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Apple portable device may be up next

The MacWorld convention begins in a month, and with it will likely come the announcement of a consumer portable from Apple and possibly even details about a new iMac-like desktop.

The Macworld convention begins in a month, and with it will likely come the announcement of a consumer portable from Apple and possibly even details about a new iMac-like desktop.

Apple is expected to use the three-day event in New York to unveil its product plans for the coming year, said sources. The company has said in the past that it will refresh its product line annually, and the conference in many ways has become the point around which the Apple calendar turns.

Last year, the company took the covers off the colorful iMac at the convention. The year before, de facto (and now interim) chief executive Steve Jobs announced that Microsoft was investing $150 million in the company.

One of the highlights this year is expected to be a consumer portable, known also as the P1, according to sources. The device is expected to cost around $1,500 and come in an array of colors, according to previous reports. One point of debate is whether it will be a full-fledged notebook, or more like a handheld computer. Apple has had discussions in the past with 3Com about licensing a version of the Palm OS.

Along with the P1, the company could also tip its hat on a new iMac-like desktop, allegedly code-named the C2 or the Kihei, sources said, which will feature a larger screen and other features.

Such a desktop would likely constitute more than a speed bump in processor speed, predicted Lou Mazzuchelli, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison. It would likely have a "larger screen, better sound," or even design features that would signal to customers that it is different from current iMacs.

Neither Mazzuchelli nor other sources, however, could confirm that such a desktop exists, or even if the code names are real. In the past year Apple has become one of the more secretive companies in Silicon Valley, and sources largely admit that information about the company's plans comes second hand. Part of Mazzuchelli's prediction is based on the assumption that Apple will stick to its plans of invigorating the product line annually. Calls to Apple were not returned.

Although reports have circulated that the consumer portable would be canceled, most believe that the product will come out, albeit a little later than expected.

"Canceled? That's a very low probability," said Mazzuchelli. Nonetheless, a delay between a product announcement and its availability from retailers is possible if not inevitable. The existence of the iMac, after all, became known in May 1998 and pre-production models were shown in early July at Macworld. Systems, however, didn't arrive until late August.

"The portable is definitely coming out," said another source close to the company. Sources familiar with the project and close to Apple further added that a definite move into the consumer portable arena is likely, especially given the resources already invested in the project to date and the attention Jobs has given to the project.

Rumors about cancellation of the project were fueled after it was revealed last week that Apple was consolidating its portable development into its desktop group. Additionally, Mark Foster, head of Apple's notebook development efforts, is leaving the company with his duties shifting to Glen Miranker, who oversees desktop systems engineering.

Despite recent reports of iMac shortages, Mazzuchelli and others state that the supplies are generally healthy. A statement on Apple's Online Store site states in red letters: "Due to popular demand, new orders for iMacs will not ship until late July."

Dealers, however, have adequate supply. The shortage at Apple may also indicate that Apple is clearing out its own inventory in anticipation of a new desktop.

"Supply is OK on everything but grape," said Mike McNeill, president of Club Mac.'s Dawn Kawamoto contributed to this report.