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 Post subject: IT News: Apple gets its usual buzz for mystery event
PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:18 am 
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Apple will unveil a new iPod next week that plays videos.

Apple will not unveil a new iPod next week.

Apple will release a new generation of its Power Mac personal computers next week.

Apple will not release a new generation of Power Macs.

And so spiraled the speculation on Wednesday, after Apple Computer Co. sent cryptic invitations by e-mail to journalists and industry types for an event next Wednesday at a theater near its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters.

By the end of the day, only two things were certain: The Apple e-mail contained a picture of some black curtains, and the company, known for last-minute surprises during product roll-outs, had scored yet another public-relations victory.

"It's a textbook example of fantastic marketing," said Florian Zettelmeyer, a marketing professor at the University of California-Berkeley business school. "They get people really excited about these products."

Every once in a while a company earns a reputation for being so groundbreakingly creative that it can create news over anything, or nothing. Only a handful of companies ever reach that status and achieve the level of buzz Apple now enjoys. For example, Microsoft, Google and Nike at different times have done so. But there is no bigger pot of gold for marketers.

Apple has done so in recent years by redefining the concept of cool in computing and altering how people listen to music thanks to its market-dominating digital music player, the iPod.

"They create a tremendous groundswell of buzz just by launching their products," said Jon Harris, vice president of media development and communications at Sara Lee Corp.

The strategy works for Apple because the buzz is ultimately justified by the product, he said.

"The proof is in the pudding. You can have the best public relations and marketing, but if the product is not a good product, it's going to go nowhere," Harris said.

An Apple spokeswoman did not return a call seeking information about the company's strategy.

Meanwhile, other computer companies are hard-pressed to get any coverage for their product releases.

"Dell gets press when they bring out an earnings statement, but not when they bring out a new product," Zettelmeyer said.

It's unclear where the video iPod speculation started. Among those participating was the Associated Press, which issued a report Wednesday headlined "All signs indicate video iPod coming," and quoted a report from American Technology Research.

"From our checks with industry and channel sources, we believe Apple will release a first-generation video-capable iPod," the report said.

Meanwhile, ThinkSecret.com, a Web site devoted to uncovering inside information about Apple, was knocking down the video iPod story.

"The event, Think Secret has learned, will not usher in the much rumored video iPod but rather new PowerBook and Power Mac systems," the Web site said. Apple has sued ThinkSecret for divulging company plans.

Others were more than happy to admit they have no idea what Apple is planning.

"I've learned not to speculate with Apple," said Van Baker, an analyst who follows the company at Gartner Group. He noted that many company observers were shocked last month when Apple unveiled the iPod Nano, a wafer-thin version of its portable MP3 player.

Prior to the product release, many had expected the showstopper would be a mobile phone packaged with the company's iTunes digital music software. Apple did announce the phone, Motorola Inc.'s Rokr, but followed it with a curveball _ the Nano.

Baker said the market may be ripe for a video player that integrates the process of downloading music videos, TV shows and other content and playing them on a portable machine. Apple, with the iPod and iTunes, was able to do much the same thing for music, an area that previously was rife with competing file formats and problematic downloads.

An Apple video player would have to have a high-resolution 5-inch screen and cost less than $500, Baker said.

"If they bring all that to market, they stand to be successful," he said.

But Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at NPD Group, said an Apple video player would face an uncertain market.

"There are questions about the amount of free time people have during the day to watch portable video," he said. "It's not the sort of thing you can easily use while you're walking."

Further, there's not a lot of movies and television shows readily available for download. By contrast, when Apple debuted the iPod, the Internet was already awash with freely available digital music files.

But several production companies have begun churning out movies that are formatted for mobile phones and their 2{-inch screens. They use close-ups and limited action to keep screen blur to a minimum.

And Rubin said a video iPod could remedy Apple's currently slow sales for its top-of-the-line MP3 players.

But he declined to predict what kind of product the company would announce next week.

"It really could be anything," he said.

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