US Report: Jobs promises smaller, cheaper Apples

Apple Computer interim CEO Steve Jobs promised lower prices and a portable machine that targets educators during an appearance in Seattle Wednesday morning.

Speaking during an informal fireside chat, Jobs answered audience questions, instead of giving a speech, at Cause98, a conference aimed at higher education technology workers. Jobs said his company would introduce its new long-anticipated consumer-oriented device in the first part of this year, but he said it would not be at Macworld in January. Instead, he said the company would roll out a new version of its multimedia software, QuickTime 4, in January that will include live Internet streaming features.

Jobs told the audience the company's upcoming portable will be made with educators in mind. "We are designing it around a data centre that's education-based. Hopefully, consumers will like it too," he said. Many educators have been looking for a portable device from Apple since the company axed the Newton earlier this year.

Jobs also said the cost of a Mac would come down substantially. "Our goal is to drive that lower and lower every year," Jobs said. He said eventually Apple will offer computers that are about $100 (£60) more than what he called the "white box" companies, or computer makers that sell non-branded machines. Right now those machines can cost as little as $800 (£480), but Jobs called them "a piece of junk."

He predicted that people would be more than willing to fork over an extra $100 (£60) for Mac features. "We're really big on making computers our friends can afford, and not all our friends are Larry Ellison," Jobs told the audience.

Pricing has been a sore subject at Apple, which has lost market share in recent years in part because the costs of its computers remained high while PCs dropped. Apple has responded by saying its machines offer more features and better stability. Jobs said that in recent years, the company became more interested in making money than in selling the best computers. But he's determined to put the machine first again.

Jobs also tried to put an end to rumours that Apple is developing its own set-top box. Earlier this year, a number of reports surfaced that Apple was working on an entertainment device that would somehow bring the television and computer together. Jobs downplayed the hype of convergence. He said WebTV has been an utter failure so far, and he doesn't see it becoming a success anytime soon. "You go to your TV to turn your brain off. You go to your computer to turn your brain on," Jobs said. "These things aren't going to be together. They perform completely different functions." He did say he thought an online programming guide would come in handy. "But is this digital convergence?" he asked the audience.

At one point, an attendee asked Jobs the burning question that lately has moved to the back burner: What are his plans for the CEO position? Jobs replied that late last January he gave himself a year to "not think about it," even though reporters and industry insiders continued to hound him. "I said to myself ... Steve, this is not your problem. This is somebody else's problem," he told the audience. But he didn't comment on his plans now his self-imposed deadline is almost up.

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