Nice P Cs But The Test Is In The Marketing

On Sept. 3, the IBM personal-computer operation was reborn as IBM-PC Co. But aside from the new name and the addition of an existing IBM marketing arm, little had changed--same management, same products, same problems. By the end of September, however, IBM-PC Co. will have an entirely new product line to go along with its new identity. And if the new machines live up to the advance buzz in the industry, they could quickly solve IBM's old problems in the PC market. IBM-PC Co. will have "the right products at the right price through the right channel," asserts Robert J. Corrigan, IBM-PC president.

From home computers to high-end machines based on Intel Corp.'s fastest chips, the new models plug holes and fix the pricing problems that are hurting IBM. Market researcher International Data Corp. predicts that Big Blue will finish 1992 with only a 13.3% share of shipments into the U.S. market, down from 14.3% in 1991 and 16.5% in 1990.

NEW DEAL. The first wave of new models were PS/1s, introduced Sept. 9. The two-year-old family now comes in three varieties (table): the Essential, aimed at small businesses and sold through office-supply stores; the Expert, for experienced PC owners and sold in computer superstores; and the Consultant, for home offices and sold in department stores. Most will come with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows rather than IBM's OS/2 software.

The big news, however, comes in late September, when IBM is expected to roll out its new ValuePoint series and a freshened PS/2 lineup. The ValuePoints are stripped-down PS/2s that start at under $1,000. Details are still sketchy, but IBM executives hint that the prices will match or beat Compaq Computer Corp.'s ProLineas, a series of aggressively priced machines that provoked industrywide price cuts this summer. Compaq says it can't keep up with demand for ProLineas.

Retailers who have already seen the new IBM products are enthusiastic. Alan C. Bush, president of Tandy Corp.'s Computer City SuperCenters, which will carry all the IBM lines, says he is pleased that IBM asked Tandy's advice during development of the ValuePoint: "IBM did not just go out and design a new product." The result, he says: "I think they'll be as successful as Compaq's ProLineas."

Perhaps. But many dealers remain skeptical about IBM's marketing. "There's going to be a great deal of confusion about how all these lines fit together," says Bill L. Fairfield, president of InaCom Corp., an Omaha-based dealer chain. "They face a significant job in teaching the dealers." IBM, then, must prove it can do more than change names and products. It must also show that it knows how to sell.

      Three new PS/1 lines: Essential, for small businesses; Expert, for advanced 
      buyers; Consultant, for home offices
      HIGH-END PCs
      Overhauling PS/2 line with more powerful desktop, server, and notebook models
      New ValuePoint, positioned between PS/1 and PS/2, aimed at Compaq's ProLinea
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