Reporter's Notebook: Setting the tone for 2003

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Now that the 2003 Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco has started, it's time for my bi-annual ramblings and musings on the Apple shows. In case you haven't read my "Reporter's Notebook" columns before, these are tidbits, observations and ramblings designed to capture the flavor of the show for those unable to be here.

The weather in San Francisco so far is balmy and nice. Well, nice compared to Nashville, Tennessee, when I headed to the airport. Back in Music City, it was 23 degrees as I left home. Here in San Francisco, the temperature is in the 50s. It's so nice that I'm walking around in short sleeves while most folks are wearing jackets.

It's always fun to be back in San Francisco. There's a sense of electricity roaming the streets, swept along in the wave of people.

With the rumor mills ranging from incredibly wonderful announcements to a boring show, this should be an interesting expo -- and probably somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. However, I feel in some ways that it's a crucial show, one that may set the tempo and mood for the rest of the year.

We can certainly use a good jolt of enthusiasm, because some of the recent press speculation about Apple is (must be that time again) not so optimistic. Mercury News Technology Columnist Dan Gilmore opines in a recent piece that Apple needs a clear path to the future and perhaps should consider switching to non-PowerPC microprocessors.

"The question, as the Mac community gathers in San Francisco this week for the annual Macworld Conference and Expo, is whether to move the Mac OS onto the Intel-compatible chips that are at the heart of Windows machines," he writes. "The essential problem is that Motorola, which makes the G3 and G4 PowerPC chips Apple uses today, seems to be losing its competitive edge in microprocessors. Motorola is slowly improving the line, but it has other, bigger issues on its plate than staying fully competitive in one of the most capital-intensive businesses on the planet."

While he points out that IBM is also "moving forward with a design that could be a great central processor for next-generation Macs," the megahertz gaps between Macs and Wintel systems has to be hurting Apple. And that gap is widening, Gillmore says.

"I have another, personal benchmark for computing performance: how it feels. I prefer the overall feel of the Mac in just about every way, but when it comes to snappiness and responsiveness, the Mac is notably slower unless you pay through the nose for the absolute top-of-the-line model," he says. "My 3-year-old IBM notebook computer running Windows 2000 feels considerably zippier than my year-old Mac notebook running OS X."

The columnist adds that Apple must also address the issue of pricing for its computers. If the company is serious about luring "switchers" to the Mac platform, it has to face the reality that Intel-based PCs are much cheaper, he adds.

"In a world where 'good enough' outsells everything else, a growing price gap makes it harder for Apple to maintain even its current base, much less grow it," Gillmore writes.

And Mercury News writer Jon Fortt, in a Macworld Expo preview article (http://www.timesleader.com/mld/timesleader/business/technology/4878487.htm) says one question takes center stage at MWSF: Is the battle for the PC one that Apple Computer can still win? Or has the company become like a Civil War nostalgist, re-enacting skirmishes long since decided?

"Like a flamboyant celebrity, Apple still captures the attention of technology lovers with its bold design," Fortt writes. "Despite the fact that its annual sales have shrunk from nearly $8 billion to $5.7 billion since 2000, the company still shows attitude -- most recently in its campaign to get users of Microsoft Windows to switch to the Mac operating system."

He adds that, despite the "switcher" campaign, Apple doesn't appear to be drawing many new converts. Steve Baker, analyst at NPD Techworld, tells the Mercury News: "They're actually losing a little bit. I think it's because in consumer PCs right now, mostly what's selling is the entry-level stuff.''

However, Fortt reports that Apple said research houses do not always capture all of its sales, and that the company will have more to say in coming weeks about the effectiveness of its "switch'' campaign.

"In our own retail stores, we're continuing to do about 40 percent of our CPU business to people who do not own a Mac,'' Greg Joswiak, Apple's director of hardware marketing, is quoted as saying. "That is a pretty big number given how big the competitive market is."

This story, "Reporter's Notebook: Setting the tone for 2003" was originally published by PCWorld.

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