The new iBook

Introduction

The iBook has been a hit ever since it was first unveiled at New York’s Macworld Expo, last July. Almost immediately, it hit the top of the sales charts, becoming the number-one selling portable computer in the US retail market in October, November and December; it was released in September. The combined sales of iBooks and PowerBooks gave Apple a 10 per cent share of all portables in the US retail market. For all we know, the iBook is still up there knocking sales spots off Windows laptops right now. In the UK, the iBook won the Best ICT Hardware (Secondary) award at January’s BETT educational show. A year earlier, Apple had walked away with similar awards for the iMac. Both the iMac and iBook achieved such success despite packing a pathetic 32MB of memory (RAM) – about enough to run the operating system and a Web browser. Mac-buying consumers had to go out and buy an extra bunch of memory chips almost immediately. Those that are still labouring away with just the installed RAM, don’t know how powerful their iMac or iBook really is. Double up All new iBooks now ship with 64MB of RAM, which is really the bare minimum amount anyone should have. If you do more than browse the Web, email and word process on your iBook, you should consider upping that figure to a healthy 128MB (an extra £140). You’ll be able to run more programs at the same time, and experience fewer crashes – most are caused by insufficient memory. If you really want, you can hike the iBook’s memory to 320MB. The original iBook also suffered the shame of having the smallest hard drive of all current Macs. So, today’s new 6GB Ultra ATA hard drives are cause for extra satisfaction. Like the original iBook, the new models all offer a battery life that Apple claims is “all-day” – up to six hours working time. Of course, they all also support Apple’s super AirPort wireless technology for cable-free Internet and network access. So, with its iBook upgrades, Apple has sorted out two previous limitations. But that’s where the changes to the basic models stop. Everything else about the iBooks remains the same – why make wholesale changes to the number-one-selling portable computer? Hang on… what do I mean “basic models”? Is there a new iBook on offer now, too? Yes, Apple has repeated its successful move with the iMac – and released a Special Edition iBook at a premium price. (The iMac DV SE is the fastest selling model, despite the extra cost.) The Blueberry and Tangerine iBooks enjoy the extra RAM and disk space, but retain the 300MHz G3 processor of the original. The iBook SE boasts a 366MHz G3 processor and addresses another oft-made criticism of the ‘basic’ model – its lurid colour scheme. Many observers found the bright blue and near-luminous orange iBooks too loud to bear. Coupled with its “handbag-like” appearance, these striking colours put off those potential male customers who weren’t in touch with their feminine side… yeah, they said they looked sissy. The iBook SE, on the other handle, is glad to be grey. Fitting in with the Graphite G4 Power Mac and iMac SE, this souped-up iBook is now more business friendly – with its sober colours still outshining all those dull Windows laptops. With the PowerBook staying exactly the same in appearance, many Macintosh users looking at portable options will pick the iBook SE for its refreshingly different looks. The iBooks beat the PowerBook on several design levels. The lids – with attractive overmoulded rubber edges – open and close with a spring-loaded hinge, banishing easy-to-break latches. A handle makes lugging the portable around as easy as it is in a carrying case. The 12.1-inch active-matrix TFT SVGA display is smaller than the PowerBook’s 14.1-inch screen, but seems just as sharp – displaying millions of colours at an 800-x-600-pixel resolution. Modem and ethernet are exactly the same on iBook and PowerBook, as are the full-size keyboards. And the prices (starting at £1,249 including VAT) are much cheaper than the PowerBooks (starting at nearly £2,000 when you add VAT). To its credit, the PowerBook is slimmer and nearly half a kilogram lighter than the weighty iBooks, as well as packing fast FireWire connectivity and speedier G3 chips. The pro portable sounds better, with 16-bit CD-quality stereo input/output and two built-in stereo speakers, compared to the iBook’s single mono speaker. Plus, the iBook has a CD, not a DVD drive.
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