Apple's I Book: Bringing A Little Color To The Corporate World

Everyone knows most businesspeople don't use Macintosh computers, and you'd think that would be especially true when it comes to the iBook, Apple Computer Inc.'s new laptop. Joe Chivini--suit, tie, and all--is the kind of guy that the conventional wisdom says would buy an orthodox black machine, or maybe charcoal gray. So why is this operations manager for a chemical sales company packing a screaming tangerine iBook?

It's kind of like asking why he drives a black BMW, says Chivini, who works at Austin Chemical Co. in Buffalo Grove, Ill. "I've always enjoyed having things here at work that showed a little bit of my personality," he says. "If you have to work on something every day, it might as well be something you like."

Finding an iBook-toting businessman isn't easy. Philip W. Schiller, Apple's vice-president for product marketing, says the iBook is aimed at home and school customers, rather than corporate users. Another reason: Apple has shipped only tens of thousands of iBooks since its September introduction, barely denting a backlog of 300,000 orders.

It's not for everyone, anyway. While Mac enthusiasts disagree, critics have said the machine's relatively large size and 6.6-pound heft, along with a lack of common features like a floppy disk drive, mark it as a less than serious business computer. "I personally don't see it as being useful at all in a business situation," says senior analyst Katrina Dahlquist of market researcher International Data Corp.

GETTING JIGGY. The iBook is part of an industrywide move to cheaper, if more limited, notebooks. The iBook, at about $1,600 retail, is $900 cheaper than the least expensive PowerBook G3. The savings comes from a 12.1-inch screen, 2 inches smaller than the PowerBook's, and a slightly smaller, 3.2 gigabyte hard drive. It's also 11 ounces heavier than the more conventional PowerBook.

Chivini doesn't even notice the performance changes. Sure, he says, some colleagues question whether his month-old iBook is a toy. "It does everything the gray ones do," he says, praising its extra-long six-hour battery life, its sturdy handle, and built-in CD-ROM drive. Indeed, Chivini says it's not so hard being tangerine. Clients who see his iBook in a meeting want to talk about the computer first. Japanese clients especially seem to like it. "They want to know about colors, features, and speed," he says. "It's a nice way to break the ice."

The proof? Even IBM is getting jiggy with color notebooks--sort of. In October, the giant of the black laptop world unveiled a line of seven color jackets that can be screwed onto some ThinkPad i Series notebooks. Even if IBM can make itself, literally, into Big Blue, Mac loyalists such as Chivini probably won't be moved.

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