Last week we heard the first bit of a rumor that Apple was going to buy Outbound Systems, makers of the Outbound Laptop, a small, light Mac-compatible portable. At the time it seemed to be a reasonable move, but a NewsBytes article on America Online said that both Apple and Outbound denied any deals. Waiting a week proved to be vital for the story though, as Apple and Outbound recently announced that Apple will buy the technology used in the Outbound portable. The deal works two ways. Apple buys the technology from Outbound and doesn't sue Outbound for intellectual property infringement (how pleasant of Apple Legal). In return, Outbound gets money, the right to sell its laptop, and licenses the technology back from Apple. It's a strange world out there in Lawyerland.
Everyone who heard about the deal felt that it was a move by Apple to replace the heavy Mac Portable without having to spend more on research and development. The next Apple portable is probably a year or two off, now, since there is less reason for Apple to push it out quickly. The deal gives Outbound more credibility, but the Outbound laptop may still need to have a multi-colored Apple logo on it to sell well. Outbound doesn't have the market penetration (gads, now I'm talking like an MBA) and dealer network that Apple has.
Perhaps the most interesting possibility that could come out of this deal is that Outbound would be allowed to license the Apple ROMs. If so, the Outbound laptop would be the first Mac-compatible machine and might lead the way to other, carefully-chosen licensees. Allowing Outbound to use the ROMs would make the laptop more attractive, because you wouldn't have to cannibalize the ROM chips from an SE or Plus. My only concern with the Outbound is that its IsoPoint controller is not as easy to use as the well-designed trackball in Apple's Portable.
The Outbound laptop will be better than ever in August, when Outbound Systems will release an upgrade to the operating system, an external floppy drive for $349, an external SCSI adapter that connects to SCSI devices and can even treat the laptop's hard disk and RAM disk as a SCSI storage device for another Mac.
Apple Computer -- 408/974-2202
Outbound Systems -- 303/786-9200
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS editor
Christopher Escher -- Apple Computer
Matthew T. Russotto -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Aaker -- aaker@Apple.COM
Richard Fozzard -- fozzard@boulder.Colorado.EDU
John Starta -- starta@tosh.UUCP
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