Amid applause and cheering from an enthusiastic MacWorld Expo crowd, interim Apple Computer chief executive officer Steve Jobs yesterday unveiled the company's much-anticipated consumer portable machine, called the iBook.
During his keynote speech, Jobs also set the tone for the show, providing an insight into the company's direction with sneak peeks at upcoming technology, announcing a variety of new partnerships and products, and providing some crowd-pleasing gags.
The $US1599 iBook, however, clearly was the keynote headliner. Expected to be available in September, it is the last piece in the puzzle in Jobs' four-part, simplified computer-product strategy, launched last year. The product blueprint calls for Apple to deliver one desktop and one portable machine each, for the consumer and professional markets. Apple has already delivered, on the professional side, the PowerMacintosh desktop and the PowerBook portable, and on the consumer side the iMac desktop.
Unveiling the iBook, Jobs stressed value for money, saying that the machine "is the second fastest portable in the world, second only to the venerable Apple PowerBook."
Jobs said that machines using Microsoft Windows and Intel processors that offer features similar to the iBook are priced at more than $3000.
"We went to our customers and asked, 'What do you want in a portable?'" Jobs said. "What they wanted was an iMac to go, could we make an awesome iMac to go, and we have done that, I hope."
For about half that price, he said, the iBook offers: a 300MHz G3 chip with 512K backside L2 cache; a 12.1 inch active matrix TFT SVGA display with millions of colours at 800 x 600 resolution; up to six hours of battery time on a single charge of the machine's Lithium-Ion battery; 32MB of SDRAM memory, expandable to 160MB; and a 3.2GB hard drive.
The iBook also sports a 24x CD-ROM drive, full-size keyboard, a Universal serial Bus port for peripheral devices and, for connectivity, a 56Kbps modem, as well as 10/100Base-T Ethernet port.
To appeal to gamers and to provide a platform for game developers, Apple is offering 4MB of SDRAM video memory with the machine.
The machine borrows some of the flashy design points from the iMac, the consumer desktop machine released last August. Like the iMac, the iBook comes in a choice of colours. It offers a two-tone colour scheme: a choice of blueberry and white or tangerine and white.
Initial reaction from the crowd was favourable.
"Apple was one of the first companies to get away from the asphalt-type computer design and do something different - this new portable shows that the company is poised to be a real idea company for the new millennium," said Christopher Haig, an independent consultant whose company, Heritage Research, is based in Honolulu.
The iBook also offers wireless networking options. It comes equipped with two built-in antennas and an internal slot to accept Apple's new Airport wireless networking card, which costs $99. The card works with the new $299 AirPort Base Station, which incorporates a 56Kbps modem and a 10Base-T Ethernet port, letting users connect to a phone line, cable modem, DSL modem or local area network. The idea is that the iBook connects wirelessly to the base station, which then connects to a network. As many as 10 iBooks can share a single base station simultaneously from up to 150 feet away.
The iBook will come equipped with MacOS 8.6.