Apple Updates iBook Lineup

 
 
By Mark Hachman  |  Posted 2003-10-22
 
 
 
Apples iBook notebooks entered the G4 generation on Wednesday, the company announced. Separately, the company also lowered prices for its eMac education line.

While previous iBook models simply allowed users to play back CDs, the new models allow them to burn CDs on a slot-loaded combination DVD and CD-RW drive. Apple also included the ATI Mobility Radeon graphics chip with 32MB of video RAM as a standard feature, improving graphics quality. All three of the iBook models have also been upgraded to come standard with 256MB of DDR memory.

Apples improvements to the iBook line prompted the company to bump the price of its entry-level model by $100, however. All three of the new G4 models come standard with 256MB of memory, the slot-loading DVD/CD-RW drive, and FireWire and USB 2.0 ports.

In addition, the upgraded iBooks give customers a sneak peek at the new Mac OS 10.3 operating system, dubbed "Panther", which gives Apple users access to features including a new Finder app and greater Windows compatibility. Panther will officially launch this Friday at events held in Apple stores, although the company has already begun shipping to customers that preordered boxed copies.

Since the iBook was introduced in 1999, customers have speculated that it would eat into the sales of the PowerBook, designed for the professional market. To date, that hasnt happened, said Greg Joswiak, Apples vice-president of hardware product marketing, in an interview with eWEEK.com.

"The reality is that since that time, the iBook grew very significantly, with a very conscious approach that the iBook was designed for consumers and education," Joswiak said. "We didnt just take the professional notebook and rip out features and call it a consumer notebook," an approach used by some of the largest Windows-only notebook manufacturers, he added.

For example, the iBooks PowerPC G4 processors contain only 256KB of Level 2 cache. PowerBooks, however, contain G4 processors with 512KB of cache, which can speed up professional applications like Adobe Photoshop dramatically, Joswiak said. In addition, PowerBooks contain built-in Bluetooth to interact with cell phones, while iBook customers must purchase a Bluetooth card as an add-on.

Apples 800MHz iBook, which ships with a 12.1-inch LCD and a 30GB hard drive, now costs $1,099; the 933MHz models, which include a 14.-1-inch display and a 40GB hard drive, now is priced at $1,299. The 1-GHz iBook, built around a 14.-inch panel and a 60GB hard drive, is priced at $1,499.

Users can also choose to upgrade to up to 640MB of memory, choose between a faster 4,200-RPM 40GB or 60GB hard drive, and add a Bluetooth module, Airport Extreme 802.11g base station, or an AirPort Extreme card. An Apple customer can also purchase the AppleCare support plan, which costs $249 for iBook customers and can extend the warranty to up to three years.

Although Wi-Fi component manufacturers have begun selling chips that support multiple 802.11 standards, Joswiak said Apple intends to remain firm on its commitment to offer 802.11g-only connectivity as part of its AirPort line. Likewise, Apple does not plan to include the "turbo modes" Wi-Fi chip vendors have begun offering, as a way of squirting more data through existing wireless channels.

"When you try to do too much in this space, it breaks the standard," Joswiak said. "When you go from network to network, add weird modes and incompatibilities, it adds frustrations [to the user]."

However, Apple is part of the IEEE standards body, and will work closely with the group to define standards-based methods of improving throughput, he said.

Meanwhile, Apple lopped $200 off the price of its eMac line, Apples Macintosh that was originally designed for the education market. In addition to the price cuts, Apple discontinued the 800MHz eMac, leaving only the $799 and $1,099 versions of its 1GHz eMac line. The faster $1,099 model includes 256MB of memory, an 80GB hard drive, and an upgraded Apples SuperDrive DVD-R/CD-RW combo drive. The $799 eMac includes 128MB of memory, a 40-GB hard drive, and a CD-ROM.

"The eMac line has shown nice traction as the entry-level part of our line," Joswiak said. "When youre buying a second computer or third computer, price is an important element."

At the same time, customers said "loud and clear" that they wanted the ability to burn CDs, prompting Apple to upgrade the most expensive model to the SuperDrive, Joswiak said.

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