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Apple begins shipping Titanium laptops

CEO Steve Jobs also outlines shipping dates for its new Power Macs and OS X and expresses concern about the economy's meltdown.

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs kicked off the company's financial analyst conference Wednesday by announcing that the company has started shipping its Titanium PowerBook G4 laptop.

"The orders have been very gratifying," Jobs said at a gathering at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

Apple introduced the Titanium laptop at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco earlier this month and had said the models would begin shipping by the end of January. Jobs showed financial analysts the laptop and observed that some of the analysts had IBM ThinkPads.

"You might want to trade up," Jobs quipped. He added that the company also plans to begin shipping its high-end Power Macs, as scheduled, next month.

"We've seen a very good order rate for the Power Macs as well," Jobs said.

Two weeks ago, Apple announced fourth-quarter results that were below what Wall Street was expecting but within the range of what the company had said to expect in a December earnings warning.

Jobs also said the company remains on track to ship its new OS X operating system in March and to begin loading it on new computers in the summer.

"We think strategically it is the most important thing we'll do this year," Jobs said.

While expressing optimism about the response to Apple's new products, Jobs sounded a cautionary note about the overall economic picture.

"I think the economy is melting down. We don't know what macroeconomic hand we are going to be dealt this year," Jobs said.

"We are going to have to play whatever hand we and the industry are dealt. It's hard to say what's coming."

Tim Cook, Apple's senior vice president, said the company wants to add more distribution options internationally and to improve its sales efforts in the United States. This will involve severing ties with some Mac retailers, Cook said.

"We'll cut some channel partners that may not be providng the buying experience" we want, Cook said. The company may add other sales outlets, he said.

Asked about the company's slow-selling Power Mac G4 Cube, Jobs said the product has found a market, largely among high-end consumers who appreciate its small size and design.

"The disappointment to us was the market wasn't as big as we thought it might appeal to," Jobs said. Still, he added, Apple will continue selling the Cube and targeting that high-end market.

Although Jobs did not speak much about future products, he did hint at broader inclusion of both CD-rewritable drives and the SuperDrive, which can read and write both CDs and DVDs.

"I think it's possible to bring SuperDrive down to our consumer line next year," Jobs said. The SuperDrive will be included in the 733MHz Power Mac, Apple's top-of-the-line professional model.

Jobs also declined to comment on Apple's plans to open its own retail stores.

"I can't talk about initiatives we haven't announced yet."