Apple revamps iBook

Apple Computer Inc. announced today a svelte new version of its consumer laptop, the iBook that shares a name and little else with earlier versions.

The new iBook, due in May, does away with the funky colors and shape of previous versions and pares weight, size, and cost. The latest iBook weighs only 4.9 pounds, light compared to the 6.7 pounds for the old model; its rectangular case measures 1.3 inches thick, 9.1 inches deep, and 11.2 inches wide. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled the iBook during a presentation to reporters at the Apple corporate campus, where he said the notebook is less than 10 percent larger than a sheet of paper, not counting thickness.

Standard features on the new notebook include a 500-MHz PowerPC G3 processor, a 10GB hard drive, a 12.1-inch active-matrix display, an integrated network adapter, a V.90 modem, and an IEEE 1394 port. A $1299 basic model comes with a 64MB of RAM and a built-in 24X CD-ROM drive; pricier versions offer 128MB of RAM and better optical drives, including a US$1599 model with a combination 4X/4X/24X CD-RW and 6X DVD-ROM drive.

Slick case loses candy colors

The case is made from white polycarbonate plastic wrapped around a magnesium frame, in contrast to the orange, blue, lime-green, or charcoal colors of the old iBook and the titanium and carbon fiber of the PowerBook G4. Ironically, Jobs poo-pooed magnesium as “yesterday’s material” when he announced the PowerBook G4 in January.

The new iBook is “twice as durable as the last one,” Jobs said, when discussing the magnesium frame and polycarbonate plastic body. “This is the same stuff they make bulletproof vests from.”

To further the point, the iBook hard drive is rubber mounted for bump tolerance, according to Apple. The 12.1-inch display offers a native resolution of 1024 by 768, up from the 800 by 600 resolution of the old iBook. The screen, which Jobs described as “delicious,” is attached to a unique rear-mounted hinge that extends outward from the bottom of the case, rather than resting on the edge of it. As a result, all of the notebook’s ports–the modem, network, USB, IEEE 1394, and audio/video ports–rest on the left side, rather than the rear. The iBook comes with a built-in 802.11b wireless networking antenna (an internal card to make it work costs $99).

Apple says iBook’s lithium-ion battery will last five hours between charges.

In addition to VGA-out (via a special, included dongle), the iBook offers a combination AV port that allows either audio out or composite-video out (but not both). An ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics chip set with 8MB of SDRAM provides the display power.

OS X update adds CD burning

Besides new hardware, Apple also announced the availability of the first update to its recently launched OS X operating system. The update, available to OS X users through the software update feature, adds support for CD burning using Apple’s iTunes software, as well as Internet file sharing and security enhancements.

Apple hopes the new iBook will be a hit with consumers and educators. The company announced that a Richmond, Virginia, school district has already placed an order for 23,000 iBooks, which Jobs says is the largest portable-computer order by an educational institution. Education customers get a price break–$1199 for the least-expensive model.

Douglas F. Gray, IDG News, contributed to this report.