July 20, 2000 12:35 PM PDT

Accessory makers stranded by iMac color change

NEW YORK--Steve Jobs and Mac fans may love the new iMac colors, but there's at least one faction that isn't happy: the third-party manufacturers left wondering what do with all those USB hubs, CD-ROM drives and printer covers featuring last year's shades.

Apple CEO Jobs yesterday unveiled four new iMac colors--indigo, ruby, snow and sage--that will replace the now familiar fruit-themed colors, prompting cheers from many attendees at the Macworld Expo in New York.

But Melody Saffery knew she had a problem: lots of products whose colors had instantly become outdated.

"I was at the keynote speech thinking, 'Oh my god, my product line,'" said Saffery, a product manager for Compton, Calif.-based Belkin Components. Belkin has plenty of hubs, cables and mice in the old iMac flavors.

"We probably keep a 30- to 60-day inventory of products," said Saffery, who said Belkin had no idea the old colors would be replaced entirely.

Still, she said it shouldn't be too big a problem for Belkin, which designed most of the colored items as snap-on attachments, meaning most of the company's inventory can be upgraded relatively easily.

Other manufacturers, however, are stuck with some pretty high-ticket items clad in the newly unfashionable strawberry, grape, lime, tangerine and blueberry.

Eric Huang's company, New Spec, sells a $349 computer desk that is almost entirely covered in plastic to match the old iMacs.

"I don't think changing the colors so quickly is such a good thing," Huang said.

In his speech, Jobs waxed poetic on the beauty of the new colors, such as the grayish-green Sage.

"It's like graphite with a few drops of Emerald City in it," Jobs said.

But peripheral makers will need a more exact recipe than that to redesign and manufacture the new products, a process that could take three months or more.

"If they are doing new products every six months at Macworld, it makes for a lot of inventory of 'me too' products," said Laura Kirkpatrick, vice president of Pele Enterprises, a New Jersey company that makes speakers and CD cases in iMac colors. "We're a smaller company, and it definitely hurts being a smaller company."

Kirkpatrick said her company will probably try to market its speakers as add-ons for new portable CD player models that have adopted the original iMac palette.

"We pretty much have to find some new markets because Apple buyers are going to want what Apple does," Kirkpatrick said.

Having to work through a double wammy is MacMate, which chose this Macworld show to introduce the iCradle, a wrist support. The $25 unit fits around the original iMac keyboard, now discontinued, and comes in--you guessed it--the original iMac colors.

"We'll match the new keyboard," said an upbeat Steve Allen, president of Edinboro, Pa.-based MacMate. "I'm in the tool-and-die capital of the world."

Less chipper were the folks at Music Industries, a Floral Park, N.Y., company that sells MIDI musical keyboards and desks to match the iMac.

"I've got a ton of inventory I've got to move," groused Christopher Reising, Music Industries' director of new business development.

In addition, there are all those existing iMac users who may want add-ons for their technically current but stylistically obsolete models.

"I'm sure there are still millions of existing iMac users" to sell products to, Saffery said.

Changing colors to drive sales could backfire on Apple if the product cycles make designing matching companion products too expensive, however.

"If they change colors so quickly, probably in the future, we won't design desks just for Apple," Huang said.

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