Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 8/12/2004You can't beat a good rumour, and Apple is a reliable source of the very best. As the rumble over IBM's sell-off of its PC division increases, some pundits are saying that this will let Big Blue get into bed with the Cupertino kids.

Wednesday 8/12/2004

You can't beat a good rumour, and Apple is a reliable source of the very best. As the rumble over IBM's sell-off of its PC division increases, some pundits are saying that this will let Big Blue get into bed with the Cupertino kids. That's an engaging thought -- after all, IBM does make Apple's chips.

If that's not enough, the other rumour is that a flash version of the iPod will be out real soon now. Small enough to wear like a pendant, the idea is that it will effortlessly conquer the low end of the portable music market and use the iPod brand to sweep all before it in a devastating example of tectonic marketing. Some of the sums involved are eye-watering: Apple could hoover up billions by taking a piece of existing technology and putting it in a white case. Gloriously, it could do all that without harming the brand at all -- in fact, it would only strengthen the more expensive products. Already, the gadget blogs are brimming with pictures: are they real leaks or Photoshop fantasies? It barely matters: we are all Apple's marketing bitches now, and we might as well learn to enjoy it.

Back in the enterprise space -- beam me up, Scott McNealy, once you're over your own Photoshop experience -- the story seems to be developing Apple's way. Yes, IBM is selling off its PC division in exchange for a billion dollars or so (remember when you couldn't buy a dot-com business plan for less than ten times that?) and a stake in the resultant company. No, it won't be making any more desktops or laptops. Does this leave a nice gap for Apple to leap into?

Aaaand - no. As part of the deal, IBM undertakes to do no design or marketing of PCs for the next five years, by which time we'll probably all be buried under ten feet deep drifts of iPods. There goes that pipe dream. The only thing with IBM on the front that we'll see between now and then on our desktops will be Lenovo built and Lenovo sold: at least, that's how it looks. Long-time fans of IT will know that such deals are rarely all that they seem, and IBM would be foolish not to have engineered a loophole that'll let it back in if something amazing happens in the market. But the smart money will not be on an IBM-Apple axis.

As a side effect of the deal, I get invited along to the BBC World Service to opine on-air about what it all means and why we should care. Once again, I get to sit in a studio with the priceless Judy Swallow: the programme is all about China, and she fixes me with a purposeful stare as I wander in. "Now, you're clearly not the dissident", she says. I feel vaguely affronted, but the studio assistant says "No, no, he's on the line" -- I'm not having my journalistic credentials questioned, after all.

Everything goes smoothly. As I'm being shown out, I ask my escort how everyone feels about the great BBC axeathon -- it can't be pleasant to be told before Christmas that thousands of jobs are going to go, just nobody will know which until the New Year. "Oh, we think we're OK" she says. "We've already had so many cuts that we should be safe. It's just that we end up as a dumping ground. All those people from Domestic that don't fancy moving to Manchester will want to come here."

And there I was thinking that a job on the World Service was just about as good as it could get, journalism-wise. I clearly don't have the right sort of ambition...

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