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Apple offers sweet discounts, upgrades

photo
[Times photo: Janel Schroeder]
In addition to new colors this year, the popular iMac and its portable sibling, iBook, have speedier processors, support wireless networking and most come with iMovie2 for editing videos taken with digital camcorders.

By WILLIAM LAMPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 13, 2000


The maker of the Mac is trying to boost earnings and sales.

It's been a not-so-good year for Apple Computer but a very good year for consumers seeking that most elusive of deals: a price break on one of the company's sleek computers.

An announcement in September that Mac sales, particularly of the snazzy new G4 Cube, had slumped and that Apple wouldn't meet its earnings and sales targets for the fourth quarter sent the value of Apple stock plunging by almost 60 percent.

The worried computermaker responded by offering $300 rebates on the purchase of a G4 Cube and monitor and $200 rebates for PowerBook laptops, price breaks good through the end of the year. The discounts follow the announcement in July of Apple's revamped iMac line, which included a price cut for the base iMac from $999 to $799 and an increase in the base machine's hard drive capacity to 7 gigabytes.

"Many people still operate from the historical perspective that Macs are more expensive," said Richard Hallmark, president of Hallmark Consulting, a Macintosh consulting company in Largo. "When you start comparing similarly configured brand-name machines, it's a heat, it's a wash, and frequently, it's in the Mac's favor for the as-configured hardware.

Hallmark suggests that Macs are a better value because they come with built-in features such as Ethernet connector for a network or high-speed Internet connections and, often, FireWire fast connections for devices such as digital camcorders and hard drives. Plus, "the fit and finish (of Macs) is better than the typical PC clone," he said.

The thing that got most Mac users cheering this year was Apple's introduction of the Pro Mouse, a sleek optical mouse that replaced the ergonomically challenged "hockey puck" mouse that had shipped with every new Mac since the introduction of the iMac in 1998.

"The old round mouse was a pain . . .," said Jim Workman, publisher of Mac Today magazine in Dunedin. "The new Pro Mouse is great. We got one to review and went out and bought six of them."

Plus, because it's an optical mouse that uses light sensors, it doesn't have a ball and wheels that regularly need to be cleaned.

Accompanying the Pro Mouse is a Pro Keyboard. It retains the styling of the smaller keyboard it replaces, but returns to the layout of the old Apple Expanded Keyboard, with an inverted-T arrangement of arrow keys and the return of several keys that had been missing.

"The old keyboards were fine for iMacs that might go into homes, but business users needed the extra space on the keyboard," said Hallmark, who also writes a column, "In the Enemy Camp," for Mac Today.

The Pro Mouse and the Pro Keyboard come standard with new desktop Macs or can be purchased separately for $59. They can be used on any Mac with Universal Serial Bus, or USB, connections.

But does the bad news for Apple forebode a fall? "They've been saying that (Apple is going out of business) for the past 15 years at least," Hallmark said. "There's no evidence at this point that they are going away. They've been the leader in innovation in the computer industry."

Like any Mac enthusiast, Workman is convinced it's the user-friendliest way for a novice to get into computing.

"The ease of using a Windows machine hasn't made any strides in the past year," he said. "If first-time buyers want to get right into the computer experience, in so far as going online, they can't get much better than a new iMac."

* * *

Among the upgrades Apple announced this year:

iMac desktops: Apple expanded the iMac line to four models, cut prices, boosted processor speeds and hard disk capacities and added DVD-ROMs to the iMac DV+ and Special Edition models.

iBook laptops: In addition to bumping up the speed and cutting the price of the base model by $100, Apple has equipped the consumer iBooks, like the iMac DV models, with a FireWire port. There's also a new composite video output, so users can connect a cable from an iBook to a TV or VCR and play presentations, video or, on the Special Edition model, a DVD movie on the TV screen.

Power Mac G4 Cube: Apple's idea was to bridge the gap between the iMac and the G4 desktop line. The result is a computer that is nearly silent, beautiful, all-digital, but expensive. (See review.)

"The G4 Cube was, in some respects, the answer to a larger-screen iMac," Hallmark said. "But when you add a monitor to it, the price point got too high." As Hallmark noted, Apple admitted as much in October when chief executive Steve Jobs told financial analysts that a less expensive Cube is coming next year.

Workman agrees that the price is an issue. "If they had a $1,299 (Cube), I might jump at something like that," he said. "It's cool and it's extremely quiet. But not at $1,799. The market has spoken, and there are just not a ton of people excited about it at $1,799."

Power Mac G4 desktops: Apple says the 500MHz G4 processor in its professional desktop systems runs on average 2.2 times as fast as an 800MHz Pentium III, but Motorola's G4 chip has been stuck at the 500MHz mark for more than a year, while Intel has increased the Pentium's speed to more than 1 gigahertz. To compensate, Apple put two processors in its 450MHz and 500MHz G4 systems. Only a handful of applications, most notably Adobe Photoshop, benefit from the processor double-whammy, but with the arrival of Apple's next-generation operating system, Mac OS X, next year, all "native" applications will see the benefit of having two processors onboard.

Apple offers sweet discounts, upgrades
The maker of the Mac is trying to boost earnings and sales.

Meet the Macs
Apple's Macintosh computers share several common features.

Stylish Cube marred by price tag
It's a work of engineering and aesthetic art, but Apple's G4 Cube suffers from lack of expandability and high cost.

Apple frequently uses Photoshop to compare the speed of its G4 systems with a Pentium machine running Windows, and it's a valid comparison, Workman says. "The people buying the G4s are Photoshop people. The Photoshop tests have been the most relevant statistic for people in the graphics field. Photoshop runs superbly on the multiprocessor G4."

PowerBook G3 laptops: This year, PowerBook speeds have increased to 500MHz. Larger hard drives reflect the increasing importance of digital video editing at Apple. As with the iBook, the PowerBooks come standard with FireWire ports, which are ready for hooking up digital camcorders.

AirPort: All Macs except the $799 iMac are capable of handling Apple's wireless networking system. There's a base station and an AirPort card for connecting Macs up to 150 feet away wirelessly. Though it's not widely promoted by Apple, AirPort network, which is based on something called the IEEE 802.11 standard, also works with PCs. The base station sells for $299, and the AirPort cards for $99.

iMovie2: In the spring, Apple released for free its easy-to-use consumer video-editing software, iMovie. In September, the second generation of the software arrived, adding more visual effects, expanded audio editing and increased video capacity. It comes standard on most Macs, or can be purchased for $49 from Apple's online store (http://store.apple.com). iMovie2 lets you download video from a digital camcorder to your Mac, edit the video, add titles or music, then upload it back into a digital camcorder without losing quality. Or you can scale it down and save it to send as e-mail or to post on the Web.

Mac OS X: Apple's next-generation operating system, Mac OS X or "10," won't be released until 2001, but a preview beta version was released in September. In addition to a new look, Mac OS X will be speedier (because it can run on multiple processors), more reliable and crash-resistant, Hallmark says. "It's a tremendous change." Apple says all iMacs, iBooks, G3 and G4 desktop systems and G3 PowerBooks (except for the original G3 PowerBook) will run Mac OS X. The test version of Mac OS X required 128MB of random access memory. As with all prerelease software, the system requirements are subject to change when the final version is released. Some reports say the final version won't need as much RAM. Also, the operating system may run on older Macs, though Apple says it won't support it.

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