Newton steals the show at Boston Macworld Expo


BOSTON -- Apple Computer Inc.'s Newton got off to a torrid, if somewhat controversial, start last week when some buyers at the Macworld Expo show complained they had been gouged by profit-hungry retailers.

The personal digital assistant was the show's hottest item, with one booth selling its allotment of a couple hundred Newtons before the show opened. Those units were sold to exhibitors, on the floor to prepare their booths, who lined up four deep and jostled one another to wave credit cards at sales clerks.

"People hadn't even seen one, and they plunked down $900, no questions asked," said Peter Chabot, Apple sales representative for Computer Town, a Boston-area computer store chain.

In another section of the hall, two dozen buyers lined up at a booth operated by CompUSA to pay for Newtons, even though the booth had sold its stock. The store told those buyers it would deliver the units to them the next day.

"This is phenomenal," CompUSA seller Wesley Thomas said. "It accelerated very quickly after the doors opened. It was like watching children waiting for the greatest concert in the world."

Some buyers, frustrated at not being able to buy a Newton on the spot, tried waving plane tickets for Tuesday night flights, vainly pleading for the first spot in line. One man, who bought the single Newton CompUSA permitted each customer, changed his shirt and got back into line to try to buy a second one, Mr. Thomas said.

In the back of the hall, one booth offering only the stripped-down $699 Newton MessagePad had about 50 customers in line at noon.

That booth's customers included three men from the University of Michigan who purchased Newtons two hours after lining up outside the convention hall. They complained that one seller had raised the Newton price while they were waiting in line.

"They handed out fliers outside that gave the price as $797," said Matthew Barritt, an instructional designer. "When we got there, they said $897."

Fliers distributed close to the booth listed both prices: the lower one for orders to be filled in a week; the higher described as the "Take Home" price.

But the grumbling didn't stop Mr. Barritt and his companions from rushing to check out their new gadgets.

The three sat down on the floor of an empty display area a few yards from the booth and were surrounded quickly by crumpled plastic wrapping, manuals and a flock of other show-goers eager to see the Newton.

The MessagePad won't enjoy the spotlight alone for long.

Sharp Electronics, which is manufacturing the MessagePad and producing its own versions, also introduced its Expert Pad.

The device, a virtual copy of the Apple device with some cosmetic differences, has a suggested retail price of $899 but is expected to sell for $699. The ExpertPad is expected to be shipped to stores by the end of September.

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