Apple mum on new year's product crop

It's a new year for Apple Computer, but the company is employing the same old tactics, remaining quiet about possible product announcements on tap for the Macworld Conference and Expo opening Monday in San Francisco.

Rumor Web sites, which traditionally offer pre-show predictions ranging from the plausible to the far-fetched, have offered only minor speculation leading up to the five-day show. One prediction from online soothsayers that is likely to come true: Steve Jobs, the company's chief executive officer, will wear his trademark turtleneck when he delivers a keynote address on Tuesday.

Some Apple enthusiasts predicted the unveiling of faster machines. However, weak conditions in the overall PC market could spoil those hopes, according to Roger Kay, a PC analyst with research company IDC, in Framingham, Massachusetts. (IDC is a division of International Data Group Inc., the parent company of IDG News Service.)

"The word on the street is that Apple didn't do that well during the holidays so they have inventory lying around," Kay said.

A backlog of unsold notebooks and flat-panel iMac desktop computers could mean that plans for new PC products will be delayed. Releasing a new product "would distract them from existing markets," Kay predicted. "They need to clear the inventory."

Moreover, UBS Warburg LLC analyst Don Young issued research in early December that said Apple would not be among the PC makers to see growth in desktop shipments during 2003. Although the overall market is expected to expand by 7 percent, he said Apple would miss out on that trend with a 3 percent dip.

During 2002, Apple shipped roughly 3.1 million computers around the world, nearly equal to the number of machines sold the prior year, but almost 1.5 million less than 2000, according to a December filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

One hardware upgrade that some Apple watchers have hoped for is a flat-panel iMac with a larger display. The first of Apple's distinctive flat-panel iMacs was released a year ago with a 15-inch display and was followed by a 17-inch model. The declining cost of some computer components could make it feasible to upgrade the display, according to one analyst.

"With regard to flat-panels, pricing has been going down," said Jennifer Gallo, research analyst with IDC. "Over the holidays, (flat-panels) were going down in price aggressively. You'll see that more going forward."

The week leading up to Macworld has brought a flurry of predictions about new applications from Apple or updates to existing programs. Some of those forecasts have already come true. The Cupertino, California, company Thursday released the first complete version of its iSync software, which synchronizes contact and calendar information between Macs and PalmOS devices, Apple’s iPod digital-music player and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones. It also made available an update to iCal, its calendaring software.

More information about the show is available at http://www.macworldexpo.com.

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