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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

NEW PRODUCT

This Apple Is Not Ripe


THE MARKETPLACE FOR NEW technology these days seems like some primordial ooze, out of which strange hybrid devices are continually rising. Computers are merging with phones, and televisions may soon be able to access the Internet. Pippin is the latest of these new species. Developed by Apple Computer and sold by Bandai under the name Pippin Atmark, Pippin is a computer-cum-home entertainment center. According to Apple, it is a "new media appliance," one whose low price and ease of use will make computers as ubiquitous in homes as televisions.

While Pippin offers Bandai an entree into electronic games and -- especially -- educational software, it could help Apple get back on track by giving the financially troubled company first dibs on a huge, untapped market. According to Apple research, half of U.S. households do not have computers or plans to purchase one -- a figure that rises to two-thirds of homes worldwide. The standard computer's still-high cost as well as the time it takes to learn to use it are scaring away potential buyers.

But Pippin is easier to master than even Apple's popular Macintosh, and it's cheaper as well. It has only a few buttons on its handheld controller and can use any TV set as its monitor. It has no hard drive, but will run CD-ROMs containing designed-for-Pippin applications. Users will be able not only to play games and run simple computer programs, but to have access to the Internet. Pippin's $600 price tag compares to $1,300 to $1,500 for the basic Macintosh Performa.

Still, critics see the Pippin as limited by both its design and its reliance on Apple technology. Intelligent Gamer magazine calls the Pippin "a wholly bizarre piece of hardware." The machine is neither a fully functional computer, says the video-game publication, nor does it come equipped with the powerful processing units that most game consoles have. Thus the Pippin cannot run popular Nintendo or Sega titles, nor does it support PC-compatible games, which are the majority of those on the market. The device is confined to using programs designed for the Macintosh, a platform notorious for software that is both limited in selection and late to be released.

If Bandai follows through on its plans, however, Pippin software won't be in short supply for long. The company hopes to have 200 titles available by December, probably including ones that feature the Power Rangers and Sailor Moon. And eventually, software developers are likely to publish Pippin versions of many old favorites, which in some cases may look even better on a big color-TV screen.

Concerns remain, however, about Pippin's suitability as a cyberspace vehicle. Since Pippin has no internal storage capacity or printer, users can view pages on the World Wide Web but not download or print them. And to make typing in electronic mail messages easier, a Pippin owner may have to acquire a regular keyboard.

"Rather than being a cheap computer for the common man," says John De Hoog, a participant in an Internet newsgroup dedicated to discussion of Mac issues (comp.sys.mac.advocacy), "it looks to me like an expensive toy for the technically curious." Best strategy for would-be buyers: Wait until you see some of the promised software in the stores and, unless you speak Japanese, in other languages, as well .

-- By Jose Manuel Tesoro

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