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Sugar-free Apple pie disappoints

Finally we discover what Apple had in store for us. The sense of disappointment across the Internet weighs heavy this morning, and the recriminations have begun. Did Apple over-hype, or did we we?

When Apple's Steve Jobs invites the world's press to a launch, you expect an event roughly on a par with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps this was the problem, for when Jobs pulled the silk sheet off yesterday's new Apple products a hush fell over the Internet. A ghetto-blaster for your iPod, a faster and Intel-based Mac Mini and some leather iPod pouches were all the company could muster. A minute passed in absolute silence. Then a small boy stepped forward, pointed at Jobs and announced, "The Emperor is naked".

"Fool", the broadsheet hacks told the boy. "Don't talk nonsense!". But the remark was repeated over and over again by the other journalists, until everyone cried, "The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!".

In the cold light of day, it's hard to decipher exactly who was at fault here. Did Apple over-hype the event by veiling these launches in secrecy, or did we, the press, speculate with such furious ambition that Apple never had a chance of meeting expectations?

It may be that Apple's media-darling status means the company simply cannot hold a low-profile product launch anymore. Anything that Apple launches at a press event is presumed to be a revolutionary step that will potentially set the standard for the rest of the industry to follow. This is a big responsibility for Apple to bear, and it risks alienating the media when low-profile launches are billed as something more.

Admittedly the invitations sent out described yesterday's launch as "fun" rather than "similar in scope and spectacle to the apocalypse". Yet, it was undoubtedly a mistake for Steve Jobs to make these product announcements himself, and at the hallowed Apple Town Hall in Cupertino, California, where the iPod was first unleashed. Who wouldn't have expected more?

Jobs' announcement of a new leather case for the iPod was especially ridiculous. Like the queen announcing a new toaster in Buckingham Palace. It seemed odd that Jobs was troubling himself to introduce fashion accessories to Apple's products.

The biggest disappointment was that the Mac Mini line, despite having a new Intel processor, does not include PVR functionality. The Mac Mini would make the ideal home entertainment centre, but Apple seem mysteriously and, we can only assume, strategically hesitant to include a TV-tuner in the design. The best theory we have for this omission is that Apple intend to launch an iTunes-like movie service very soon, and don't want this effort undermined by competition with traditional TV.

There is also the issue of international television standards -- what kind of tuner would you include with the Mini -- cable, satellite, analogue, digital? And what of NTSC and PAL? There is a great opportunity here for a third-party to step in with PVR software and hardware for the Mac Mini. For many, the computer, whether PC or Mac, is still overkill for the living room, and perhaps Apple sense this.

So, a few disappointments, but a solid upgrade to the Mac Mini line, including a dual-core model. Two accessories, the leather iPod case and an "Apple iPod Hi-Fi". The Hi-Fi docks with an iPod and is claimed to offer distortion-free audio at fairly high volumes. As well as plugging into mains power, there's the option to use six D-cell batteries for portable blasting.

There's more to come next month -- fingers crossed that this time there'll be more cowabunga in Job's wave. -CS