The Lite Side

The Apple Clock of Doom

- 2002.08.20

Today I plan to weave for you a complex tapestry of paranoid logic so convoluted, so infused with power and incompetence, it will make the folks over at As the Apple Turns drop their newborn on the floor. It will make the Crazy Apple Rumor mongers write haiku for a week. It will cause the MacOS Rumors site to talk about actual user manuals (in print no less), and Think Secret will change its name to Thought Public. Anne Onymus will finally reveal her true identity just for the opportunity to kick me in the head.

As Forrest Gump would say, "Hang on to your buttocks. This is gonna be a wild ride."

The story is complex enough that I will number the stages to help you keep track.

1) Just prior to the recent Macworld, the Mac Web was abuzz with the effrontery of Apple Computer blacklisting certain non-rumor sites as rumor sites and denying them passes as press.

2) Mainstream press at the David Coursey level was beginning to pick up on the story. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being on the evening news of a major television network, this ranks at about a 6 or so. A score of 8 makes it into the syndicated column of a print newspaper, so this is getting close to the Real World that Apple Pays Attention To. (As The Apple Turns rates about a 4 on this scale, and your friendly neighborhood Lite Side resides at 2,with occasional forays into 3 territory.)

3) Seeking to nip the accelerating bad press in the bud, Steve ("Mr. Steve to you") Jobs decides to use a diversionary tactic. In a bold but desperate gambit, he decides to refocus the building ire of Mac web writers on a new topic: .mac.

4) Before any of us can cook up an article on how tacky the ".mac" name is, given the existence of the vaporware ".Net," he ups the ante by declaring ".mac" a pay service.

5) Poof! That's the last you hear about the blacklisting issue as all laser targeting systems are now focused on the relative value, or lack thereof, of ".mac."

6) Mission accomplished: The rumor site complaints dropped from level 6 (and accelerating) to negative numbers - meaning, "If you think you've got problems, little rumor site, just look at me, I spent my last dime buying OS 9 because it had free web storage included." Suddenly the entire blacklisting issue was less than not important - people actively discouraged you from bringing it up, didn't they? Don't deny it.

7) Then there's the whole timing thing. I mean, look at the influence AtAT has on the Mac Web. Fans are going nuts trying to hire baby-sitters, just so's these people can type. When better to put faithful Macolytes through the meat grinder when their most popular voice is semiconscious, smeared with sticky ground up peas in pear sauce, and staggering over to 7-11 in search of exactly the right kind of diapers?

8) Not to mention the attempts by Microsoft to upstage Apple just prior to Macworld. Remember those? That whole issue lasted, what, about 30 hours or so? And what does Mr. Jobs (Steve) do to squelch these rumors? He steals Microsoft's ideas right back! Why hasn't anyone said anything about what a low-down cheap shot ".mac" is at the delayed, derided, unsanitary ".Net?" Judging from the smoothness of the transition, it looks like it took, what, 29 hours of work to set up ".mac." Are you following me here?


This is all going to tie together, so trust me.

9) During Macworld, Apple's announcements of no-upgrade Jaguar pricing and no-options ".mac" gouging were apparently supposed to be counterbalanced by the various other announcements he made. But not really. I mean, who even remembers what those other announcements were? Some screen size bump, some new OS X features I'm supposed to be happy to pay for.

Am I right here? Of course I am.

10) Now let's start to tie this together. Steve's a product of his environment, and as we all know, he's into that 70s-liberal-anti-Republican-he's-met-Clinton-Northern-California school of thought, whatever that is. (All I know is what I read on Fox News.) Integral to these exposures is the concept of the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol. (Oh yeah, that's a really clear connection. You just have to live anywhere but California to get it, though.) You know, the one that says "All good must be accompanied by evil," or else you wouldn't know what good is, see?

Now, I used to think Apple was Yin to Microsoft's Yang. That whole worldview got messed up when his Steveness pronounced the war between Microsoft and Apple over - and did that whole Giant Face of Bill irony thing on a Macworld stage a few years back.

11) But I was wrong. Steve's ego is so large, he isn't Yinging to Gate's Yanger (and you can quote me on that out of context if you like). No, see, here's the thing - and if you're taking notes, you'll want to put a great big box around this with little winky lights like they used to use on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show 'cuz it's important - the thing is, Steve wants it all. He wants his Yin and Yang in one circle (his) and Microsoft isn't even in the equation at all. Or much.

12) This explains the alternating blasts of brilliance with the black holes of despair we've seen put through the metaphor mixer lately. Seems like he can't come up with a great product (flat panel iMac) without crippling it somehow (no choice in port placement). The creation and transition to OS X is a fantastic, incredible achievement, counterbalanced by the lack of upgrade path for early adopters.

The War with Microsoft is Over (see #10) but the Switch ads are a slap in the face at the Wintel hegemony. The Switch ads are meeting a long-standing demand of writers on the Mac Web (face the competition squarely) but they do so using people who need a shot of caffeine or something to wake up properly.

No positive thing Apple does can be viewed in isolation without its corresponding negative aspect. This is the secret to Apple's recent behavior; it's very simple. Steve is attempting to bring balance to the Force . . . all by himself.

The obvious thing for us to do, Mac Fans and Smart-Aleck Pundits alike, is to track the changes for him so when he gets too close to the Dark Side or the Lite Side, he can do the appropriate thing to come back. That's why I've decided to establish, following the example of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the countdown until Apple meets its doom clock sponsored by the Bulletin of Mac Web Pundits.

On this clock, 12:00 midnight is the date Apple declares bankruptcy and the following occurs: The Apple logo is purchased by Sony and turned into an off-brand MP3 player logo. Disney buys the rights to OS X and uses it exclusively in Disney World kiosks. The remaining iMac inventory is sold to Pixar. Everything else goes to Dell.

If you want to know how the clock should have been set from 1977 to the present, read the excellent summary at All you really need to know is that the Clone Wars occurred from 1993-1997, as Windows was establishing its Mac-like interface, Jobs was not with the company, and Apple suffered a lack of focus, staggering losses, and poor quality control in product development. During those years the clock rarely moved from 1 minute before midnight. After the introduction of the iMac, the clock has been oscillating around 10 minutes before midnight, which is kind of the point of this stupid article.

We begin our analysis just prior to the recent Macworld New York.

June 2002: Clock standing at 10 minutes before midnight. It would be farther out, but an industrywide sales slump plus consumer nervousness following Sept. 11 depresses sales.

July 2002: Rumors circulate that certain Mac Web sites will be banned from MWNY for spreading rumors, a determination which is in and of itself a rumor, ironically. Clock moves to 9 minutes, 45 seconds to midnight. As the month wears on, the clock moves to 9 minutes 30 seconds, and in the days preceding the Expo, the motion accelerates suddenly, all the way to 8 minutes before midnight a couple of days before the keynote due to widening coverage of the fiasco.

July 2002: Microsoft makes several forgettable announcements just prior to Macworld: clock moves to 6 minutes before midnight.

July 2002: Jobs steps on keynote stage: Reality Distortion Field brings clock to 10 minutes before midnight.

July 2002: Jobs announces extra-wide iMac. Clock moves to 11 minutes before midnight.

July 2002: Jobs announces new features for Jaguar: Clock moves to 11 minutes 30 seconds before midnight.

July 2002: Jobs announces Jaguar upgrade price and policy. Clock drops to 9 minutes before midnight.

July 2002: Jobs announces .mac feature set. Clock rises to 10 minutes before midnight.

July 2002: Jobs announces .mac pricing and lack of options for cash-strapped users: Clock drops to 7 minutes before midnight.

July 2002: Macworld ends with clock set at 7 minutes before midnight. Steve is exhausted, but has more fish to fry later in the summer...

July 2002: Rumors circulate that Apple and Sun may develop Office-compatible suite for Mac OS X. Clock jumps to 11 minutes before midnight.

A little later in July: Sun denies rumors and muddles the water a bit: Clock flutters and settles on 8 minutes before midnight.

August 2002: Apple announces $100 price cut on base iMac, bringing price down to level it was before Apple raised the price in first place: Clock moves to 8-1/2 minutes before midnight.

If 10 minutes before midnight is the sweet spot Steve has been oscillating around ever since he killed the Newton, it seems we're overdue for some good news. iWonder what it will be? Stay tuned to the Lite Side. As events develop, we will adjust the Apple Clock of Doom accordingly.

Disclosure notice: The author of this article does not own any Apple stock. In fact, he doesn't own any stock. Moreover, not only does he not have any formal connection with Apple Computer - he hasn't even done a Marketsource gig in two years - it is highly unlikely that anyone poised to climb the corporate latter at Apple HQ would be caught reading anything in the Lite Side archive. Therefore, the SEC can take a day off. Enjoy.

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