Apple Thinks Thinner

The Titanium PowerBook G4 has been a big hit for Apple -- more than 115,000 units have been sold since the laptop was unveiled this January. So it's no surprise that Apple wants to build upon its recent string of product successes.

That brings us to Tuesday when Apple summoned reporters to its Cupertino campus to watch as CEO Steve Jobs unveiled a consumer companion to its silvery PowerBook -- a slimmer, sleeker, whiter version of the iBook.

Gone is Apple's recent penchant for sprucing up its machines with eye-catching colors -- think of the almost glowing key lime iBook the company introduced last fall. Instead, when reporters asked what colors the new-look iBook was available in, Jobs held up the slim white casing and said, "You're looking at it."

Instead of colors, the latest iBook models are all about size -- or lack of it. The computer is 9.1 inches long by 11.2 inches wide -- less than 10 percent larger than an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper, Jobs noted. Like the PowerBook, the iBook has gotten slimmer; it's now just 1.3 inches thick. The smaller size has dropped the iBook's weight to 4.9 pounds.

"There has never been a consumer notebook under five pounds," Jobs said. "You can go pay $2,500 for one, but there's no consumer notebook under five pounds."

Apple didn't sacrifice functionality for size. The iBook still sports a full complement of connections on its left side -- two USB ports, a FireWire port, a built-in modem port, an Ethernet port, a VGA port, and a sound/video output.

The iBook's screen size remains 12.1 inches, but Apple has boosted the resolution from 800 by 600 pixels to 1,024 by 768 pixels -- "the same number of pixels as a 14-inch notebook that we've compressed into a 12-inch display," Jobs said.

iBook buyers will also get a choice in optical drives. The basic $1,299 model comes with a CD-ROM drive and 64MB of installed memory. An iBook equipped with a DVD drive costs $1,499, a CD-RW model sells for $1,599, and an iBook with a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive is priced at $1,799. All three of those models have 128MB of RAM. And every new iBook comes with a 500MHz G3 processor with 256KB of L2 cache. (For an in-depth look at the new iBooks, read " First Look: The New iBook.")

Jobs couldn't resist comparing the latest iBook to rival consumer notebooks -- Dell's Inspiron and Compaq's Presario. Jobs noted that the iBook is thinner and lighter than both rival products, and has a longer battery life and higher display resolution. He also pointed out that Apple's consumer laptop has a built-in FireWire port, Ethernet port, and antennas -- the other portables do not. (Processor clock speed, an area where Macs lag behind their PC brethren, wasn't mentioned by the Apple CEO.)

Holding a black Inspiron in one hand and the white iBook in another, Jobs looked at the assembled reporters. "I don't think it could be more black-and-white," he said.

Since January, Apple has been touting the Mac as a "digital hub" -- in other words, its computers and the accompanying software make devices like digital video cameras, MP3 players, and digital still cameras more powerful and productive. That theme continued Tuesday, as Jobs noted the iBook's range of ports, as well as the fact that Apple's iMovie and iTunes software are bundled on the new laptops. "All of this works seamlessly on the new iBook," said Jobs, adding that the marketing theme for the updated laptop will be "Your Life. To Go."

But the redesigned iBook is more than just Apple's attempt to position itself at the center of the digital universe. The company is also using the laptop to reassert itself in the education market, after Dell jumped ahead of the company in education sales.

"Some have wondered if our commitment in education is as strong as it once was," said Jobs, noting that Apple has been involved in the classroom for 24 years. "If anything, it's stronger."

To that end, Jobs announced what he called aggressive pricing for the education market -- the iBook will sell for $1,199 for schools and $1,249 for students and educators. Apple announced that it had taken its first order for the new iBook: 23,000 units for Henrico County Public Schools near Richmond, Virginia.

Apple's announcements weren't limited to laptops Tuesday. The company also released a second software update to OS X that, among other things, lets OS X users burn music onto CDs.

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