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TV-PGJune 24, 1999: You can relax now; P1 isn't being scrapped, and it will show up at Expo-- though it might be looking a bit unstable. Meanwhile, questions about the P1's cost raise some hackles, and CompUSA tries to halt their continuing decline by, er, de-emphasizing computers...
There was no new episode broadcast on June 25, 1999, so we're still showing you the last episode broadcast before then. (June 24, 1999)
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Present But Unstable (6/24/99)

Still wondering whether or not the P1 will be ready to show in time for next month's Macworld Expo? It's amazing how much angst has come to the surface since those first rumors of trouble arose early this week, and that should underscore just how important this long-awaited consumer portable is to Apple's continued growth and prosperity. The iMac grabbed everyone's attention, but it's the P1 that has the potential to cement Apple's role as the company with the coolest gear for "the rest of us." Remember, you can show off the iMac when friends come over to the house, but you can show off the P1 wherever you go; it'll be the envy of the whole high school. Assuming it ever ships, of course.

And that's a safe assumption. At this point, pretty much no one is still worried about the project being scrapped entirely; it's more a question of whether it will be finished enough to unveil at Expo and how long it'll be before they hit the shelves. And now the Expo appearance is less up in the air, too, if Apple Insider is correct; they've posted a lengthy summary of current P1 issues, and it appears that the problems remaining are unlikely to prevent the P1 from upstaging Steve Jobs at the keynote address-- though they threaten to push the actual ship date back a bit. The biggest difficulty right now seems to be "frustrating stability problems," which could make for some really embarrassing demo moments if Steve's unlucky.

So now the big suspense surrounding the keynote isn't so much whether or not the P1 will show up; instead, we're left to wonder whether or not the P1 will crash and burn on stage. Heck, that's plenty of suspense for us, so you can be sure the AtAT staff will be there for the first glimpse. Other people may camp out for Phantom Menace tickets, but we'll be queueing up early to get decent keynote seats...

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RICH Consumers, Maybe (6/24/99)

Now that people are pretty clear on whether or not the P1 will actually ship, one of the big questions remaining is, how much will it cost? There are lots of factors that should make the P1 a "consumer" portable, such as flashy style, ease of use, and an enclosure that can take a beating-- but the most important issue would have to be price. After all, would the iMac have been nearly as popular with first-time buyers if it had cost, say, $1599? One of the big draws was that, while there were definitely cheaper machines to be had, the iMac gave a lot of bang for the buck. In the portable market, there's even a bigger opening for Apple; there really aren't any consumer-targeted laptops out there right now, because laptops are still the domain of businesspeople on the go. Apple can change all that, if they can just hit a reasonable price point.

Unfortunately, most sources indicate that Steve Jobs' goal of making the P1 a sub-$1000 system just wasn't feasible. We've seen price estimates running anywhere from $1199 to nearly $1600, based on the rumored specifications and what the market will bear, and personally, we think $1600 is above the threshold for widespread market acceptance. Worse yet, the PowerBook Zone has calculated their own estimated P1 price based on the production numbers that manufacturer Alpha Top has recently stated, and if correct, this doesn't bode well: Alpha Top claims that they expect to produce 200,000 P1s by the end of the year for a total cost to them of $375 million. Fire up Calculator and you see that breaks down to $1875 per unit. Throw in Apple's margin and you're looking at a selling price of $1999 or higher.

That's not a good price point for what's supposed to a consumer machine; heck, you can get a discontinued PowerBook G3/266 at the Apple Store for that price. We've just got to assume that Alpha Top's numbers were misreported-- or maybe they weren't talking in U.S. currency. 1875 Taiwanese dollars is apparently under $600 U.S., but that seems too low, if anything. If they were correct, and they were speaking in Taiwanese currency, then maybe the P1 will be super-cheap after all... Oooo, the suspense is killing us. ;-)

UPDATE: Ooopsy, looks like we missed a decimal point in the conversion rates-- "under $600" was technically correct, but "way under $600" would have been much more accurate; if Alpha Top's numbers were in Taiwanese currency, the production cost of the P1 would be about $80 in good ol' U.S. funds. Now that's a laptop priced for consumers! Where do we sign up?

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Maybe They Can Sell Ties (6/24/99)

Let's say you're a formerly-beleaguered multi-billion-dollar computer company who's recently gotten back on its feet. Suppose, too, that one of the measures you took to improve your fairly dire situation was to cut all your national retailers except for a single chain of computer superstores. Now what would happen if this single retailer, who is the only national chain that sells your biggest-ticket machines, suddenly decided that it didn't want to sell computers anymore? Well, don't sprain your brain thinking too hard, because if you just sit back and wait, the answer will play itself out for you.

See, faithful viewer Matthew Guerrieri pointed out a Reuters story about CompUSA's recent announcements regarding its upcoming reorganization. CompUSA, it seems, may have caught whatever bug it was that Apple had a few years back, because they seem to have been in a steady decline for a while now. And the most recent measures they're taking to cut costs and reverse their negative financial trend sound pretty logical, for the most part-- closing some stores, cutting a slew of jobs, etc.-- but the most notable change strikes us as, well, a little bizarre. According to the article, CompUSA claims "it will now focus on a broad range of new digital consumer technologies like DVD and personal digital assistants." Consumer technologies? Sounds like CompUSA wants to be Best Buy.

So what does CompUSA's implied de-emphasis on selling desktop computer systems mean for Apple? Sure, Sears has signed on as a national reseller, but only for consumer systems like the iMac and whatever the P1 turns out to be. If CompUSA ceases to sell Power Macs and PowerBooks (remember, that's not necessarily the case yet), then customers who want those "professional" machines will have to shop at local and regional resellers, or go the mail order route. That's not necessarily a huge problem, since it's the first-time buyers that really need to see Apple products on the shelf, and Sears ought to take care of that with the consumer products; people who need more than an iMac will hopefully be savvy enough to turn to smaller dealers or mail order houses. Still, we're a little wigged out by the concept of a CompUSA that doesn't want to sell computers. What's next, a FootLocker that wants to de-emphasize athletic shoes?

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Previously, on As the Apple Turns...

TV-PGJune 23, 1999: Is the hand-wringing over P1's fate all a carefully orchestrated plot to build suspense before Steve Jobs' keynote address? Meanwhile, TNT's joyful romp through the pasts of Jobs and Bill Gates shows mass market appeal, and David Boies chips away at the credibility of Microsoft witness Richard Schmalensee...

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