Apple Retailers Kept In Suspense

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New York - Twice a year Mac retailers face the odd situation of preparing for an influx of new desktop and notebook computers with little idea of what Apple is going to spring upon them, if anything at all. And this year proved to be no different.

Apple dealers spent June and July anxiously wondering what Apple CEO Steve Jobs would unveil at the Macworld Expo held here last week. While keeping the public in the dark concerning upcoming products is standard in most markets, Apple is a company that refuses to tell its retailers what exactly is coming down the pipeline.

Retailers report brief downturns in sales during the months leading into the twice-a-year Macworld Expo while Mac customers, who know new products are coming, stop making purchases, and the supply of popular computers dries up while Apple empties its warehouses to prepare for the newer models.

One week prior to this year's show retailers were going on industry rumor when asked what they expected Jobs to announce. Tony Violanti, sales VP at ComputerTown, Salem, N.H., and Michael France, senior partner with MacCenter, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were expecting revamped iMacs and G4 Power Mac G4 desktops. Neither had any further details at that time.

Violanti expressed his hope that Apple would hold off on shipping any new products until retailers and distributors managed to dump excess inventory, primarily consisting of older G4s and some of the less popular iMac colors.

"I am very concerned about what will be introduced and how to get rid of the rest of our inventory," said France. "Also, if the new products are put up for sale immediately on the Apple [e-commerce] site and not made available to us, it will upset the reseller community."

Apple did not return phone calls for this story.

Apple peripheral makers are somewhat better positioned and less dependent upon what new products Apple rolls out.

Hugh Amick, Hewlett-Packard's Mac-connect program manager, said HP sales have been smooth throughout the year for its products, due in part to the fact that HP peripherals are not tied just to the iMac. "The iMac is an enabler," he said, that "got people excited again and boosted the sale of G3 and G4 models and got those customers to buy new peripherals."

At the Macworld Expo, HP showed new scanners, and for the first time, multifunction devices for the Mac market.

The following were among the products announced last week:

  • · Storage maker LaCie showed a bevy of products at its Digital Multimedia Studio, including a 4.7GB DVD-RAM drive; the FireBooster FireWire 12x write, 4x rewrite, 32x read CD-RW drive; and the portable 32GB PocketDrive, which has both USB and FireWire connectivity. Price and ship dates were not available at press time.
  • · UMAX introduced the Astra 6400 and 6450 IEEE 1394 FireWire-equipped scanners. Both units are single-pass models with 600 x 1,200 dpi resolution and 42-bit color output. The 6400 will carry a $249 suggested retail price, while the 6450 that features a built-in universal transparency cover will sell for $299. The scanners start shipping this week.
  • · Multimedia audio maker I-Jam exhibited three new audio players. The IJ-50 digital audio player is now shipping with a suggested retail price of $99. The IJ-828 portable CD player that plays both conventional CDs and those with MP3 files will ship at the end of July or early August with a $149 suggested retail price.

The Win-Jam, also shipping in the next several weeks with a $149 suggested retail price, is a USB-based, portable digital audio player that uses the Windows Media Player to store and play the music.


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