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Apple risks hubris with pre-MacWorld hype

G4 Spheres and Flying iCars

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Rumour roundup Six months ago Apple castigated the rumor sites for raising expectations about new product launches. Back then it didn't - as widely expected - launch a flat-panel iMac.

But this time, it's frantically stoking those rumours itself, running a billboard-sized countdown on its home page and teasing callers that the new kit will far exceed the wildest mongermarkers' speculation: "Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond," promised Apple.

And that's getting pretty wild as it is. SpyMac, a site with a history of falling for mock-up hoaxes, has been harvesting email addresses by promising a video of 'iWalk', which to us looks like cunningly re-rendered footage of an iPaq. A poster on Slashdot suggested that SpyMac ought to complete the hoax by fabricating the legal threats that usually follow from Apple, and what would you know? Late last evening SpyMac said the pictures had been removed: "By legal request, we have removed all iWalk footage from our server. Sorry everyone, but we held out as long as we could." That's not, you'll observe, a legal request from Apple per se.

(For us, the general uselessness of the new "device", with its enormous jog-dial, was the giveaway. That and the fact that with the standalone PDA market collapsing, and in Europe being increasingly dominated by phone-based products, a new PDA makes as much sense as investing in horse-drawn stagecoaches back when the railroads were being built).

A more reliable guide, ThinkSecret, suggests that Apple's photo application will finally be unveiled. Over at Business Week Charles Haddad quotes insiders as saying the flat panel iMac2 sports the new Sahara G3 processor at frequencies up to 1Ghz.

A bolder EE Times carries speculation from analysts (who are prebriefed, but have been known to squeak prior to product launches passim, and in some cases they've been even been correct). EET suggests the new iMac range will be a dual processor SMP. That's a welcome move, as now that Apple has an OS that supports multiple processors, one can do the work while the other draws the eye candy.

More seriously, it's a nice way to crank up the horsepower when Apple is faced with an abundant supply of cheap low-power chips and a scarcity of expensive and noisy G4s. The SMP equation has never caught on the desktop in the Wintel world (despite the cult appeal of those Abit motherboards which allowed you harness two cheap Celerons, which were much loved by BeOS users), because Intel didn't like the numbers. It can sell the latest and greatest Pentium for high margins, and gets next to nothing from the low end: not a problem Apple has.

There's a downside to all this hype, however. And it's a measure of Apple's iconic status - it's regarded as a great romantic American adventure - that simply launching great Macs isn't enough. To meet expectations these days, Apple is expected to unveil a cold fusion-powered Flying Car made out of Bucky Balls. The rest of us would rather settle for an ATA-133 IDE bus than hear about a G5 Sphere.

And more practically, a study by Morgan Stanley cited in Bloomsberg suggests that in three of five prior examples of pre-launch hype since 1997, Apple stock actually fell after the announcements. Well, it's still rising... ®

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