iScrewed Up: Apple Goes to the Hype Well One Time Too Many

by Chris Seibold Mar 02, 2006

It was 1978, a small orb with bad intentions eyed a human victim. Hurtling from the troposphere the red ball of kamikaze doom began to mentally tally another human’s death in the onslaught against mankind. Its hubris was short lived, as it approached the intended victim a cacophony of sonic vibrations, beamed into the airwaves by a shoulder mounted device, caused the being’s internal structure to writhe in a way that the thin membrane separating the external world from the creature’s internal organs could not withstand. Seconds later, the killer from the sky exploded in a manner reminiscent of a mouthful of V8 Juice propelled by the world’s largest sneeze. With this one serendipitous trial, scientists were able to quickly deduce that music killed the newly self-aware and murderous tomato. Thus, the world was saved by a boom box.

Or so went the plot of the camp classic or all around horrible Attack of The Killer Tomatoes. Whatever your take on the movie, should life suddenly imitate art (or lack thereof), until Tuesday’s revelations by Apple the world was sorely under prepared. White earbuds, even on max volume, aren’t going to stop vine-produced fruit with bad intentions. Now we can all rest assured that should the unthinkable happen, should tomatoes become sincerely pissed at all the years of ketchup making, we can arm ourselves with a device called the iPod Hi-Fi.

On the other hand, actually carrying the iPod Hi-Fi will be a chore. The unit is heavy and, for those wishing to defend themselves from salad ingredients, features handles only on the sides, not located in the more easily weaponized middle. On the bright side, the iPod Hi-Fi will run off D cell batteries, so you have got that going for you. Best of all, when you’re not busy defending the human race, you’ll be glad that the iPod Hi-Fi sounds so good at least one audiophile is jettisoning his high priced stereo system for the thing. However, that ringing endorsement is a bit suspect when the audiophile putting his high priced stereo on the curb is Steve Jobs.

Discerning readers will instantly note that finding a truly sated audiophile is right up there with finding Bigfoot. Sure, there might be, somewhere, an audiophile that is actually pleased with the sound his or her system produces, or an undiscovered seven foot bipedal primate but, until someone submits an actual carcass of either one to the scientific community, most people will continue to scoff at the notion that such things exist. Audiophiles, after all, are people who debate the relative merits of vacuum tubes versus semiconductors and argue vociferously about sounds well beyond the range of human hearing. Assuming that the iPod Hi-Fi is audiophile quality (and that is quite an assumption) then songs purchased from the iTunes store are going to sound fairly horrible when the iPod Hi-Fi exposes every flaw. Note that the personal range of audio acuity achieved by this author consists of being able to tell that AC DC has made more than one song (hint: they change the words but keep everything else the same) and even your humble writer will aver that songs purchased from the iTunes music store aren’t the most faithful reproductions of the original studio recordings.

Don’t worry if you found the introduction of the iPod Hi-Fi a little disappointing, Apple had other stuff for you to buy err, love. The new iPod case may be the most overlooked part of the media fest. iPod lovers everywhere can now cradle their smallish digital audio player in a sleeve of “fine Italian leather.” Perhaps the leather isn’t as supple as the rich Corinthian leather used in Chryslers or perhaps it is a little more tactilely enchanting. It doesn’t matter, as long as it is a step above the course rawhide leather used by summer camps across the country everyone should be satisfied. And let’s be honest at this point: Where else are you going to get a more functional case than the one Apple just introduced? It isn’t as if other case makers have come up with way to actually control your iPod while it stays in the case. That would be impossible. Kudos Apple, you’ll beat that reputation of making overpriced, style before function, products in no time with the introduction of an iPod sleeve with a ribbon. Pure Brilliance!

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the new Mac mini. As we all know the switch to Intel is no big deal, much less disruptive than the switch to OS X and something most consumers won’t even notice or care about. That Apple goes out of their way to advertise the switch to Intel while neglecting what actually makes a Mac a Mac shouldn’t shake our faith in Steve’s pronouncements that Intel inside is non-issue in the big scheme of things. In any event, for something that just doesn’t matter, the new Mac mini makes all the right moves. More ports, more space, and an optional Intel Core Duo chip, it all adds up to basically everything you could want out of a low priced computer (except a video card, but the integrated graphics are said to be ideal for the mini).

Sure, you have to give up a sub five hundred dollar price point but, ask yourself, when was the last time you were lured into a purchase by a low initial price only to find the cost to actually own the item was higher? That gambit never works. If it did you’d see the newspaper filled with ads for stripped down Dells and cars advertised at thousands less than a reasonable person would expect to pay. In short, a low starting price just doesn’t move product. If it did auto manufacturers would call things like color coordinated floor mats and air conditioning “options” and charge extra for said items.

Actual introductions aside, the real problem with Tuesday’s event might not have been the products but the expectations. When you’re Apple you need to be very careful about what product release is worth a media event. The nano release was relegated to a Motorola event even though the nano made the supposed star, the ROKR, yesterday’s news at it’s coming out party. The shuffle, one will remember, didn’t make the cut as a stand alone intro and waited for MacWorld.

With those examples in mind, and the swirl of never-to-happen rumors from MacWord still lingering in the cyber air, everyone expected something great. A movie store, a true video iPod, a MacTablet that read your mind, or the fabled iPb&J were all expected to finally make into the hands of users at this event. With expectations set that high there was little chance that this would be a satisfying announcement. Of course, there is a big difference between satisfying the faithful’s wildly unreasonable expectations and prancing around on stage just because you know you can get people to watch. Was the media event a waste of time or were expectations just too high? It is left as an exercise for the reader to categorize Tuesday’s revelations.





  • Once again, I fully believe it was done for one of two reasons (or both):

    1) To lower expectations for the 30th anniversary event thus creating MUCH more impact and ‘WOW’ at that event.
    2) They pulled the touchpad iPod product fearing to be upstaged by MS’s Origami (not sure how that could happen though!)

    milklover had this to say on Mar 02, 2006 Posts: 22
  • I don’t know what you’re complaining about, Chris.  The HiFi and Mac Mini aside, that leather sleeve is a perfect example of everything Apple, and it can be defended with all of the usual Apple-apologist rhetoric.

    “They’ve sacrificed function for simplicity and ease-of-use, the hallmark of Apple design.”

    And that’s true.  The new Apple sleeve does give up function for simplicity.  Just slide the iPod in and out of the opening.  What could be easier?  Of course, you can’t control your iPod or see the screen while it’s in there, but “hey,” the apologists ask, “why would you want to do that?  There’s a reason Apple designed it that way and that’s good enough for me.”

    “It’s comparably priced, if you factor in intagibles like style.”

    For a stupid leather sleeve, it sure does look nice.  It’s got iPod emblazoned right there on the front, and you just can’t put a value on that level of design and style.  Oh wait, yes you can.  And that value is whatever the huge difference is between an Apple product and its much cheaper third-party alternative.  In this case, that would be the entire cost of the sleeve, about $100.

    “It’s innovative.  Sure, there were leather cases before this, but none of…had…eh…the iPod logo on the front.”

    Yeah, that’s the tiny marginal difference that makes this product not a ripoff of everything that came before it.  But every leather case that comes out from anyone hence forth will forever be known as a ripoff of Apple’s leather case.

    “Apple’s got to make money.  You don’t expect them to give stuff away.”

    You won’t get any argument from me on this one.  Apple does indeed have to make money, and make money they do.  They’ve developed a rather ingenious method of doing it as well.  Get a bunch of people together, convince them that buying your product will make them smart, more creative, and special, then charge them way too much for it, and make them more than happy to pay that difference.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 02, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • “Assuming that the iPod Hi-Fi is audiophile quality (and that is quite an assumption) then songs purchased from the iTunes store are going to sound fairly horrible when the iPod Hi-Fi exposes every flaw.”

    Yeah but suppose you stuff your ears first with a pair of ipod socks?

    koreyel had this to say on Mar 02, 2006 Posts: 22
  • “then charge them way too much for it” - sniffing glue?

    The iPod has set the mark for music players. Others had to lower their prices to compete. As for computers, when you factor in all the software, the computer is a better deal that PC’s.

    Nice try though.

    milklover had this to say on Mar 02, 2006 Posts: 22
  • Thanks for a most excellently entertaining piece, Chris. You’ve raised the bar again.

    Was the media event a waste of time or were expectations just too high?

    Definitely the latter.

    Granted besides the integrated graphics - people are happy with the Mac mini. Me I’m rapt, it’s way more than I expected. I didn’t expect a duo or the extra ports.

    There’s been much derision of the Hi-Fi, but again, a boombox was predicated, so more could they expect of one?

    The reason folks is unhappy is because Apple didn’t release EVERYTHING they’ve been waiting for.

    Did it deserve it’s own event? Given the scale of the event, I’d say it was fine.

    On another note, Steve didn’t sound well…again… Is he getting too old for this?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 02, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Steve, What were you thinking?

    Obviously, somebody talked you into this. If not, I worry you’ve suffered a personal tragedy…. Your performance was just not convincing.

    Crying wolf, and then delivering a couple of cute Beagle puppies just doesn’t compute.

    Your future “invites” have taken a serious credibility blow.


    Since9-6-84 had this to say on Mar 02, 2006 Posts: 1
  • They haven’t taken a blow. You just can’t see the big picture. Maybe most people can’t and I am one of the lucky ones.

    The hype forms have gone nuts. Expectations are through the roof. This simply lowers expectations for the next big event and increases the WOW factor.

    milklover had this to say on Mar 03, 2006 Posts: 22
  • The reason folks is unhappy is because Apple didn’t release EVERYTHING they’ve been waiting for.

    I’m not sure I agree.  We’re talking about a VERY easy to please crowd, many of whom are finding themselves suddenly defending integrated graphics for the first time ever.

    But what they got was an upgrade to an existing product (an arguably decent upgrade, but still just an upgrade), and two iPod accessories, one of which is almost pathetic beyond mention.

    If one really great product had been delivered, that would have been enough, but Apple couldn’t even do that much.

    It was pretty much a bad call.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 03, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I see you let Beeblebrox write your article this time, Chris smile

    But way to go to point out the fact Apple calls it a product for audiophiles, yet iTunes music store is terrible quality downloads. Damn.. just ONE question to Steve in a Q&A session.. this one question is all I would to pose to him. C’mon, someone in the media must be reading this?

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Mar 03, 2006 Posts: 299
  • milklover,

    I’m sorry to be a bit rude, but how do you know that your idea of the “big picture” is correct?  Unless you’re Steve Jobs in disguise…because face it, unless you are, all you have is an opinion of what that “big picture” is (and a pretty big ego to boot). 

    To the rest of us poor slobs who don’t quite have your vision, yes, we were disappointed.  Yes, the expectations were a bit much, but Apple *did* set the bar quite high. 

    The buzz around Apple nowadays is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because people can’t wait to see what Apple will come up with next, and a curse because expectations get set way too high.  Microsoft?  If Origami delivers even 50% of what the hype is, people will be happy.  Heck, look at Vista—it’ll be the greatest thing since sliced bread if it’s delivered on schedule—despite having all the “cool” features scaled back.  All because with Microsoft, expectations are low.

    Most of the times, Apple hits the mark.  Sometimes, though, they miss.  Whether they missed badly with this iPod Hi-fi remains to be seen.

    MojoJojo had this to say on Mar 04, 2006 Posts: 14
  • Mojo, we all know that drinking the drug-laced Kool-aid can cause visions.  And in this case, rather fantastical ones.  The idea that Apple intentionally tanked this product presentation in order to lower expectations for the next one are borderline preposterous.

    I find it odd sometimes that I seem to understand Jobs more than those who worship him as a demi-god.  But then again, maybe that’s why.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 04, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Is it me or is there a hefty overdose of self confidence floating around?

    I quite like the new stuff. But I wasn’t that psyched about the whole thing, so I coudln’t really be disappointed. I think the way it’s panned out gives us some insight into apple’s game plan for the Switch, which is nice for those who care, and for those who pretend not to raspberry

    Benji had this to say on Mar 05, 2006 Posts: 927
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