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Apple's Big Surprise? No Radical Changes

Computers: CEO Jobs unveils new PowerBook and iMac retailer at firm's annual developers forum, attended by a record crowd.

May 11, 1999|JOSEPH MENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN JOSE — Steve Jobs may have surprised thousands of Macintosh software developers Monday by failing to announce any surprises.

Apple Computer's mercurial interim CEO did unveil a new, lighter-weight, fast PowerBook laptop computer, in addition to announcing that the year-old iMac personal computers will soon be available in their biggest forum yet: hundreds of Sears, Roebuck & Co. stores. And he provided the assembled faithful with an advance version of Apple's first operating system for "client" computers that will work with network servers beginning next year.

But the record 2,500 programmers and engineers in San Jose for the annual Apple developers conference were wowed mainly by the fact that Jobs didn't announce any radical new markets or products.

"They're sticking to a strategy on everything he's laid out," said an ebullient eight-year gaming hardware developer, Brian Flaherty. "Everything is up, up, up."

Jobs returned in 1997 to the floundering company he co-founded. With its effective marketing, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has posted six straight quarters of profit. Apple's share of the market for desktop computers sold through retailers reached 5.6% in the U.S. in March, according to Ziff-Davis' InfoBeads.

"Hopefully, we're making up for the lack of drama with consistent implementation," Jobs said. Apple closed down 63 cents at $45.25 on Nasdaq.

Jobs did offer a peek at a couple of new features from the next Mac operating system, still in development and scheduled for a fall release. The system allowed a demonstrator to log on through voice recognition and to simultaneously shop for one product across multiple e-commerce sites with varying interfaces.

Given Jobs' penchant for surprises, some had hoped for the company's new consumer, lower-end portable computer to be released, or at least previewed. Apple Senior Vice President Avie Tevanian declined to say anything about the product except to reaffirm that it will ship this year.

But the new PowerBook, priced at about $3,499 in the 400-megahertz version or $2,499 in the 333-MHz version, was good enough news for Wall Street analysts such as Daniel Kunstler of J.P. Morgan Securities.

"One of my milestones is for them to have sustained product introductions, and they are doing that," Kunstler said. Jobs said the higher-end PowerBooks are the fastest in the marketplace and will be available in stores May 20.

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