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Apple\'s iBook successor may sport fashionable hues

When Apple Computer introduces its new line of Intel-based consumer notebooks this spring, the company may once again offer buyers a fashionable option it phased out of its iMac product line nearly half a decade ago: colored enclosures.

Like the Cupertino company\'s current PowerPC-based line of iBook G4 notebooks, the upcoming Intel \"MacBooks\" have been described by the few people who claim to have seen them as \"fashionably clad in iMac white.\"

iMac white is the glossy shade Apple introduced on the face and under-compartment of its original iMac in 1998. Eventually, the popularity of the iMac amongst consumers drove the company to wrap almost all of its consumer products, including the iBook and iPod, in the same cleanly shade.

Still, some would argue that it wasn\'t the white, but the bondi blue risk Apple took with the remainder of the original iMac enclosure that paved the way for the iBook, iPod and one of the most astonishing comeback stories in corporate history.

When Apple chief executive Steve Jobs pulled the sheet from atop the original iMac on the afternoon of May 6th, 1998, many were expecting to see another beige box with sharp corners. Instead they were treaded to a bulbous, but friendly looking all-in-one Mac, wrapped in white and translucent blue plastics that forever changed the landscape of the personal computer industry.

While rival PC manufacturers struggled to duplicate the appeal of the bondi blue iMac in their own products —albeit to little success —Apple lead its colored iMac revolution through seven revisions and thirteen color variations, all the while selling millions of units.

Apple followed its inaugural bondi blue iMac early the next year with models dressed in flavorful hues called Strawberry, Lime, Grape, Blueberry and Tangerine. By mid-year it had also unveiled iBooks in the latter two flavors and subsequently tacked on a graphite colored iMac special edition later that autumn.

After introducing refreshed iMac models in 2000 bearing Ruby, Snow and Indigo-colored translucent plastics, the company became a bit daring with two additional models it wrapped in Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian patterns. It wasn\'t long thereafter that Apple dropped the patterned and colored iMacs altogether, redesigning the desktops around a a 15-inch flat panel display, white base and adjustable swing-arm in January of 2002.

Its been over four years since the company rolled a flamboyant Mac off its assembly lines, instead choosing to standardize on graphite- and aluminum-colored enclosures for its professional computers and white for its consumer models. However, with the recent success of its black-colored iPods, and to a greater extent its multi-colored iPod minis, there is talk that the company is once again \"thinking differently\" about the appearance of its upcoming MacBook consumer notebooks.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Apple was considering a black version of the yet-to-be-announced notebooks, which it will target towards education, entry- and mid-level customers. However, as development progressed without a black MacBook in sight, the company was believed to have discarded the notion.

To the delight of some insiders and likely the company\'s fans, just as word of the MacBook\'s competition began to spread, so did rumors that Apple continues to pursue the colored enclosure option.

People often familiar with the tight-lipped company\'s ambitions say current plans call for the Mac maker to introduce the MacBook in colors other than white. Apple has reportedly been guarding the colored models closer than the notebooks themselves, in area of its labs privy to only a select few of its elite, these people say. Therefore, it\'s unclear precisely what colors the company will ultimately approve for production and if it will indeed offer a black model like it does with its iPod and iPod nano digital players.

Still, the most reliable information appears to point to at least two colored MacBook models. Unlike the 90\'s when Apple jazzed up its iMacs in semi-translucent plastics, the colored MacBooks are more likely sport solid-shade, sleek enclosures similar to the company\'s professional MacBook Pro laptops. In fact, those people familiar with prototypes of the forthcoming notebooks say their overall design is reminiscent of the MacBook Pro, only \"comfortably smaller.\"

In deciding to release multiple colors, Apple must weigh the risk-to-reward factor of managing an increasing number of retail SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) that comes with offering more than one color. However, since sources have reported that the notebooks will be standardized around a 13-inch widescreen display and Intel\'s Core Duo processors, it\'s likely the company plans only two distinct hardware configurations: a \"better\" and \"best\" model. As a result, offering two colorful models in addition to the standard white colored units would yield it the mere burden of managing just six SKUs —a challenge Apple has met with little difficulty in the past.

\"Given that these new MacBooks [will be] targeted at volume markets including academic and consumer customers including women, colors are a great way to idenfify with customers and diffentiate in the PC market place,\" said one analyst who covers Apple, but asked not to be named. \"Apple has proven fairly adept at managing different colors in the past given its track record with iPod mini, color iBooks, and color iMacs using different shades of plastic and composite aluminum.\"

Even if Apple calls a last minute audible and scraps its plans to launch the MacBook in a variety of colors, its intent to do so thus far indicates one thing: it intends for the notebooks to be a significantly high-volume product.

Indeed, a recent report from overseas stated that Apple has lined up three display manufacturers to simultaneously supply 13-inch widescreen LCD screens for the notebooks. One supplier, AU Optronics, is expected to provide between 40,000-50,000 displays a month, or approximately 150,000 per quarter. If Apple plans to tap each of the three suppliers equally, it could be setting it sights on sales of over 400,000 MacBooks each quarter.

According to the same report, Asustek has won the contract to produce the MacBooks for Apple in the Far East and has received an initial order of 1.2 million units from the Mac maker.