Jobs launches thinner, lighter iBook

Apple Computer Inc. is thinking thin. The company launched its newest iBook laptop computer on Tuesday, an all-white machine starting at US$1,299 that is thinner, lighter and cheaper than its predecessor.

The new iBook was unwrapped at Apple's headquarters by Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs. At 11.2 inches deep, 9.1 inches wide and 1.35 inches thick, the machine weighs in at 4.9 pounds -- two pounds lighter that Apple's existing consumer laptop, Jobs said.

The notebooks use a 500MHz Power PC G3 processor with 256K bytes of performance-boosting on-chip cache and offers five hours of battery life, according to Jobs. As well as being lighter in weight, the new iBook also has an improved screen resolution, at 1024 x 768 pixels. "This has the same number of pixels as an iMac in its highest resolution," Jobs said.

The new iBook is priced lower than Apple's existing consumer notebooks, which start at $1,499, Jobs said.

The new iBook will be available by the middle of the month with four different drive options, Jobs said. A CD-ROM version will retail for $1,299, a version with a DVD-ROM is priced at $1,499, a CD-RW version is $1,599, and a combo model that includes both DVD ROM and CD-RW drives will retail for $1,799, Jobs said.

"This does look like a breakthrough," said Martin Reynolds, San Jose, California-based research fellow with Gartner Group Inc. "It's just like a portable iMac."

While Apple has found it tough persuading users of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software to switch to the Apple platform, the company may succeed in getting some of its existing iMac users to treat themselves to an upgrade to the new iBook, Reynolds said.

"If your iMac is two years old, you might be willing to make the switch," he said. "It's really slick, and the price point and feature set are what makes it so attractive."

The price difference between an iMac and an iBook has been reduced to within a couple of hundred dollars, Reynolds noted, "and video editing can now be done on a portable device."

The iBook also has a built-in Ethernet port, an internal 56K bps (bit-per-second) modem and a VGA (video graphics array) port. The computers also come "AirPort ready," for wireless Internet access, Jobs said. This means they have two built-in antennas and a slot for an AirPort card.

The CD-ROM model includes 64M bytes of RAM, while the other three models feature 128M bytes of RAM, Jobs said. All the models are expandable, which means users can add up to 512M bytes of RAM.

The new iBook is "twice as durable as the last one," Jobs said, noting that it has a magnesium frame and a polycarbonate plastic body. "This is the same stuff they make bulletproof vests from," he quipped.

He said the iBook will become "the center of your digital lifestyle," echoing a similar message from Intel Corp. which positions PCs and notebooks as a kind of digital hub for editing and storing content from devices such as digital video cameras and music players. The new iBooks feature dual USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports and a single, 400M bit-per-second Firewire port.

Although the notebook is not available to the public until the middle of the month, Apple already has received its first order for 23,000 new iBooks from the Henrico County School District in Richmond, Virginia.

Jobs also announced that starting from noon PDT Monday, an update to Apple's recently launched OS X operating system that allows users to burn their own music CDs would be available for download from Apple's Web site.

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