Reading Between the Lines: Some Takeaways From Apple’s Q1 2009 Conference Call

appletaxApple’s (s aapl) quarterly earnings call is primarily a retrospective affair. They report their numbers for the previous quarter, discuss strengths and weaknesses (and what made them strengths and weaknesses), and spend a little bit of time talking about how they plan on continuing and repeating success next time out. In the end, the only clear message they present is that they’ll keep doing what’s working, and improve on what isn’t. At the same time, they’re dropping hints about the future. Here are some of those hints, and what I think they mean.

We Love the $199 Price Point

On the subject of iPhone pricing, Tim Cook, Apple COO standing in as CEO while Jobs is recuperating, made clear that their $399 and $199 price points were working well for the company. Quite specifically, he emphasized the company’s love for the $199 price point, which is clearly leading to high sales numbers. Interestingly, he didn’t talk about storage size, just pricing.

We could see a pricing move based on strong sales and a shrinking consumer smartphone market that may result in a $199 price point for the 16GB iPhone to stimulate sales. Whether this also leads to a lower cost 8GB phone or a 32GB model, I can’t guess, but we will mostly likely see a pricing change when sales start to dip.
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CAPTCHA’s Can Be Useful, Don’tcha Know

To some, a web site like Craigslist asking you to verify that you are indeed a human by retyping distorted, nonsensical words is irritating. But the next time you do it, you could be helping to fill in some historical blanks.

NPR ran a story yesterday on Luis von Ahn, assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the guys who helped develop the CAPTCHA technology. The short version: Efforts to digitize (really) old books and newspapers were being hampered by faded ink that confounded OCR software. The solution von Ahn came up with was to use the words that the software couldn’t recognize and insert them into these so-called reCAPTCHAs and use the power of human brains to decipher them. CAPTCHAs serve up two words, one is the security word, the other goes toward the book digitization effort. It sounded interesting, so I called von Ahn to find out more.

Here’s how it works. The New York Times is working to digitize all of its issues starting way back in 1851. It starts by scanning every single page as an image. That’s where reCAPTCHA comes in. It runs two optical character recognition (OCR) programs to turn all of those images of pages into text. Different OCR programs tend to make different mistakes. When the two programs disagree on a word, that word is plucked out and distributed among CAPTCHA security programs spread out across 45,000 web sites like Craigslist and TicketMaster.

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