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Cheers, fears for iMac colors

Accessory-makers are blue about 4 new Apple shades

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

Apple Computer Inc. unveiled this week 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But Melody Saffery knew she had a problem: lots of products whose colors had instantly become outdated.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, 'My product line!' " said Saffery, a product manager for Belkin Components, based in Compton, Calif. Belkin has plenty of 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 Inc., based in New Jersey, 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 a speech at the expo, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs waxed poetic on the beauty of the new colors, such as the rayish-green sage.

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

But accessories 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 LLC, 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.

Optimists point out there are still 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.