The Clicker: The conversation that never officially took place

Every week Stephen Speicher contributes The Clicker, an opinion column on entertainment and technology:

You could all but see the gears turning in his head as he pondered the statement. "Clearly," he thought to himself, "I've misheard. He can't seriously be saying what I think he's saying."

"Excuse me?" Bill replied assuming that he would hear something different the second time around.

"That's right. Apple wants to build a Media Center PC."

There was a brief pause as Bill closely inspected his colleague. Blue Jeans, check... turtleneck, check... half-soothing / half-arrogant smile, check... This was the real deal; this was Steve Jobs.

"Let me get this straight…" Gates, now a little bit confused, continued, "You want to build a Windows Media Center Edition PC?"

"That's right."


"Yes. Apple!"

"Let me come at this from a slightly different angle. You're telling me that Apple wants to ship a Media Center PC?"

"That's what I'm telling you."

"You do understand that Media Center is part of the OS?"

"Yes, I understand."

"This isn't some program that we can port for you."

"Bill... listen clearly: Apple wants to build a Media Center box with Windows Media Center Edition pre-installed."

"Don't you already have an OS? Marmot? Crocodile? Aardvark?..."

"Tiger, Bill, It's called Tiger. Why do you always have to do that joke?"

"HA! It's always funny, Steve. It's always funny."

Bill paused and pondered the enormity of it all. Finally he would have an OEM whom he could trust to get it right.

"Well… who am I to say no?"

"That's great. I'll have my people call your people."

With business concluded they talked for a few more minutes. Bill admitted that he used an iPod. Steve implied that Windows was his work OS. In truth, both already knew each other's secret. The conversation was pleasant if not revealing.

Steve gathered his belongings and headed for the door.

"One more thing," Bill said with a half chuckle. "Do you have a codename for this project?"

"Yes. We call it iRobot." Steve said as the door closed behind him.

Officially the above meeting never took place and, quite frankly, the concept is little more than the fanciful dream of one writer. However, once the knee-jerk reaction wears off, one must ask the obvious question, "Why not?"

Yes, the idea is: insane, ludicrous, downright stupid, and, once again, insane. However, that doesn't mean that it's wholly without merit.

Let's look at the facts.

Fact 1: There is one thing that both the most ardent Apple fans and the Microsoft loyalists will always agree on: Apple has made a pretty good living producing hardware that's elegant, fashionable, and over-priced when viewed strictly on a function-for-function basis with its competition.

If ever a computer called for Apple's expertise, it's in the world of Media Centers. While traditional PC OEMs such as Sony and HP have been getting better, none have been able to strike a chord with the buying public like Apple would. Apple could immediately step in and corner the market.

Fact 2: Steve Jobs has shown little interest in going the route of the DVR. Apple has dipped its foot into the pool with Front Row, but few consumers are likely to buy a dedicated computer for Front Row. This means that the entire dedicated Media Center market would be fresh meat fruit for Apple. Show me a business that doesn't like exploiting a non-cannibalizing market-segment and I'll show you a company with a losing business plan.

Fact 3: Apple does have a long-term strategy for being in the living-room. It's clear that digital entertainment will play a large part in the future of entertainment. Don't expect Apple to miss out on it. However, Apple believes in attacking the problem closer to the source. Expect Apple to do deals closer to the content layer and to then, once these deals are in place, provide alternate distribution mechanisms. The problem is that this takes time and often produces a "chicken and egg" scenario.

Fact 4: It's not really a technical problem. Apple's move to the Intel platform and their subsequent unveiling of Boot Camp put them in a great position to take the next logical step.

Does this mean Apple would be abandoning MacOS? Heck no. This all returns back to the secret codename, "iRobot." The plan is simple. Each of Apple's Media Center boxes would ship with both operating systems. Slowly but surely these boxes would find their way into the living rooms of the world. Then, one day, when Apple was, once again, ready to change the world, Steve Jobs would climb into his secret tower and begin transmitting "the signal."

All around the world the pleasant blue LEDs on the front of these sleeper-agent Media Center PCs would change to the more ominous RED. This would alert owners that it was now time to give these boxes the OS Alt-TAB and return their boxes back to their rightful state. It was time for them to return to being Macs.

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