TV-PGFebruary 15, 2000: Pismo's here at last, with last year's look but a slew of new gadgets under the hood. Meanwhile, the iBook gains a Graphite sibling for those who don't dig Blueberry or Tangerine, and Apple admits defeat at last, finally unveiling faster G4s...
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Late But Running Fast (2/15/00)

The rumors sites which have been holding their collective breath until Macworld Expo Tokyo can now heave a mighty sigh of relief; Steve has left the building, and he left behind a slew of new Apple hardware in his wake. Most importantly, he introduced the world to Pismo, the new PowerBook G3 that's been such a thorny subject for the past couple of months. What with predictions running rampant every which way about what Pismo would be and when we'd see it, no piece of Apple hardware has caused so much grief to Apple-watching prognosticators in recent memory. But now it's here, and the rumors can be put to rest. (Jason O'Grady must be kicking himself for saying "don't count on a new PowerBook or other major product announcements" mere hours before the hardware deluge. D'oh!!)

According to Apple's press release and revised PowerBook web pages, Pismo's specs are eerily close to those our "inside guy" managed to transmit to us just prior to capture and inevitable torture. Pismo packs a 400 or 500 MHz G3, a full 1 MB of backside cache and a 100 MHz bus, dual FireWire ports, dual USB ports, a RAGE Mobility 128 graphics chip, video-out (dual display!), standard DVD-ROM, and support for AirPort. (Sadly, we've not heard from said operative since his special Pismo report, and so we must classify him as missing and presumed dead. We'll mourn his passing, because he dished the finest quality dirt in the land.)

The other nice thing about Pismo? It's available now. As in, now now, not Steve Jobs now. At least, that's what we gather from poking around at the Apple Store; the delivery time quoted for the high-end 500 MHz model is a mere eight days. Assuming the guy at the switch didn't just make that number up out of thin air (and believe us, we still suspect that's the case from time to time), that's close enough to "now" to qualify. We'll have to wait and see if Pismo turns out to be a YAAPTWUSLATA (Yet Another Apple Portable That Winds Up Shipping Long After The Announcement).

The wackiest thing about Pismo? Apparently Jonathan Ive is on an extended sabbatical or something, because just as our dearly-departed operative reported, Pismo looks just like a Lombard, the "bronze" PowerBook G3 that Pismo replaces. You wouldn't be able to tell the two apart without examining their rear ends-- different ports. So much for that "iBook-inspired clamshell" we heard so much about. Apple decided to stay straitlaced with Pismo; will that boost sales to pros who want a "business-looking" laptop, or will PowerBook sales suffer as buyers migrate to the iBook for a less traditional design? Especially now that Graphite's an option. Oops, we're getting ahead of ourselves...

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Groovy In Graphite (2/15/00)

Manly men rejoice! Now you, too, can own an iBook without stirring up that pesky insecurity in your own masculinity. To the surprise of many and the delight of John Dvorak wannabes the world over, Apple announced the arrival of the iBook Special Edition, available in "stunning Graphite." A mere $1799 gets you the swanky grey-and-white laptop, packed to the gills with a 366 MHz G3 processor, 64 MB of RAM, and a 6 GB hard disk. If you're relieved that the color issue's been resolved but you're still worried that the iBook's handle makes the thing look too much like a purse, well, you don't have to use it. Carry it like a textbook, if it puts to rest your fears of dredging up latent girly tendencies from the depths of your outwardly manly soul. (Sorry, folks; no FireWire, no DVD.)

Now, for you colorful souls who care not one whit about this whole "girly" issue, you're in luck: Tangerine and Blueberry are still available. Better yet, they're still just $1599, so you can save a couple hundred bucks by not paying the premium for monochromaticity. And on top of that, other than the color, Apple's refreshed "classic" iBooks share most of the Special Edition's advances; they inherit the 64 MB of RAM and the 6 GB hard disk, though their processor speed remains clocked at the original 300 MHz.

Is anyone thinking what we're thinking? The iBook Special Edition isn't just a nod to the Dvoraks of the world; it's an obvious attempt to duplicate the outstanding and surprising success of the iMac DV Special Edition. Will it work? It's a bit too soon to tell, but we're mildly concerned. See, whereas the iMac DV Special Edition gives you the premium Graphite case, twice the RAM, and a bigger hard disk for an extra $200, the iBook Special Edition only gives you Graphite and a faster processor. Not that we're pooh-poohing the G3/366-- it sounds nice and zippy. But the iMac Special Edition was pretty much a no-brainer, since at the height of its sales, the extra RAM alone was almost worth the $200. There's also the matter of $1499 versus $1299 for the iMac looks a little less daunting than $1799 versus $1599 for the iBook; in our opinion, even $1599 was pushing the consumer spending limit, so we're thinking most iBook SE sales may actually be to stylish professionals, not consumers. (And, of course, closet iBook fans who can't stomach blue or orange.)

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Mourning The Speed Dump (2/15/00)

It was perhaps the most stunning innovation ever to emerge from Apple's labs, but alas, it proved not to be sustainable. In mid-October of last year, Apple unveiled the Great G4 Speed Dump, in which the company thought way "outside the box." Their scientists had managed to buck a decades-long industry paradigm-- "computers get faster and cheaper"-- and instead found a way to make the Power Macintosh G4 both slower and more expensive. The originally-announced G4 lineup, running at 400, 450, and 500 MHz, was reduced to three systems running instead at 350, 400, and 450 MHz-- and here's the genius part: the prices stayed the same, thus effectively decreasing the price/performance of each system. The rest of the industry scrambled to catch up, but never did; strictly speaking, Apple is still the only company innovative enough to have reversed the price/performance trend successfully.

But sadly, we're now at the end of an era; the bubble has burst, as Apple was unable to maintain its incredible feat. Today the company admitted defeat, as Steve Jobs shamefacedly rolled out the new, faster G4 systems-- running at the originally-announced speeds of 400, 450, and 500 MHz. With a tear in his eye, Uncle Steve admitted that not only are the new machines faster than their speed-dumped predecessors, but, shockingly, they're also the same price. AtAT's nigh-infallible sources revealed that the faster G4s were announced first in Japan because Steve originally meant to commit hara kiri ritual suicide on stage to save face in light of this failure, but due to the lack of a webcast, that act was dropped from the keynote agenda.

Those of you who want a speed-dumped G4, you'd better act fast; our understanding is that the channel's run quite dry, and those slower systems are sure to be collector's items in no time, as a monument to Apple's greatest-- albeit temporary-- achievement. Unless you're lucky enough to scrounge one of last week's models, you may be forced to accept a new, faster system at the same price. According to the Apple Store, the faster machines have an estimated delivery time of only three days, which, if true, also means that Steve's long-standing tradition of announcing "immediate availability" of products that actually won't ship for weeks or months has also come to an unceremonious end. The poor guy... he just can't catch a break.

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