Mercury Week: Wrap-Up

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Date: Monday, February 1st, 1999, 00:00
Category: Archive

Hedge, Qualify, Back-Pedal?

One thing to remember in all these discussions about the fabled Mercury G4 PowerBook is that nothing is official until it comes out of Steve Jobs’ mouth during the Macworld Expo SF 2001 keynote address on Tuesday morning. Steve has been known to change specs, prices and time frames up until the very last minute – literally!

Some readers have speculated that Jobs may pull or re-arrange some of the announcements just to prove the rumor sites wrong. While it wouldn’t surprise us, it is highly unlikely as Macworld Expo is the biggest and best forum for new product announcements and holding back would have a significant opportunity cost in lost PR.

With that out of the way, there are some Mercury features that are more questionable than others. As I mentioned in the update about the display, this is easily the most controversial feature of the new machine. While the new screen isn’t expected to use a true 16:9 aspect ratio, because is may be impractical, it is expected to be wider than the traditional 4:3 PowerBook screen. The closest product to the Merc display, the Apple Cinema Display, is not a true 16:9 display.

Some have speculated that the timing of Mercury might be later that Macworld Expo SF01 because of production backlogs, G4 shortages, etc. While possible (see above), a Merc delay seems unlikely. Steve Jobs has been cracking the whip in an effort to get Mercury to market at all costs, even going as far as asking employees to work through the holidays to get it done – the first time this has been done in while. Besides, Apple has to appease customers and shareholders, something the stock price is not doing right now.

Rumors have been flying that Mercury is more likely to be announced during Macworld Expo Tokyo in February because of the general health of Apple’s inventory. With 7-11 weeks on hand, the logic is that Apple may push out the intro to empty the warehouses a bit. Our money remains on Tuesday because Tokyo is a better forum to announce a killer subnotebook, if there were such a product in the pipeline 🙂

We can safely assume that most of the other specs are pretty close to reality. Assume that the low power Motorola 7410 (G4) processor will be used at 400 and 500 MHz clock speeds. While 600 MHz configurations are possible, don’t count on it because the chips are extremely constrained and Apple needs to have a nice speed bump in the wings for July.

The expansion bay is gone folks, sorry. The good news is that Apple has seen the light on the CD-R front. While we have been reporting all along that Apple will ship Merc with a DVD-ROM drive, there is an outside chance that they will be able to squeeze a combo DVD/CD-RW drive into the tiny Merc enclosure. We put the chances at about 25 percent (at best) based on some of the other hardware specs that we have seen, so don’t hold your breath on this one.

Battery technology has also come up quite a bit. Since the battery in Merc is fixed, Apple will need to ship the beast with a long-lasting power supply to placate business travelers that simply won’t tolerate anything less than watching a complete DVD uninterrupted. International flights are a totally different problem. With that in mind, Apple is believe to have chosen solid-state polymer battery technology for Mercury. (More on polymer battery technology can be found in previous Go2Mac articles 1 and 2.) The Zinc Air battery technology that we have discussed here before is still a little far off so we will probably have to wait for the PowerBook G5 to see that.

Finally, prices. Mercury will ship in two or three configurations, likely 400 and 500 MHz G4s at the same (original) price point as the Pismo models they replace: US$2499 and US$3499 respectively. Start saving your nickels and dimes, everyone is going to want to buy this machine.

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