AST Research Sees Its Hunch on Big Changes for Apple Come to Pass

Times Staff Writer

The young founders of AST Research Inc. in Irvine made a bet some 30 months ago that there were dramatic changes on the horizon at Apple Computer. AST, which made its mark as a leading supplier of accessories for IBM personal computers, created a division devoted to developing products for Apple's computers.

The biggest payoff to date came Monday.

When Apple unveiled its newest Macintosh models, AST shared a portion of the limelight with two new products that will make the Apple machines compatible with those made for the more popular standard set by arch-rival, IBM.

The products, which generated immediate and intense interest within the computer industry, will, for the first time, allow the Macintosh to operate software written for the IBM personal computer and its clones.

This new ability is expected to open significant opportunities for Apple by giving the new Macintosh models a chance of breaking onto the purchase lists of corporations that have already invested heavily in IBM personal computers and software.

Although its role in the new Macintosh sent AST stock up $1.625 to $20.625 Monday on active over-the-counter trading, it still remains to be seen how important the new products are for the company's bottom line.

Only New Models

Early projections are not exceptionally rosy.

One reason is that the two boards which will permit the two newest Macintosh computers to operate IBM-style software will not be ready for shipment until July. In addition, the devices will only work with the two new Macintosh models, not earlier systems. Finally, the AST products are hardly inexpensive. One of the new AST boards costs $500, the other is $1,500, and users must buy an additional disk drive for their Macintosh--at a cost ranging from $300 to $500--to make everything work.

"Everyone is being cautious," AST President Safi Qureshey said Monday following the formal unveiling of the new Macintosh and AST products. "We don't expect the new products to be a major player in our revenue."

Still, Qureshey said the new boards, which were developed as part of a cooperative effort among Apple, AST and Phoenix Technologies Ltd., could rise to become significant products within the company's Apple division.

The division is expected to contribute about 5% of the company's estimated total revenues of $200 million in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Qureshey said that even though AST won't be ready to ship its products until July, the company is not in great danger of losing the technological jump it has on competitors because of its close working relationship with Apple.

According to Qureshey, AST spent about a year developing the devices in conjunction with engineers from Apple and Phoenix, an Arizona software developer. "It's not easy bringing these products to market," he said. "It's not like making an IBM-clone."

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