With 'Vingle,' Apple Looks to Branch Way Out

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, October 16, 2005

What is Steve Jobs going to pull out of the sleeve of that black turtleneck next?

Domination of the Web, if you believe the trademarks Apple Computer Inc. filed at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Oct. 7.

In three filings, Apple -- which made headlines last week by rolling out the next generation of iPod, one that can play video (what a beauty business plan: keep selling the same thing, over and over) -- asked for a trademark on something it calls "Vingle."

According to the filings, Vingle is, well, let's just give you the company's language, because it's pretty sprawling in its scope.

Vingle will or could comprise: "Telecommunication services, namely, electronic transmission of streamed and downloadable audio and video files via computer and other communications networks; providing on-line chat rooms, bulletin boards and community forums for the transmission of messages among computer users concerning entertainment, music, concerts, videos, radio, television, film, news, sports, games and cultural events; web casting services; delivery of messages by electronic transmission; provision of connectivity services and access to electronic communications networks, for transmission or reception of audio, video or multimedia content . . . " and so on, including search engines and a global network.

But, wait: There's more!

Two other filings say Vingle could include not only hardware (new computers and peripherals) but also a chain of retail stores. The filings first were reported by AppleInsider, a Web site not affiliated with the company.

There are a few ways to think about this:

A) Jobs has created an alter-ego along the lines of a one-name James Bond villain. (Blofeld, Goldfinger, Drax.) "Vingle" will enable Jobs to attempt world domination by actually inhabiting the Web, transforming his physical body into a collection of 1's and 0's. (Anyone remember V'ger?)

B) Something less sinister but just as expansive: an uber-portal that combines the search functions of Google and the content scope of AOL's "walled garden," the television networks and the music labels.


C) "Vingle" is a placeholder. Apple may never try any of the things it lists in its filings but reserves the right to do so under the Vingle name. Speculation is that the name is a contraction of "video" and "single," which would coincide with the new video iPod. The filings have an "everything we can think of" feel to them, along the lines of Hollywood contracts that ensure studio rights for distributing movies here or anywhere in the known universe. (True.)

Apple successfully has used 99-cent songs as loss-leaders to sell iPods. Apple won't make much on the episodes of "Lost" it sells, but it will make plenty on the new $399 video iPod that plays them.

Perhaps the next logical step is the Web. The Web is all about community, say those who make a living on it, and Apple has used its attractive gadgets to swell the feverish Cult of Mac from a few computer-owners (about 5 percent of the PC market) to millions of iPodsters, and every one of them is on the Web.

If Jobs can monetize that, we may be well be on our way to iEarth.

Out-of-This-World Photos

While we're on the topic of galactic conquest, some excellent shots of Saturn and its moons made their way back to Earth last week, via NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission (named for the two 17th-century scientists who discovered Saturn's rings and moons).

The strikingly detailed black-and-white images can be seen at http://www.nasa.gov/ , http://www.esa.int/ (the European Space Agency is a co-sponsor of its eight-year-old voyage) and http://www.saturntoday.com/ , a non-affiliated space site. (Speaking of trademarks, "Saturn Today" is a name that USA Today should've snapped up. One day, there may be colonies on Saturn's moons, and they're going to want their box scores).

© 2005 The Washington Post Company