to sell their little hearts out-- not an easy task, since customers are generally put off by salespeople with dollar signs for eyes and tongues ladling drool onto the hardwood. But when several employees succeeded in hitting Apple's sales goals, they discovered that their bonuses didn't quite come out to a full grand: one employee "sold $500,000 worth of product in a single quarter and got a $500 bonus."

Now, that's not necessarily slimy; Apple may have overestimated the funds it'd have available for the bonuses, which is bad, granted, but probably not evil. This is the part that came straight out of the Evil Corporate Behavior Handbook, 2003 Edition: one former Apple employee claims that his store beat both the Mac and iPod sales goals over the holiday season, and then he showed up over six minutes late for a shift in January. He was required to sign a disclipinary form acknowledging the infraction, and didn't think much of the fact that the form was dated 12/31/2003 despite the fact that New Year's Day had come and gone. Well, apparently he didn't get his bonus; he was told he was ineligible because of that disciplinary form, which was oh-so-conveniently predated with the last day of the holiday quarter. Boo, hiss.

Mind you, as far as we're concerned, these are still just unsubstantiated reports, but if they are true... well, yikes. Gee, Senior Veep o' Retail Ron Johnson doesn't look like he sacrifices puppies to the Dark Lords of Beyond...

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5 Lawsuits, Lots O' Waiting (2/10/04)

As you all know, we here at the AtAT compound are dedicated to ensuring that you get 100% of your daily recommended allowance of Apple-flavored hysteria each and every day. Well, at some point of the day-- assuming it's not a weekend or a holiday or we get distracted by a shiny thing or something really good's on TV or we just don't feel like doing anything at the moment. That, faithful viewers, is our unbeatable commitment to quality.

Okay, so let's monitor our progress in today's episode by going over the checklist for a well-balanced breakfast, dramatically speaking. Reckless speculation about unannounced Apple products? Check. Unsubstantiated dirt on alleged nasty Apple doings without even a token attempt to confirm the facts or contact the company for its side of the story? Check. So what's left? What one crucial element still remains absent from today's episode, but is absolutely vital to the completion of the eternal Holy Trinity of Apple Drama?

You guessed it: lawsuits! And we've got a whole bushel of 'em!

Remember when everybody went all nutso and frothing over alleged problems with iPod battery life? Remember when class action lawyers started sniffing around for more easy money? Well, faithful viewer Steve Klein notes that, as reported by Reuters, Apple's newly-filed 10-Q form reveals that the company currently faces no fewer than five, count 'em, five class action suits, all filed in December and all alleging that Apple "misrepresented the battery life of its iPod digital music player" to a degree constituting "false advertising," "fraudulent concealment," "breach of warranty," and (somehow) "unfair competition." Meanwhile, AtAT's iPods, both over two years old, have batteries that are holding up just fine-- darn the luck. We really could have used a $5 coupon off a $99 Apple Store purchase when the suits finally get resolved three years from Easter.

Right now the plaintiffs are trying to get the five separate suits, each mighty in its own way, consolidated into one single ultra-powerful Voltron lawsuit which will be able to extract cash and concessions from Apple in a more efficient fashion. We look forward to plot fodder (and recommended daily lawsuity goodness) these suits will surely provide on occasion for years to come. And hey, look at you! Now you're all drama'd up and ready to rock!

Oh, wait-- we forgot all about the fourth prong in the essential makeup of any decent AtAT episode: violence! Um... well, tell you what, just go check out this Fox News article that faithful viewer Rob Hulson sent our way; it describes a 20 GB MP3 player "modeled on the AK-47's ammunition clip," for the ever-growing market of people who bought an assault rifle specifically to house a portable digital music player. But come up with your own taunts involving Jon Ive's critical lack of foresight in failing to design the iPod to be fitted into common assault weaponry-- Animaniacs is on.

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