Shipping issues slow PowerBook G4 delivery

Apple is telling its users and dealers that the sleek new notebooks may not reach them until March.

Shipping kinks--not technical problems--are behind the extended wait of more than 30 days for availability of Apple Computer Inc.'s new G4 PowerBook, sources close to the company have told MacCentral.

To be safe, Apple (aapl) and its distributors are telling customers to be patient for about 40 days, maybe more, depending on when the order was placed. Availability of new Power Mac G4 models has been backed up as well; the high-end desktop systems are now expected around the end of March.

When Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the PowerBook G4 at this month's Macworld Expo/San Francisco, he told customers the slim-line portable would be shipping in a "few weeks."

But sources inside Apple said demand and "minor shipping and distribution issues" have delayed getting the new PowerBook to customers who started ordering minutes after its announcement. Customers of Apple's online store as well as Mac dealers are being told by both Apple and its primary distributors that it will be closer to the end of February, if not into March, before PowerBooks start to become readily available.

"The issues are not technical in nature," said a source close to the company, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Demand has been good, but that has little to do with the delays in shipping."

When asked by MacCentral Tuesday, an Apple spokesperson would not officially comment or categorize the demand for the new PowerBook.

Some Apple dealers are being told there have been shipping and distribution delays in getting units from overseas manufacturing plants in Taiwan, and that Apple is shipping small lots including individual units--an expensive alternative--at least to get units to some stores in time for planned Demo Days beginning this weekend. One source reported Apple would rather not ship individual units if possible, and as a result, dealers are skeptical they will receive even demo units in the near future.

Apple used that strategy when the original iMac debuted in August 1998. When the consumer desktop launched, Apple shipped new iMacs overnight from California as well as overseas so dealers could have product to sell at midnight on the day of official launch.

Sources said they believe official estimates of 30 to 45 days for G4 PowerBook availability is conservative. All those interviewed for this story said they were optimistic that product will begin to flow sooner than most think but that Apple's track record leaves room for skepticism.

"I truly believe Apple and distributors are quoting 45 days to be safe," one Illinois-based Mac dealer commented. "My Apple representative told me 45 days has always been the standard quote Apple uses when they don't have a firmer date. Online customers hear one thing. I hear another from Apple and my distributor. You know, I don't know whom to believe. I'll believe it when UPS walks through my door with them."

"The sooner you ordered, whether from the Apple Store or a dealer, the better the chances you'll get it sooner rather than later," an Apple Store supervisor told MacCentral.

Dates and days are getting confusing. The Apple Store has backed up its estimated shipping date from 21 to 45 days in less than two weeks. As of Tuesday, Ingram Micro, a major distributor, has been quoting a date of March 5 for availability of PowerBook G4 systems.

Customers ordering direct from Apple said they have received conflicting information from Apple; inside sales agents are apparently just as much in the dark about PowerBook availability as customers. Letters from G4 PowerBook customers to The PowerBook Zone, an online resource for Mac laptop aficionados, give clear indications that customers are growing skeptical about the slipping ship dates.

"One ongoing problem I've been having is that I haven't been getting a straight answer out of the Apple Store people on ship dates. Every call gives me a different answer. The answer you get seems to depend largely on who answers the phone," one reader wrote to the site.

To make matters worse, estimated shipping dates for high-end Power Mac G4 systems have also been scaled back. Dealers are being told by Apple and its distributors not to expect 667MHz and 733MHz Power Mac G4s now until March 30, at the latest--some nine weeks from now. MacCentral sources predicted in early January that high-end G4 systems would have significant delays in part because of limited availability of Pioneer DVD/CD-rewritable drives and faster G4 processors in mass quantities from Motorola.

Apple's 466MHz and 533MHz PowerPC G4 systems are plentiful and readily available, dealers have confirmed.

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