Apple: Expect Intel Laptop Shortages

"We may not be able to meet the demand on the MacBook Pro," said Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, in a telephone briefing to analysts and reporters. "The limited number of weeks to ship [the MacBook Pro] in the second quarter, and the very strong response we've gotten means we may not be able to meet demand."

Peter Oppenheimer, the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer and electronic maker's chief financial officer, used almost exactly the same phrasing in warning analysts that Apple's second quarter might suffer somewhat because of the shortage.

The MacBook Pro is Apple's first Intel-powered notebook, and will appear in two models, both with a 15.4-inch screen, an ATI graphics card, and a DVD-RW/CD-RW optical drive. Intel's Core Duo chip, a dual-processor CPU unveiled earlier in January, powers the MacBook; a model running a 1.67GHz Duo is priced at $1,999, while the model equipped with a 1.83GHz Duo (as well as a larger hard drive and more memory) costs $2,499.

"Shortages like this are one of the effects of Apple keeping announcements quiet," said Joe Wilcox, an analyst with JupiterResearch. "Many companies will begin moving product through the channel before an announcement. Sometimes you'll even see Microsoft software on store shelves before it's announced." But Apple, which historically keeps new product news close to its vest, doesn't have the luxury of pre-stocking the channel.

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"The more people who know about it, the more chance there is of the secret getting out," said Wilcox.

There's another issue here, though, Wilcox continued: the fact that the new Apple laptop relies on a just-released Intel processor. "It's more than just Apple secrecy this time. There are a number of Core Duo notebooks that have been announced that aren't available," he said.

On Wednesday, in a conference call with analysts to discuss Intel's quarterly earnings, Intel's chief executive Paul Otellini blamed part of his company's weak performance on a shortage of supporting chipsets. Intel, however, did not specify whether Duo processors were among those impacted by chipset scarcities. Apple has had several publicized problems with keeping up with demand or delivering products for important selling seasons. In January 2005, the new Mac mini and the iPod Shuffle were backlogged for weeks due to short supplies. Seven months before that, Apple blamed IBM for shortages of the PowerPC G5 processor; the CPU shortfall led to Apple missing most of the back-to-school selling season for its revamped iMac line.

"There's always a sales risk [when Apple doesn't deliver]," Wilcox said. "The MacBook Pro isn't the only notebook shipping with the Duo."

In other Intel Mac news Wednesday, Cook and Oppenheimer both also admitted that buyers postponed Mac purchases in the weeks leading up to the MacWorld Expo debut of the new iMacs and MacBooks.

"We did see a pause [in Mac sales] last quarter as some customers began to speculate prior to the MacWorld announcement," acknowledged Cook.

Even so, the quarter was a extremely successful one for Apple, with both revenues and earnings setting records. More than 1.2 million Macs were sold in the quarter; the computers accounted for 41 percent of the company's revenues, said Oppenheimer.

Neither executive would give details of what kind of customers had postponed Mac purchases prior to MacWorld, but both emphasized several times how well things were going for the Intel-based models.

"We've seen an extraordinary response to the new Mac, including strong bookings for the iMac and the PowerBook," said Cook, who like many users, called the MacBook Pro by its predecessor's name.

"We're off to a great start," added Oppenheimer. "The Intel-based Macs have been very well received."

The PowerPC-based iMac and the 15-inch PowerBook G4 will be discontinued as soon as inventory is sold off, said Cook, who added that the company has about a 4-5 week supply on hand.

"We'll continue to ship them while supplies last," said Cook.

When asked if Apple would discount the older iMacs and PowerBook to move them out of stores, Cook and Oppenheimer declined to answer. "Apple doesn't comment about future products or future pricing plans," said Cook.