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Apple's Portable Power Play

In all the hype over the wildly successful iPod and the battle for dominance in digital music, it's easy to forget that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is, first and foremost, a computer company.

As if we needed a reminder, yesterday Apple updated its entire line of business-oriented PowerBook and consumer-oriented iBook portable computers, adding features and, in some cases, lowering prices. Indeed, the new high-end 15" PowerBook sports a faster processor, but sells for $100 less than the model it replaces. It may still be roughly $200 more than a comparable model from Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , but closing the price gap is a great idea.

Like most computer makers, Apple typically slashes prices on existing models that are due to be replaced with a major upgrade. That could be the case here, too. Apple's G5 processor, produced in concert with IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , is already powering Apple's high-end desktops and servers, and has long been rumored to find its way into the portable line. Apple also has a history of keeping its consumer-oriented iBooks running on older processors while outfitting the workhorse PowerBooks with the latest computing muscle. With summer almost upon us, G5 PowerBooks may be in the works.

But even if the strategy is more about reducing G4 inventory and less about making Apple's portable line price competitive with Dell, IBM, and Toshiba (OTHER OTC: TOSHF), Apple still deserves credit. The company's desktop computer sales have slowed as notebook sales have accelerated, especially among the iBook line. Designing a strategy to take advantage of the popularity of its portable products only makes sense.

Plus, with wireless onramps to the Web popping up, including at Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) locations across the country, consumers appear more inclined to lug their computers around.

For a company that in the past has been roundly criticized for being unable to come to grips with reality, yesterday's low-key, ho-hum update of its notebook line may be the kind of creative pragmatism Apple needs to sustain growth.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers lugs his PowerBook G4 everywhere, too. He even wrote this column from his living room. He owns no shares in Apple or any of the companies mentioned. You can view his Fool profile here.

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