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Japan awaits Apple's iBook

Having taken the wraps off its much-anticipated consumer portable in the United States, Apple says it will be available in Japan starting early October.

Japan's response to Apple's forthcoming iBook portable could prove an important barometer of both the notebook's appeal and Apple's continuing comeback abroad.

Having taken the wraps off its much-anticipated consumer portable in the United States, Apple today said the iBook will be available in Japan starting early October.

Sales in the Asian country, one of the largest markets for Apple products outside of America, will be closely watched. The Japanese have favored smaller computing devices, and should prove to be receptive to the colorful iBook.

GFK, an independent market research firm, said Apple's share of the retail computer market in Japan reached 13.1 percent in the second quarter, up from 7 percent the same period a year ago, Apple has reported. Apple's share of the notebook market is considerably less, in part due to the popularity of so-called ultralight notebooks (which Apple no longer offers), but the style of the iBook is likely to help turn around those numbers.

U.S. sales results already suggest the notebook will be a worthy follow to the iMac. Apple announced last month that it has taken orders for 140,000 units, all before iBooks begin shipping here later this month.

By way of comparison, Apple shipped 278,000 iMacs in the six weeks following the introduction of the two-toned computer, a little over a year ago. The iMac turned out to be the hottest-selling computer in Apple's history, and has boosted the maverick Cupertino, California, company's presence both in the United States and overseas.

Good news keeps on coming
Meanwhile, investors continue to pile onto Apple's stock, in part due to expectations for iBook sales as well as Power Macintosh computers based on Motorola's new G4 chip, which will be available sooner than expected. Also, analysts are expecting a new version of the iMac to be available in time for the Christmas season. The announcement could come as soon as Apple Expo 99 in France next week, according to both industry sources and various reports on the Internet.

In response, stock analyst Charlie Wolf with Warburg Dillon Read reiterated his buy rating on the stock and forecasted a new share target price of $90.

Yesterday, Apple's stock reached another 52-week high of 76.38, before slipping back slightly today to 74.5. Last week, the stock surpassed its all time high, as well.

The 6.5-pound iBook, which borrows from the iMac's design themes, is a two-toned system available in tangerine or blueberry hues. The iBook will include a 12.1-inch active-matrix screen, a 300-MHz PowerPC G3 processor, a 3.2GB hard disk drive, CD-ROM drive, modem, and Ethernet networking.

Pricing for Japan was not immediately available. In the United States, the notebook is priced at $1,599.