Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
Apple announced to dealers last week that both configurations of the PowerBook 540, introduced just this May, have been discontinued because "demand has exceeded availability." The popular notebook differed from the PowerBook 540c only in that its active matrix display was grayscale, rather than color.
Right from their introduction, the 500 series PowerBooks were enormously popular, and sales of all models quickly outpaced Apple's ability to supply the units to dealers. The surge of demand reminds me of the rush on the original three PowerBook models, introduced in October of 1991, as customers quickly decimated the seemingly sufficient introductory supplies.
Widespread speculation several weeks ago suggested Apple stopped production of the PowerBook 540 in order to shift manufacturing resources to produce more of the higher-priced PowerBook 540c. Apple countered this speculation with an official denial, and it seems likely that 540c manufacturing would be more constrained by the supply of high-quality active matrix color display panels than by production resources used for the 540. (Active matrix displays have been a primary hold-up in manufacturing several PowerBook models.)
One likely explanation for the 540's disappearance is the redirection of production lines towards models other than the 540c. Certainly it's not because the 540 was unpopular; the model has been backlogged through most of its existence. Nor is it because there's no need for such a model. Many users prefer the less-power-hungry grayscale displays when portable color isn't necessary.
What does this mean for prospective buyers? Less flexibility. Those who need the 33 MHz 68040 power of the 540 will have no choice but to buy the 540c and cope with the extra power requirements of the color active matrix display. Those who really want grayscale will be limited to the 520, with its slower 25 MHz processor. (This assumes the backlogs of the other 500 series PowerBooks will ease sooner, rather than later.)
We hope a method to Apple's madness will be revealed in short order. Meanwhile, we're concerned by the short life cycle of an obviously popular product.