At long last, Apple has excised the G3 processor from its consumer laptop line. On Wednesday the company announced its revamped line of G4 iBooks, featuring the same type of central processing unit (CPU) that’s found in its iMac and eMac systems. Analysts feel bumping the iBook to the G4 processor is a good move, but that Apple needs to make sure they are clear about the differences between the G4 iBook and the G4 PowerBook.
“We said that 2003 would be the year of the notebook and there is no question that has been the case,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior director of Hardware Product Marketing, told MacCentral. “We have seen our mix of portables go to 42 percent of our total CPU sales this calendar year go — that is way ahead of the industry, which is at about 25 percent.”
G4 processors aren’t the only improvement to the new systems. They also gain support for AirPort Extreme (IEEE 802.11g) 54Mbps wireless networking connectivity, Double Data Rate (DDR) RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 graphics with 32MB of VRAM and the ability to use an internal Bluetooth module for wireless peripheral connectivity. What’s more, all iBooks come equipped with 256MB RAM and a slot-loading CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combo drive.
iBooks also gain USB 2.0 support with this new revision, but otherwise retain features seen in previous models, including FireWire 400, a built in 56K v.92 model and 10/100BASE-T Ethernet connectivity. They all retain 1,024 x 768 pixel (XGA) resolution displays, as well.
Even with all of the new features, Apple isn’t concerned about cannibalizing sales of the 12-inch PowerBook. The new iBook models do come very close to their PowerBook cousins, but there are many differences pro users will notice when choosing a portable computer.
“The products are designed for two different audiences,” said Joswiak. “The PowerBook has a pro-orientated aluminum design, dual display and DVI capabilities, which is important in the pro market and it also has a different G4 processor (the iBook has a smaller L2 cache than the PowerBook) and different graphic system.”
One analysts warned that Apple needs to be careful when communicating to its customers about the two notebooks.
“Bringing the iBook to G4 blurs the differences between the entry-level model and the 12-inch PowerBook,” said Jupiter Senior Analyst, Joe Wilcox. “Apple needs to carefully communicate the other differences, such as processor cache size or hard drive capacity, that could justify the $500 difference between the two notebooks.”
Tim Deal, an analyst with Technology Business Research, thinks putting the G4 in the iBook will “increase its performance comparison to its Windows-based competitors.”
Apple noted that all new iBooks come with Mac OS X v10.3, “Panther,” pre-installed. Panther hits store shelves worldwide on Friday, October 24, 2003, and includes more than 150 new features including Expose, a way of quickly navigating open applications; Fast User Switching; FileVault, a security system that uses 128-bit encryption, and improved compatibility with Windows printers and network services.
Also included is three-fourths of Apple’s iLife suite, comprising iTunes, iMovie and iPhoto, which allow users to listen to and download music, edit movies imported through DV cameras and FireWire, and arrange and edit digital photos. iDVD is not included since none of the new iBooks include DVD-R-burning “SuperDrives;” for that capability, laptop users will need to step up to Apple’s professional PowerBook line.
Also included is a host of additional software including AppleWorks, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 from Aspyr Media, Ambrosia Software’s Deimos Rising, and other products from Apple and third parties.
All units come equipped with slot-loading Combo drives and 256MB RAM, along with two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400 and a video out port. The video out port attaches to the included Apple VGA Video Adapter, which enables iBook users to mirror their internal video on an external display or projector. S-Video and composite video output to a TV or VCR is also supported — that requires the Apple Video Adapter, sold separately.
The US$1,099 model comes with an 800MHz processor, 12.1-inch display and 30GB hard drive. The $1,299 933MHz model includes a 14.1-inch display and 40GB hard drive. The 1.0GHz system includes a 14.1-inch display and a 60GB hard drive.
What’s more, users can upgrade their iBooks by specifying build-to-order options like up to 640MB RAM, 40 or 60GB hard drives, internal Bluetooth support and AirPort Extreme card.
“The iBook has always been designed from the ground up for consumers and education and that hasn’t changed,” said Joswiak. “The PowerBook has been unbelievably successful this year and we see no reason for that not to continue, it was just clearly time to bring the G4 processor to the iBook.”
Update: Added more details about the software bundle, added hardware details, and other changes.
Update 2: Added information from an interview with Apple executives.
Update 3: Added comments from analysts.