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It seems Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) may have a brick up its sleeve. As any Apple fanboy will tell you, rumor chatter has Apple unveiling a new MacBook, code-named "Brick," later this month. The 9to5Mac website broke the news. And since that's the site that nailed the story of January's MacBook Air, other outlets, ranging from Engadget to even BusinessWeek, have been rolling with the tip as if it's gospel.
"Brick" isn't a very appetizing name in an industry moving toward lighter and smaller laptops. Seen the Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) Mini lately? And really, to go from Air to Brick? Let's just hope it's a working title only, and dubbed as such because the new laptop's body is supposedly made from a single, lightweight, aircraft-quality aluminum brick.
I don't know whether that will be enough to win over a new generation of converts or kick-start the upgrade cycle. With the iPod's sales growth decelerating, Apple would love to have a hot big-ticket item for the holidays. A pricey MacBook would be a mistake in this uncertain economic climate, but this is where the company's fiscal third-quarter report comes into play.
Shares of Apple took a hit this summer, when the company announced that gross margins would contract in the near term. After clocking in at 34.8% during its fiscal third quarter, Apple is guiding analysts to expect gross margins to slip to 32% for the final quarter and then 30% for fiscal 2009.
Since the fourth quarter came to a close last month, new laptops with thinner markups could factor into only the fiscal 2009 gross-margin target. Cheaper iPod touch digital-media players probably were the culprits in Q4. Will the new MacBooks cost more to make, or is Apple rolling up its sleeves to match Dell, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) , and Lenovo (OTC BB: LNVGY.PK) for cheaper entry-level portables?
It's too early to tell, of course. With IBM (NYSE: IBM ) preannouncing better-than-expected results last night, tech has a good shot at leading this market out of the doldrums. Apple is an unlikely killjoy if it surprises the market next week with cheap MacBooks. That would find Apple stock sinking like, well, a brick.
Other bricks in the oven: