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Tokyo crowds weigh new Mac wares

Macworld Expo attendees say that while new iMac colors may woo Japanese girls, they're interested in the capabilities of Apple's new pro laptop and DVD Macs.

    CHIBA, Japan--An international coterie of Mac fans gathered at this week's Macworld Expo to get a look at the Japanese debut of Apple Computer's newest products.

    New iMacs and a Power Mac G4 exclusive demo with Nvidia's new Geforce 3 graphics chip were star performers during Apple CEO Steve Jobs' Thursday morning keynote speech here.

    However, many Japanese visitors seemed more interested with the features of the PowerBook G4 Titanium laptop and the DVD-R capabilities of the latest Power Mac G4 desktop, both of which Jobs unveiled at January's Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

    Nevertheless, attendees generally agreed that the new blue dalmatian and flower power iMacs will be a hit in Japan--at least with teenage girls.

    "The Titanium PowerBook is very good and thin," said Yoko Sato, a nurse who attended the show with her husband and two children. "I love the screen. We own a PowerBook G3 now, so it will be about a year before we upgrade our PowerBook.

    "I also love the flower-power iMac, and my son Mizuki loves playing on the iMac," Sato said. "At home, it's 'Grandma and Me' on our PowerBook."

    However, Sato was disappointed that the new consumer desktops didn't include a DVD drive like their predecessors. "The DVD is more important (than CD-RW) to us in a computer. We are upset that they took out the DVD; there aren?t many external DVDs on the market. We may as well buy a consumer DVD player."

    DVD capabilities also guided the purchasing decisions of Northwest Airlines executive Hiroaki Takahashi.

    "The PowerBook G4 was very light but larger than I expected," he said. "I was really interested in purchasing one, but after seeing the SuperDrive and iDVD in the Power Mac G4 at the keynote address, I want to buy a 733MHz Power Mac first."

    Takahashi said he thought the iMac looked "great with the new color variations," but as the owner of an iMac as well as a PowerBook G3, "I'm not in the market for an iMac right now."

    Vaio envy?
    Canon engineer Yuko Tanaka took umbrage at the etiquette of Jobs' comparison of the PowerBook G4 to the locally grown Sony Vaio.

    "It sounded like they copied the Vaio rather than promoting it on its own merit," she said. "The reaction of the crowd wasn't that good when he made many comparisons to the Vaio."

    During his keynote speech, Jobs told the crowd, "We love Sony, we admire Sony, we aspire to be like them."

    Tanaka also criticized the design of the new PowerBook's pointing device: "I don't like the placement of the trackpad button because it is higher than previous PowerBooks and takes some getting used to."

    Ole Jacobsen, an visitor with Cisco Systems, U.S., also dismissed comparisons with the Vaio and echoed Japanese users' concerns about the size of the new laptop. "Comparing it to a random Vaio is a crock! 'Look, my notebook is thinner than a Bible'--so what?"

    However, he praised the Mac's recent gains in processing power. "Apple is moving rapidly forward and the power is increasing really quickly. My Cube is already outdated, but I'm glad that I have one with a DVD."

    On the new iMacs, Jacobsen said, "They are nice and playful, but I am not sure what it adds. It's unusual to see Apple with this austere, professional look on one hand, then on the other hand it's flower power."

    By contrast, Japanese translator Eric Bossieux had little problem gauging the consumer desktops' appeal here: "The new iMacs will be popular with the Japanese girls, since they're so kawai (cute)."

    Macworld Expo/Tokyo runs Feb. 22 to 24.

    Staff writer Matthew Rothenberg contributed to this report.