Is Vic There?

The Macalope responds to The Guardian’s Victor Keegan.

UPDATE 9/14: Victor Keegan responds in comments.

Dear Victor Keegan of The Guardian:

The Macalope knows we haven’t met before, but he felt compelled to respond to your recent column entitled Every Empire Crumbles.

There are some notable errors and an overall paucity of critical thought. The Macalope knows a little about how newspapers work in the U.S., but in the UK is it common for columns to be handed out like tuppence to a busker performing “God Save The Queen” in the Covent Garden Underground station on a guitar that hasn’t been tuned since the Falklands War?

It looks as though Steve Jobs, boss of Apple, might need a charisma download after what many people thought was a lacklustre performance – by his own high standards – at the company’s much hyped developers’ jamboree in San Francisco yesterday.

The Macalope thinks you must be confusing WWDC – which is for developers but was in August – with yesterday’s Special Event which was for members of the media. In your defense, developers are somewhat like reporters in that they’re sullen, ill-tempered and often look like they slept in their clothes.

Actually, since he had hardly anything new to say, he didn’t make a bad fist off it.

It’s been a long time since the Macalope has seen Quadrophenia, so forgive him if he isn’t “hip” to your “funky lingo”. But he thinks he at least understands the first part of that and wonders what it would take for you to think Apple had announced something “new”. Jobs announced a new movie download service, new iPods across the board – including the first digital music player the size of a postage stamp – and a new set-top box that has the technology world abuzz.

The Macalope hates to break it to you, but he thinks Crazy Apple Rumors is just kidding about the whole sexbot thing. Here in the real world, yesterday’s announcements are pretty big.

But, Vic, Vic, Vic. Would that were the only point that causes the Macalope to think you’re just the latest in a string of columnists that attended John Dvorak’s summer program on How To Increase Your Web Traffic Through Apple Bashing.

[The iPod] simply can’t maintain the phenomenal growth of recent years (indeed sales have dropped for two successive quarters).

Mmm. Yes. It’s always shocking when people don’t buy iPods as much in the first two calendar quarters of the year as they do in the quarter that includes Christmas.

Hey, you know, maybe that’s why serious analysts always compare quarters year-over-year. Just for fun, let’s take a look at that.

Wow. Both quarters were above the same quarter from the previous year, the first calendar quarter by 60% and the second by 32%.

If you’re looking to pass yourself off as a serious analyst, Vic, the Macalope suggests you might criticize the decline in sales growth quarter over quarter, but even then it’s hard to knock a company for failing to sustain 60% growth.

And, Vic, buddy, it just gets worse from there.

Leaving aside the question of why we need an extra intermediary to get films to our television sets…

Hey, if you want to drag your tower over to your TV every time you want to watch a downloaded movie, be the Macalope’s guest.

…the mere fact that he announced it at all, was a sign of weakness. It was done to prevent people buying a rival device from Microsoft. Or whoever.

Who sells a comparable device that works with a movie download service out of the box with a minimum of configuration (this is Apple we’re talking about, remember)?

And is there a lot of chafing when you pull things out of your ass like that?

Meanwhile, Apple is hoping that its user friendly iTunes infrastructure will enable it to be a natural host for the video revolution. It may. No one should ever write off Apple’s amazing ability to reinvent itself. But this time it is leading from the rear.

If by “rear” you mean “front.” Yes, Apple doesn’t have as many studios as Amazon. But every single iPod owner already has iTunes loaded on their computer reminding them to update to iTunes 7. Amazon faces an uphill battle to try to entice people to come download their intrusive client software (antler tip to Daring Fireball).

And one other thing: Amazon’s service isn’t available yet. [Macalope: the Macalope saw the pre-release last week and missed the release on Friday. Apologies. He also assumed that based on the reports of buggy software, that it was still weeks away from production.]

Then you link to yourself to try to make the point that cell phones are going to crush the iPod.

It is no coincidence that in the first quarter, when Apple suffered a sharp drop in iPod sales…

Yeah, that 60% year-over-year growth is a killer.

… (blaming it, implausibly, on seasonal factors)…

Yeah, cyclicality is such bullshit! The oil and gas industry has been milking that crap for years!

… the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said that half of all digital music sold in 2005 went directly to mobile phones (including ringtones).


Right. [Macalope: In comments, Victor Keegan says the only ringtones included were full tracks, but the Macalope still contends there’s a world of difference between phones that are “music phones” and those that play a handful of ringtones of varying quality.]

Nokia alone, a late entrant to music, plans to ship 80m music phones this year (almost double last year’s iPod sales).

Wow. That seemed like an awful lot to the Macalope. He was curious, Vic, whether or not you were still including phones that just play ringtones.

According to a July 12th article:

Nokia said today that its own music phone has sold more than 1 million units in less than four months.

Uh-huh. So… yeah, unless you’re expecting them to have a really monstrous second half of the year, you’re still including ringtones. Okey-doke.

There will always be lots of people wanting dedicated cameras or iPods, but the majority of people in future will opt to have all these functions on one device rather than two or three. They already are.

If you include ringtones!

But if you don’t, not so much (at least yet). And here’s why.

Nokia’s 3250 sells for $350 and comes with 1 GB of space for music. A 1 GB iPod is $79, leaving you $271 to spend on a phone that doesn’t play music but does a whole lot of other stuff and probably doesn’t cost nearly $271. Or you could just get the free phone that comes with your plan and use the $271 pay for a whole year of calls. also says:

According to market research firm Ovum, an estimated 27 percent of the mobile phones sold globally this year will be able to store and play music and will jump to 69 percent by 2010.

Note that doesn’t seem to include ringtones in the group of phones known as those that “store and play music.”

According to CNet, mobile phone sales were projected to be about 850 million this year, so 230 million will be what most people think of as “music phones.” That’s still a lot and probably more than 5 times the number of iPods Apple will sell, but it’s from all vendors, Apple actually sells music for some of those phones and buying a music phone and buying an iPod are not mutually exclusive.

Some of those music phone purchasers also own iPods. The kind of person who buys a $350 cell phone that only holds a smattering of her music collection may very well also have a higher-capacity iPod that holds all of her music collection.

But let’s get back to yesterday’s Special Event and your alternate-reality interpretation thereof.

The only people who will definitely clean up are the lawyers. Apple’s decision to call its new device iTV may just possibly produce a thundering legal letter from a certain television company in the UK.

Oh, dear.

Now Vic, let’s be honest…

…you didn’t actually watch the presentation, did you? Because if you had, you would have heard Steve Jobs clearly say that “iTV” was a code name and was going to be replaced when the product ships.

Vic, Vic, Vic, Vic, Vic, Vic, Vic, Vic, Vic, VIC!

It’s not the Apple-bashing the Macalope detests so much.

It’s all the lying [Macalope: meant as hyperbole but the Macalope will withraw it at Victor Keegan’s request].

The Macalope understands if you have yourself a comfortable gig over there at the Guardian where they – for whatever reason – pay you to write your desperate cries for attention.

But the thing is, your cries aren’t very compelling when they’re so bad.

The Macalope would suggest you look no further than your previous column for guidance:

Feeling in need of literary refreshment this morning, I dipped into the 1851 edition of the Sentences and Maxims of the Duke of La Rochefoucauld, the great seventeenth century cynic, who ought to be compulsory reading for all who take themselves too seriously. One of the Duke’s aphorisms, “It is a great folly to wish to be wise all alone,” would sit well on every blogger’s desktop.

Physician, heal thyself. Next time you sit down to write about Apple, do a little homework.

Fondest regards,
The Macalope

28 thoughts on “Is Vic There?”

  1. Yeah, the lying is really bad. I don’t get it, all the information is out there, why do some journalists feel the need to disinform their readers? Malicious intent or just plain ol’ stupidity?
    The German tabloid ‘Bild’ ran a tiny article accompanied by a picture of Steve J. holing the new shuffle. The article reads like this:

    Mini-iPod is Stamp Sized! Proudly Steve Jobs presents the new iPod. It’s the size of a stamp. It can hold up to 80 GB of music and play several tens of thousands of songs. Pricing begins at 249 $, introduction date unknown.”

    Amazing, so many lies in such a small piece of text.

  2. The only thing more delicious than this scathing glove-swat from the Macalope would be if Vic actually gets his grubby paws on this article.

    A girl can dream.

  3. I made two mistakes (calliing it a developers’ conference and the last paragraph referring to iTV and the lawyers was meant as a light hearted ending but patently didn’t come off). Both have been corrected. Sorry.
    Re the rest of your comments theyare mainly questions of judgment. You think there was terrific innovation for Mac products, I think that this year there was less than there has been in rival products such as mobile phones. You point to quarterly figures to disprove my point about flagging sales but they only re-enforce it” In 2004 and 2005 iPod sales rose between Q1 and Q2 but this year they dropped. Sure they are substantially above last year but we are talking about trends. This is happening at a time when mobile phones are, with increasing success, taking on many of the features of music players and, remember, there are over 2 billion mobile phone owners compared with a bit over 40 millon iPod owners (including this writer who is typing on his Mac as he has done for decades). You dismsis the fact that International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said that half of all digital music sold in 2005 went directly to mobile phones as a ringtones phenomenon. Not so. The only “ring tones” included are those that are full tracks. Ordinary ringtones including polyphonic ones are excluded. As a result of all this you accuse me of being a “liar” ie intentionally trying to deceive. I have admitted my mistakes, I am inviting you to withdraw the word liar. Forgive me if there are literals here but it is difficult typing with such small type in a small box.

  4. Consider it withdrawn is it was intended as hyperbole.

    The Macalope noted the sales growth dropped and believes that is at least a significantly more valid argument – but it wasn’t the argument you made. Yes, 60% growth rates are hard to sustain – that we can agree on.

    As for the ringtones, the Macalope still maintains that there is a world of difference between a phone with 1 GB of dedicated music space and one that can hold a handful of songs.

    And you’re right. Why is this box so damned small?

  5. Vic, for a man whose past columns have included digs at the accuracy of bloggers, I submit that you’re not doing too well yourself. Not only were your two mistakes incredibly sloppy, but your assertion that Jobs had “hardly anything new to say” sounds remarkably like the words of one who didn’t actually watch the conference.

    As the esteemed Macaloupe has pointed out, a movie download service, revamped nanos, a tiny new shuffle, improved 5G iPods and the iTV could not be termed anything but “new”. Were you arguing that these products were not revolutionary and wouldn’t cure cancer or anything you might have a point, but at the moment you just seem silly.

    Your assertions about cellphones are on steadier ground, seeing as though the cellphone-led destruction of the iPod has been predicted for years now by many others. Yet, like the Macaloupe, I have to admit that I don’t see much substance in this claim.

    Music-playing cellular telephones are, by their very nature, compromise solutions. In being the jack of all trades, they usually end up mastering none. Their additional features create complexity, and the power demands of their GSM/CDMA modules severely constrict battery life. Most use proprietary earphone connectors (negating the ability to use one’s own), and they lack anything close the seamless syncing process which iTunes provides for the iPod.

    The iPod, on the other hand, is a gadget dedicated to a single task, playing media. Because of this, it has a brilliantly simple control interface which is probably half the reason it’s so popular, and the battery life puts any cellular phone in the shade. Plus, buyers may use whichever third-party ear/headphones they desire, and the process of transferring music across could not be simpler. It is not a compromise, and that will always be its advantage over music-playing cellular phones. Indeed, most of the people I know who own iPods also own a music-playing cellular phone of some sort, but few make any use of their phone’s music capabilites and even the few that do add only a tiny number of tracks.

    For all these reasons, dedicated players like the iPod will continue to remain popular even as music-playing cellular phones become more prevalent. That the iPod’s sales are becoming cyclical is likely better interpreted as a sign that the market is reaching maturity than anything else, especially when considering that sales remain spectacularly strong. No product, no matter how brilliant, could sustain the iPod’s initial sales curve indefinitely, and it would be unfair to attribute failure to Apple because of that.

    Finally, I find it disingenuous to include ringtone downloads in your comparison. Even when narrowing your definition down to full tracks (and not polyphonic ringtones), you’re still measuring the sales of things like True Tones and other such downsampled content. While it’s true that these are indeed full tracks, it’s important to note that their quality is too poor to be used as anything but ringtones, and they are capable of being used on cellular phones which could never be used to listen to music.

    In other words, a massive proportion of those 80m “music phones” are phones which have the capability to play downsampled mp3 *ringtones* only, and could not be used as music phones because they lack sufficient memory space, processor power, music software and earphone compatibility. That you failed to mention this, or apparently did not know it, is the kind of sloppiness that professional journalists such as yourself should really not be guilty of.

    Nevertheless, I respect your decision to at least respond in this comments area, and I sincerely hope you can take this criticism and use it to become a better journalist in future. That way we all win.

    Kind regards,


  6. Heh, oops. I blame it on having ploughed my way through a French essay before writing that comment.

    So, I apologise to the Macalope for inadvertently inserting a rogue u where it shouldn’t have been. Can I ever be forgiven for such a transgression?

  7. In the uk there are 2 phones soon to be 4 that have 4 gig of memory (look on the sony and nokia sits.
    I regard the annocnements as evoluntary but convergence of mobile devices is happenning. my phone gas a 3,2meg camera for example

  8. There is convergence ahead, and Apple would be mad (not to mention 180º apart from years worth of ever trustworthy rumours!) if they didn’t have a cell phone iPod well in the works at this stage.  I think it is this direction that Microsoft felt the need to react to with Zune, where the talk is about platforms and clearly there’s only ultimately room for one of those hardware wise in your pocket long term.

    While watching Newsnight a couple of evenings back (the UK’s most prestigious news show I’ve been hooked on since I was a kid and Thatcher was still PM) I had to cringe when they attempted analysis of the news from Apple on Tuesday, re: Zune and all the rest of it.  It looked to all intents and purposes that they had only looked up the meaning of DRM that morning!  And of course got largely confused with it, as if it were an iPod only thing and Microsoft are involved in some open platform charge against vile Jobsian hegemony.

    Tut tut.  Tech news has a long way to go on British telly.  But at least we know how to serve up the latest from the Middle East for a good exasperating round table!

  9. You may like to know that here in Japan most mobiles can play reasonable quality music with Sony’s Chaku-Uta system. It is said that Chaku-Ulta sales are higher than that of iTunes for full tracks not ringtones.
    Sorry but I don’t have any figures but iPod sales in Japan still appear to be high and I see many iPods in daily use.
    Why, well maybe it is that I can play my iTunes music on my Mac/PC or through my stereo or car hifi. Chaku-Uta is stuck on my phone. Plus I cannot put my CD’s on my phone.

  10. There’s also a logical fallacy in the idea that just because a phone is capable of playing music, that people are buying it for that reason or even using the feature when they get it. Most cell phones sold today can play music. The last three I’ve owned have had this capability. Never used it. Not once. I’ve carried an iPod because if you actually want to listen to music, the cell makes you jump through too many hoops, stores a paucity of music and because it just gives an all around crappy experience because (as someone already said) it was never really meant for that.

    Many might try music on their cell phone once and say “Neat!” and then never use it again. Most don’t even bother with that.

    Also, if you want trends, try this one on for size.

    The short version is that Japan (where people do actually use their cell phones for everything including music) saw a giant leap in iTunes sales and a giant decrease in music for mobile phone sales. (I just noticed that Stuart is anecdotally backing this up. Hi Stuart! I like your country!)

    Full tracks or not, if the music is a ringtone, it’s not something people are going to actually listen to. By it’s very nature, it’s something you silence as soon as possible after it being heard. No one is sitting around waiting for the phone to ring so that they can listen to Sexy Back. Using those as numbers in a “The cellphone will replace the iPod” article is stretching at best and outright lying at worst. If I were the Macalope, I wouldn’t have had the good grace to take it back. I also wouldn’t’ be able to stop staring at the antlers. The Macalope is a better Man/Deer/Mac than I.

  11. I have nothing to add to the Macalope’s witty article. I will note, however, that nearly all those who have posted comments — Maktab, Grovberg*, John Muir, the Macalope himself — had much better spelling, grammar, and overall rhetoric structure than Mr. Keegan.

    One wonders how easy it is to write for the Guardian these days. I should apply. The Macalope may be over-qualified.

  12. Victor wrote:

    “Not so. The only “ring tones” included are those that are full tracks.”

    Doubly-not-so to you, good sir. The IFPI press release says “ringtones are currently the largest segment of the mobile market accounting for 87 per cent of mobile sales”, and then goes on to mention “full track downloads to mobile” as something quite different.

    So 50% of “music” purchases by *value* are mobile, but:

    – Ringtones are more expensive than iTMS downloads
    – Only about 5% of overall sales are full tracks to mobile phones

    This is nothing like the picture you painted.

  13. Keegan says: It looks as though Steve Jobs, boss of Apple, might need a charisma download after what many people thought was a lacklustre performance – by his own high standards – at the company’s much hyped media conference jamboree in San Francisco yesterday.

    Om Malik says: Yet another masterful Emmy winning performance by Steve Jobs, which met most if not all the expectations of the Mac faithful.

    I am wondering as to who to believe?

  14. I’ve been wondering about Zune. If Vic sees music-phones as the future, then what the hell is Microsoft doing pushing out Zune? This would appear to be an act of completely senseless desperation, and focused on the completely wrong product and market, i.e. music players not integrated into cell-phones.

    Either Microsoft and Zune are completely wrong-headed, or Vic is. Maybe Vic should start advising MS on how to save their rapidly crumbling empire.

  15. For what it’s worth I wasn’t all that impressed by the event or the features. Everything was just an incremental step. Okay, so iTunes got uglier and added more features. How many times has that happened? Kind of a yawner.

    Apple will make a crapload of money from selling movies, however, since unlike every competitor the majority of their infrastructure is already in place and paid for: iTMS, iTunes, iPods, DRM, etc. They really only need to sell a trickle of movies to be profitable. If anything sells more than a trickle it’s pure profit.

    And come on — predicting the demise of Apple and the iPod because cellphones are so much better? Heh. iPod sales have flattened out from unsustainable exponential growth to (merely!) geometric growth. That’s the hallmark of a failing product if I’ve ever seen one.

    Reality is down the hall to the left. You are not expected to attend, but will be warmly welcomed if you do.

  16. If the comment box is too small, just get the FormTextResizer bookmarklet.

    The comment text really is too small, though.

    Thanks for the article, Macalope. The year-over-year observation is really the main point, isn’t it? That’s the serious distortion–serious if it weren’t laughable and obvious.

    The most compelling evidence that phone and mp3-player convergence hasn’t reached critical mass: Microsoft is putting hundreds of millions of dollars into releasing the Zune. They, at least, think the dedicated portable media player market still has room to grow.

  17. ahhh, yes. the dip in sales from Q1 to Q2….

    as an analyst for the world’s largest sepcialty retailer, i’ll let you in on a little secret – EVERYONE WAS DOWN IN Q2 THIS YEAR!!

    call it what you want, but there are certain economic forces that cause consumer spending to drop, regardless of whether or not they are cognizant of it. the second quarter of this calendar year coincided with the largest increase in crude BBL prices we’ve seen in a long time. seeing as how the majority of conspicuous spending is being done by Americans (who according to a Forbes study released this week are saving far less than their Euorpean and Asian counterparts), and anyone who has been in the housing market lately saw the rise of interest rates this summer… let me spell it out for you Mr. Keegan: we had less disposable income than ever. its not due to lack of interest in the product. its due to lack of available funds.

    and all retailers were hit by this. the retailers who are posting increases at the moment for the close of FY 06 are doing so based on having phenominal Holiday sales, and simply maintaining through the Spring.

    just a little help to the non-retail saavy from those who purchase the goods you see on the shelves…

  18. I’m confused – I thought this was a site about Macalopes, that endangered specie of the western plains (or wherever).

    But now I see that Maktab has unveiled the ‘lope’s true identity as a Macaloupe, leading me to believe that this horned beast is in fact a melon in disguise.

    Come clean, now, Mr./Ms. “lope” – are you animal or vegetable?

  19. Not every iPod-owner has iTunes installed. I used a free program called shuffle-db with my iPod shuffle. The requirement to use a special program, iTunes or a free replacement, is one of the drawbacks with the iPods.

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