All right: I’m going to turn around and face the wall and count to a hundred. By the time I finish counting and turn around, I fully expect that whoever it is among you that somehow found a magic monkey paw will put it on my desk and stop screwing around with Apple. I don’t care who has it and if the guilty party relinquishes the offensive object immediately, I promise that this whole sad affair ends without any further punishment. Ready?

...98, 99, 100. Good. Whoever it was, I’m proud of you. And just what the hell were you thinking, wishing on a severed monkey’s paw like that? Didn’t you read the original 1902 short story by W W Jacobs? Or the 1972 film version of Tales From The Crypt starring Peter Cushing, Ralph Richardson, and a pre-surgery Joan Collins? How about The Simpsons episode 8F02, “Treehouse of Horror II”?

There you go. It’s just basic common sense: the paw is cursed and if you’re silly enough to actually wish upon it, you’ll get precisely what you asked for but nothing that you actually want. Yes, this will be on the test later. “That you…actually…want.” Everybody get that down?

I appreciate that you had Apple’s best interests at heart. “I wish that Apple finally stops jerking us all around and makes an iPod that plays video,” or some such, wasn’t it? Well, now you see what your wishes have wrought: a safe, sane, conservative, highly practical, highly functional video player… and among the category of hotly anticipated products, probably the most boring thing Apple’s released in years.

Did you stop to consider the sort of video player that Apple might have made without your interference? It could have been something entirely unlike anything anybody’s ever seen before. Something entirely unlike an iPod, certainly. Imagine a credit card-sized device that’s all screen, with Apple’s Martian-influenced designers managing to hide all the player’s navigational and operational controls inside a mobile phone-like slider. Maybe with ten gigabytes of non-volatile RAM instead of a hard drive, to make the player ultra-slim and work for at least six hours between charges.

But no: you wished for ‘an iPod that plays video’. Well, you can’t say that the monkey’s paw didn’t come through. I’ve got one of the video iPods right here. It’s a freaking iPod. It’s a little slimmer and the screen is a little bigger, but it’s just an iPod.

Hang on, let me pull up one of the movies I loaded onto it last night. Take a look at The Lord of the Rings in 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, on a 2.5-inch screen. You tell me: is that a division of the marauding Orc army entering on the left of the frame, or is it just a bit of chilli spit the iPod acquired during my working lunch yesterday?

What could have been, kids, what could have been. You know what I considered to be the most intriguing thing about the iPod? The fact that Apple has always been slightly vague about its purpose. If you sell a CD player, you’re locked into a specific feature set. Your product plays CDs and you can’t add on a breadmaker attachment without committing to a major relaunch. But what does an iPod do? It... pods, I suppose?

Take this iPod back ten years in time (no, you can’t use the monkey’s paw!) and see if anybody back in 1995 manages to figure out what it’s for. They won’t. It looks like one of those generic handheld props from Star Trek that record mysterious theta transmissions for later analysis one week, and shoots a death-ray at a Hagelian assassin the next. Obviously, in Apple’s ads the iPod is pitched as a music (and now video) player, but in truth, the iPod oath of office is “to allow you to take your desktop data out for a walk”. Period. Apple’s always felt free to interpret that concept in new ways as time went on.

You doubt me? Here, look at the previous four generations of iPods. During its history, the iPod has acquired the ability to store and display contacts, appointments, text files, photos, and videos. But did the player ever acquire any new buttons or controls? No, indeed: each one of those iPods has the exact same scroll wheel and five-button interface.

“Take your data out for a walk.” If Apple had been more ambitious, they would have started with the thought, “This new video player will need a larger screen”. And eventually, the Apple that isn’t being controlled by hoodoo magic would have wondered, “Are there any other ways that we can exploit a big screen?” How about readers for standard Microsoft Office files? Keynote presentations?

Decompressing and playing video requires a beefier processor. How about if this new iPod could run a new type of Dashboard widget? Not to make the thing more complicated, but to allow third-party developers to create readers and viewers for all sorts of data?

How about a Bluetooth chip? Holy cats… that means the iPod could be used as a controller for iTunes, DVDs and presentations. How about if the moment you sit down at your Mac - no, any Mac with an Internet connection - the iPod in your pocket tells the desktop who you are and magically, the machine mounts your remote iDisk, opens up your default keychain file, logs you into iChat as “Available,” and connects you to all your Address Book, iCal, and bookmark items? What if Apple felt free to act totally and heedlessly stupid again?

See, if it were just this iPod thing, I could have maybe let you have this monkey paw back - after making you watch that Joan Collins movie as both a source of added guidance and a punishment. But I’m not so sure you didn’t also wish for Apple to start acting sensible. That is simply unforgivable.

No? I point you to the new iMacs. In interpreting the concept of “PC as entertainment centre” Apple gives us a simple little app for viewing music, photos and videos, and it’s only available pre-installed on new Macs. Microsoft - Microsoft! - presents us with Windows Media Center Edition, a flawed but dazzling alternative.

So, observe, everybody, as I now deposit the following three things into this waste basket: one cursed monkey paw, eight ounces of lighter fluid, one lit match. Violá.
No, it is certainly not a shame. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. When I was your age, I was dazzled by the very first Macs but frustrated that the whole world was still using MS-DOS. “I wish that by the end of the decade, the whole world switches to a GUI-based operating system and never switches to anything else ever again!” I said. How well did that work out?

Huh? Whoa, whoa! Don’t rush the basket! All right, will everybody with a magic monkey paw form an orderly line at the door; we’ll use the barrel at the far end of the playground so as to not set off the sprinkler system. Single file! MW