SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Apple Computer Inc., aided by the NBA's all-time top scorer, is leading the notebook computer league in sales with its 4-month-old PowerBook.
Retired Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the center of Apple's Olympic television ads promoting the PowerBook, whose rapid sales surprised many market watchers. The three PowerBook models, introduced last October, outsold all other notebook computers for the last quarter of 1991, according to some estimates.
The PowerBooks towered over their U.S. competitors, selling more in three months than machines from Compaq or AST Research did in all of 1991. For the quarter, Apple even outsold the largest Japanese notebook suppliers, like Toshiba.
Much of that was satisfying pent-up demand among Macintosh owners who wanted a notebook version of their favorite computer, although some analysts contend the company has done so well that it must have attracted some buyers who don't own Macintoshes.
"It's an extremely unusual and extremely rapid ramp-up," said Doug Kass, a Dataquest Inc. analyst. "It looks like they're selling to more than the installed base."
While Apple has benefited from being the only maker of a Macintosh notebook computer -- the IBM-compatible notebook market has some 65 players -- it has also benefited from a move by customers away from Japanese suppliers. Japan's Toshiba and Epson were once the undisputed leaders in selling portable computers, but "they are having a problem at this point," analyst Andrew Seybold said.
Today, most notebook computers are "extensions of the desk-top," he said, so buyers choose the same manufacturer for both machines, leaving companies like Toshiba with less leverage.
But analysts said companies like Apple must be aggressive in the competition to sell notebook computers, given that the life span of some models is not much longer than the NBA season.
To boost its chances, Apple cut the price of the entry-level PowerBook Model 100 last week. The Model 100, which lacks an internal floppy disk, only accounts for 20 percent of sales. The Model 140 is 50 percent of sales, and the Model 170 is 30 percent of sales, Mr. Seybold said.
Last week, IBM announced a 32 percent price reduction off the list price of its Personal System/2(a) Model L40 SX laptop computer as well as price reductions on options for the PS/2(a) Laptop.
Apple also hopes that its 30-second advertising spot, showing Mr. Abdul-Jabbar in an airline seat using a top-of-the-line PowerBook 170 will convince non-Macintosh owners the company has designed the machines to be comfortable.
"We want to show the ergonomics of the keyboard, and we needed somebody with big hands," said Apple spokeswoman Lisa Byrne.
It is the first Apple ad to use an athlete to endorse its products.
The Abdul-Jabbar ad was created by Steve Hayden, the same man who oversaw the company's famous "1984" ad that introduced the original Macintosh.