Apple's Jobs Unveils Laptops

Times Staff Writer

Declaring 2003 "the year of the laptop" for Apple Computer Inc., Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled a pair of PowerBook notebook computers Tuesday as he kicked off the Macworld trade show in San Francisco.

One of them is the industry's first laptop to sport a 17-inch screen, borrowed from Apple's iMac desktop computer. The 17-inch PowerBook G4, which goes on sale next month, comes with a SuperDrive, which can read and record both CDs and DVDs; a pair of FireWire connections for data transfer; a faster wireless networking system; and a keyboard with letters that light up in the dark. It weighs 6.8 pounds and will carry a price tag of $3,299.

"It is the most incredible product we have ever made," said Jobs, clad in his customary blue jeans, black turtleneck and sneakers for his annual keynote speech. "This is clearly the most advanced notebook on the planet."

The other new PowerBook G4 has a 12-inch screen, which makes it the smallest full-function laptop on the market, Jobs said. It goes on sale this month for $1,799, or $1,999 with the SuperDrive.

Jobs also announced Apple's first Internet browser, dubbed Safari, and a host of other software programs and upgrades, news of which had been kept under wraps.

But it's laptops that Jobs sees as the wave of the future. During his nearly two-hour presentation, the CEO said he wanted to boost sales of Apple's entry-level iBook and high-end PowerBook computers.

Laptops accounted for 20% of Apple's sales in 2000, then shot up to 35% in 2001 after the debut of the sleek titanium PowerBook line.

In 2002 laptop sales fell to 32%, but the company expects them to return to 35% this year and reach 50% of Apple's sales in the near future.

"What we're seeing is a confluence of technologies -- performance and mobility -- which have been separate," Stan Ng, Apple's product line manager for special projects, said in an interview. "It's demand from our customers. They want the performance and flexibility of desktops, and to take it with them."

Mac fan Edwin Pessara of Malibu, a Navy cryptologist, said he couldn't wait to buy the new 17-inch laptop.

"I was surprised they came out with a new PowerBook -- all the rumor Web sites said there was nothing new," said Pessara, who is stationed in Pensacola, Fla.

But Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has to do a lot more to win over Wall Street. Its share of the worldwide personal computer market, as high as 9.4% in 1993, stood at just 2.4% for the first nine months of 2002, according to technology research firm IDC. Apple's stock price dipped 5 cents to close at $14.85 Tuesday in Nasdaq trading.

Merrill Lynch reinstated coverage of Apple on Monday with a "sell" recommendation.

"Although Apple makes great products, in our view the new product pipeline looks skimpy and we expect continued market share losses," technology analyst Steven Milunovich wrote in advance of Jobs' announcements at Macworld.

Always a crowd pleaser -- and teaser -- Jobs drew the biggest cheers when he previewed a television ad for the two new PowerBooks.

Actor Verne Troyer, who played Mini-Me in the "Austin Powers" film series, sits on a plane next to Yao Ming, the towering 7-foot-5 center from China who plays for the Houston Rockets basketball team. Yao pulls out a 12-inch PowerBook, whereupon Troyer pulls out his 17-incher and starts watching a Chinese kung fu movie.

The introduction of the Safari browser -- designed to work exclusively on Macs -- follows a five-year agreement with Microsoft Corp. that called for Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser to be included in all Apple computers. That partnership expired last year.

Apple aficionados greeted each of Jobs' announcements with wild applause, especially when he unveiled features added to Apple's music, photo and video editing software, a suite known collectively as iLife.

Jobs said Apple would offer a scaled-down version of its movie editing software, Final Cut Pro, at a steep discount. At $299, Final Cut Express will rival Adobe Systems Inc.'s Adobe Premiere, which sells for $700, said Robert Purser, editor of the magazine Digital Puppet. That could strain Apple's relationship with Adobe, he said.

"Not only is Final Cut Express aimed directly at Adobe Premiere, it's priced to completely wipe them out," he said.

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