Techwatch: Jul. 1, 1996

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It may be known simply as "PC by Sony," but the $3,000 desktop unit, set to hit the shelves later this summer, is emphatically being presented by the Japanese behemoth as anything but a traditional computer. Instead Sony is positioning the sleek gray box as the first step on the road to digital "home media stations," machines that will combine video, stereo and Internet access. That may be a visionary strategy--or a clever way to lower expectations for a product that drew mixed reviews at last week's PC Expo in New York City. Herewith, a look at the features Sony hopes will help the machine crush its PC rivals:

1 Moving Pictures: Each machine has a special card that replaces the clunky quarter-screen video of most clone PCs with a full-screen picture.

2 Virtual Desktop: A 3-D start-up screen offers access to the Net or programs--all while hyping the latest Sony merchandise with onscreen ads.

3 A Clear View: Sony's high-resolution Trinitron monitor delivers the same crisp pictures that Sony owners have come to expect from their TVs.

4 Surround Sound: Sony's stereo engineers built a computer with terrific audio quality--a key advantage for multimedia-enthralled PC buyers.


It didn't take an English professor to spot the irony. Apple Computer, facing thousands of layoffs, dwindling market share and potential extinction, launched its first big ad campaign of 1996 in partnership with Mission: Impossible. Surely the phrase fit the Cupertino, California, computer maker's scenario every bit as well as the Tom Cruise movie. Why not, one PC magazine suggested, also sponsor a remake of Raise the Titanic?

But if Apple's latest campaign seems to be whistling past the graveyard, the tune is deliberate. It's part of an internal plan called Operation Rainbow, intended to rejuvenate the company's image by associating it--in TV ads, print spots and Websites--with hot properties like Mission and BMW's new sports coupe, the Z3 Roadster. (The Mission ad features Tom Cruise breaking, entering and Apple-PowerBooking his way through danger.) "When I got here, the Apple logo was red, blood red," says Satjiv Chahil, Apple's senior VP for corporate marketing since January. "Our goal is to get some of the rainbow color back in the Apple."

The revival plan may be the company's last hope of retaining market share. With only some 8% of the PC market, Apple is rushing to retool its core computer line before weary loyalists decide they've had enough and switch to Microsoft's Windows 95. Operation Rainbow's second phase, which will include the launching of a robust new line of computers, should come this fall. Chahil hopes it will change the logo's hue again, this time to the color of money.


Once exclusively an accoutrement of globe-trotting execs, laptop computers are fast becoming as familiar as their desktop brethren. Everyone from hackers to housewives sees portables as must-have accessories, and manufacturers are jumping on the cash wagon, pushing out dozens of models stuffed with the latest features. How hot is the market? Hitachi, which didn't even sell laptops in the U.S. last year, expects to sell $150 million worth in 1996. At right, three of the slickest new machines.

--By Daniel Eisenberg