Although it’s the only Apple portable product remaining that sports a G3 chip, Apple’s iBook line is right where it needs to be and continues to be a hot seller in the consumer and education markets, according to Dave Russell, Apple’s director of consumer-education mobile products. Don’t expect any major changes anytime soon.
“The iBook is designed from the ground up as a consumer and education system, as opposed to dumbed-down model of last year’s business computer,” Russell told MacCentral. “It strikes a balance between size, weight, battery life, optical media and built-in applications. The iBook does a lot of what folks expect a notebook to do — and a lot of what people don’t expect a laptop to be able to accomplish, such as the things you can do with the digital hub applications. Our strategy with the iBook line has been phenomenally successful. We’ve been number one in education for a couple of years, and it’s been a hit in the consumer area. I think that’s because we offer lots of bang for the buck.”
On May 20,
Apple updated its iBook portable computers
with double the on-chip level 2 cache, a more powerful ATI Mobility Radeon graphics processor, larger hard drives and two models that includes a 700MHz G3 processor. Still, there have some complaints that the G3 chip is getting a bit long in the tooth for new Apple systems, especially with the focus on Mac OS X. Russell disagrees.
“As for what we’re looking for in terms of an education-consumer portable, the G3 chip offers plenty of punch,” Russell said. “The performance of the iBook is quite fine right now. The G3 chip doesn’t draw much power, doesn’t generate much heat and runs Mac OS X just fine. We think the G3 has a lot of life left in it. I don’t know that the latest iBooks will be the last ones with G3 chips.”
He said that all Macs in the current lineup are designed to offer what customers in certain areas want in them. Apple doesn’t just “peel off stuff” to lower the cost, Russell said.
“In the case of the revved iBooks, we’ve increased the performance of the product fairly dramatically in a couple of places,” he said. “We’ve increased the speed across the product line and, even more importantly, doubled the amount of L2 cache from 256k to 512k. If you look at the evolution of microprocessors, especially those in consumer models, the amount of L2 cache has a great deal of significance for performance. Overall, the iBooks have seen a 25 to 35 percent performance bump. We’ve increased hard drive capacity and took the graphics controller to a different engine with double the on-board memory. We did a couple of things with I/O. And we did all this while keeping the price constant.”
There have been concerns that even with the iBook’s improved graphics capability (they now sport ATI Mobility Radeon graphics controllers with 16MB RAM) that this won’t be enough for the Quartz Extreme feature of
Jaguar, the next major revision of Mac OS X due in late summer. Quartz Extreme will be a hardware accelerated Quartz graphics and compositing engine. Steve Jobs has said that it would be “optimized” for a graphics controller with 32MB of RAM. Apple says it’s too “premature” to elaborate on Jaguar today. However, Russell said that the new iBooks are viable today and would be viable “long into the future.”
“We’re one company under one roof, and we don’t operate in isolation,” he said. “Quartz Extreme is targeted mostly in terms of the editing environment. As for the things that people want to use their computer for in terms of playback, as opposed to content creation, the iBook is absolutely a viable machine.”
In a world where bigger is often perceived as better, the 12-inch model sometimes doesn’t get its due. But Russell said there is a large contingent of people, including professionals, who appreciate the smaller model’s portability. It’s all about giving the consumer choice, he said.
Before introducing the 14-inch iBook, Apple did a survey of users of the laptop to see what they would change. The number one response was “nothing.” The number two response — from “maybe 30 percent” of those surveyed — was a bigger screen, Russell said.
“The 12-inch iBook is only as wide as the keyboard itself and, in the education market, is probably the only laptop affordable by schools that can fit comfortably inside a school locker, as well as a backpack,” he said. “It’s a simple thing, but something most laptop makers evidently don’t understand. The bigger iBook hasn’t taken over the 12-inch model’s space. It’s all about the product needs and desires of different customers and having a choice.”