IN a bid to bolster market share in an industry dominated by IBM-compatible hardware, Apple Computer has slashed prices on its Macintosh range, and appointed several new dealers in Hong Kong to improve its market reach. Apple also announced the availability locally of its much-hyped Newton Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), and launched a new 1.9-kilogram PowerBook, which the company claims is the lightest notebook in the market featuring an active-matrix screen. The company also unveiled a Chinese-language software kit and an English-language version of Macintosh System 7 software. Using the Chinese-language kit and any application that supports Apple's WorldScript software, documents that mix Chinese characters with other languages are more easily supported. The most significant of Apple's price cuts involves Macintosh personal computers, with prices reduced by as much as 32 per cent. The company has simplified its Macintosh product structure by effectively folding the mid-range models - the Centris - into the high-end Quadra line. Apple Far East desktop product manager Tony Li said that with upgrading of the Centris to the Motorola's more powerful 68040 processor from the 68030, and with Quadra prices falling so dramatically, it made sense to consolidate the models into a single range. Apple said the new Quadra 650 was 25 per cent more powerful than its Centris 650 predecessor, and sold for about HK$19,500. At the high-end, Apple has reduced the price of its Quadra 850 - with eight MBs of memory and a 500-MB drive - from US$5,429 to US$3,699, or 32 per cent. Mr Li said the new pricing made the Macintosh machines at least as competitive as the first and second tier DOS-based computers - the name-brand machines. The company also dramatically reduced the price of its LC III. Configured with four MB of memory and a 160-MB drive, the LC has been reduced by 31 per cent from US$1,349 to US$929. Apple Far East marketing director Tim Wheeler said the new pricing structure was aimed at renewing momentum in its drive to increase market share in the region. Despite continuing sluggishness in other markets, Mr Wheeler said unit sales throughout the region would grow by 50 per cent this financial year (which started on October 1), with revenue expected to grow by 30 per cent. Mr Wheeler said Apple Far East unit sales for the year to September 30 had grown 35 per cent, with revenue up 21 per cent. Meanwhile, Apple is expecting strong interest in its Newton MessagePad in Hong Kong despite the panning the product has received by the press in the United States since it was launched three months ago. The Newton went on sale at all authorised outlets in Hong Kong yesterday. Retail product manager Jeanne Lim said the company was not worried about the initial take-up rate in Hong Kong, as its dealers had already reported a pent-up demand for the product. Ms Lim said it had been unfortunate that early press reports had focused on only the handwriting-recognition function of Newton. While conceding that the recognition was less than perfect, she said it was the best available in the industry. Ms Lim declined to speculate on the number of Newton products the company expected to ship in the territory, but said Hong Kong should prove a strong market.