New Apple Notebooks Enter Rough Market
Will the enhancements to Apple's new portables' be enough to keep the company trucking through a tight holiday season?With a low-key refresh of its pro Titanium PowerBook G4 and consumer iBook notebook lines, Apple Computer Inc. has tuned the engine that drove a large chunk of Mac sales during a down year for the PC industry. But will the enhancements to the portables speeds and features be enough to keep them trucking through a tight holiday season? According to some industry observers, the company will have its work cut out for it. Under CEO Steve Jobs, Apple has moved away from its traditional "event-oriented" product announcement schedule, which focused on January and July Macworld Expo gatherings in San Francisco and New York, respectively. A mid-October announcement gives Apple a jump on holiday sales, but it pits the new notebooks appeal against a PC market that has been hit hard by recent geopolitical events and a sharp drop in consumer confidence.
In addition, Apple on Wednesday invited journalists to a second October announcement: an undisclosed "digital device" that the company will announce on Oct. 23. While the company declined to specify the nature of the new product -- other than to say that it wont be a Mac -- sources said they expect it to be a recorder-player for digital music.
Fred Evans, a reseller at First Tech in Minneapolis, said that the PowerBook and iBook revisions were well-timed to wring the maximum marketing momentum out of the pending holiday season. "Its actually a good time to announce for the holidays -- as long as its not too long before we see some product," he said. He added that an October unveiling provides time for the new models to be featured in catalogs and other promotional materials, which have traditionally provided a dramatic boost to Mac sales. Evans said that the second busiest time for his business, after the holiday season, is January; he attributed this not only to the bump from that months Macworld Expo and the hype it provides but also because "personal and business budgets are fresh at that time -- people can buy," he said. However, Evans doesnt mind the lack of event surrounding some product announcements. "My pet peeve," he said, "is that Apple doesnt seem to include dealers in the hype surrounding Expos" and other events. He said that part of the problem is Apples legendary secrecy about forthcoming product introductions, a policy that prevents retailers from getting their hands on product or even product descriptions before the big events. "By the time we receive product," Evans said, "its kind of old news. Even after only 10 days, its kind of old news." "Releasing product in January and February to coincide with Mac-worlds is an odd Apple thing that doesnt make sense [for retail-ers] in the real world," he added. However, Evans said that the iBooks original introduction, which took place in a small hall on Apples campus, soon after which Evans could display and sell units, "was one of the most successful" hes seen. So far, there has been no word as to whether Apple will hold events similar to the "Demo Days" promotions the company sponsored in late 1999 around the 5 October 1999 launch of a revamped iMac line. That initiative did seem to spur heightened sales in participating stores, contemporary reports indicated. David Lerner, co-owner of Tekserve, a New York Apple dealer, agreed that "this is the normal time to introduce such models." He also noted that the length of time between the iBooks refresh and their initial release was an unusually short five months. "I think six to nine months is more common," he said. Lerner also said that Tekserve saw an overall slowdown in sales last week that affected all product lines. "Im guessing its a delayed reaction to the [Sept. 11] terror and its effects on business and jobs," he said. Additional reporting by Nick dePlume, editor and publisher of Mac-industry Web site Think Secret