Apple Computer Inc. yesterday introduced several new products for its year-old Macintosh computer designed to increase its appeal to business users in a bid to become a force in an office automation market dominated by International Business Machines Corp.
The products -- a laser printer, a file server and a local area network -- highlight Apple's efforts to reposition itself from a company that sells personal computers to individuals to one that markets personal computer systems that fit the needs of business.
Just as important, Apple said it was declaring a "detente" with IBM and would tailor its new business products to coexist with IBM's personal and mainframe computers.
"That's a very smart move on Apple's part," said Jan M. Lewis, a senior analyst with Infocorp, a San Jose-based market research firm. "They can't compete head-on with IBM, so coexistence with it is paramount."
Apple's new "The Macintosh Office" products were formally introduced at yesterday's annual meeting in Cupertino, Calif. They effectively turn the Macintosh from a stand-alone personal computer into a communications device. The laser printer, priced at $6,995 and expected to be available in March, uses sophisticated software and laser technology to enable users to print high-quality graphics and different typefaces on ordinary paper.
The local area network, called AppleTalk, allows up to 32 devices -- Macintoshes and peripheral equipment -- to be linked together. Apple says it will cost $50 to interconnect each device to the network.
The file server, which should be available in the summer, essentially serves as a memory storage hub for a cluster of Macintoshes. For example, an individual who has written a document on a Macintosh could send it to the file server, where it could be retrieved by another individual on the network. Similarly, the file server could be a link to an IBM mainframe computer, where corporate data is stored.
"If Apple can make the Macintosh into a communications tool as well as a productivity tool, it has a good chance to succeed in the corporate market," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies International.
However, analysts say that Apple is totally dependent on third-party software companies to write the programs that give real value to these new hardware and network offerings.
They also point out that software for the Macintosh has been slow to come to market. Moreover, Apple only introduced its "Fat Mac" -- a Macintosh with expanded memory capacity -- late last year. Most observers believe the original Macintosh didn't have enough memory to cope with the demands of most business users and sophisticated business software such as Lotus 1-2-3.
Since its introduction last January, Apple has sold nearly a quarter of a million Macintoshes. "That is less than the company had hoped for by this point in time," said Ulric Weil, an industry analyst with Morgan Stanley, and the company itself has described recent levels of Macintosh sales as "disappointing."
The company hopes that by repositioning the Macintosh, it can increase its penetration in Fortune 500 and smaller business markets.
Apple has flamboyantly promoted its new image for the Macintosh in its advertising -- including a cryptic advertisement during last week's Super Bowl where hundreds of blind-folded executives dressed in three-piece suits marched lemming-like off a cliff. Apple insiders say the ad was an unsubtle dig to IBM's strait-laced image. Apple likes to portray itself as a company whose computers are intended for companies on the move -- much like itself.
While an Apple spokeswoman says Macintosh office products are targeted primarily for smaller and middle-sized business -- a market where Digital Equipment Corp., Wang and Data General also compete -- it is preparing to "forge strategic alliances" with large companies in order to sell into the Fortune 500 market. There is persistent speculation that Apple is negotiating with both Wang and AT&T for a joint-marketing arrangement.