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Apple ups the ante with its new iBook

By James Hanback Jr.

AUGUST 16, 1999:  Still riding the overwhelming success of the iMac, Apple Computer could have easily settled for introducing its new laptop line as the "laptop version of the iMac" or, to use its own phrase, "the iMac to go."

Fortunately, Apple isn't that lazy. Even though its design and ease-of-use features are based upon the iMac, the iBook goes a few steps further, introducing new solutions for increased mobility. After all, mobile computing is the reason laptops were invented. It only makes sense that the most innovative new features of the iBook are designed specifically to improve that function.

First, the basics: Like its desktop cousin, the iBook comes standard with a 300mhz G3 processor; a built-in Ethernet card and 56K internal modem; 32 megabytes of RAM, expandable to 160MB; a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port; and a choice of colors. While the iMac comes in five colors, the iBook is presently only available in blue and orange (or, as the company likes to put it, blueberry and tangerine). The laptop's standard hard drive is also smaller than the iMac's, coming in at 3.2 gigabytes.

Additionally, the iBook's battery lasts up to six hours, based on the theory that one rarely works or plays for more than six hours without a break. Its case features a futuristic roundness along the edges while maintaining the flat depth that characterizes a traditional laptop. It weighs in at 6.7 pounds, according to Apple's specs, making it lightweight enough not to be a burden for most people.

But it's the iBook's mobility that really makes this computer stand apart. In fact, the company has devoted an entire page on its Internet site to the iBook's mobility, separating out this one aspect from everything else listed under "Features" and "Specifications." "The iBook is not just portable," the Web page explains, "it begs to be carried."

Indeed. Apple has manufactured a plastic handle for the rear of the iBook (where one generally finds various hardware interfaces), effectively turning the computer into a small, brightly colored suitcase. These days, laptops are generally toted inside a zipped cloth briefcase, or tucked away in a college student's backpack, or even tucked under the arm. But the iBook's handle and long battery life may eliminate the need for that extra bulky briefcase.

There's more to mobility than the toting, however. Although it isn't a standard iBook feature, Apple has manufactured an optional piece of hardware that allows users to connect wirelessly to the Internet from anywhere in their homes. Here's the problem as Apple sees it: You have more than one computer in your home but only one Internet account. How can you get both those computers online at the same time? Also, what if you want to use the Internet in the kitchen instead of your home office, but the telephone jack is in an inconvenient location?

Enter the AirPort, a small adapter card that can be installed in the iBook, and the AirPort Base Station, which contains a 56K modem and an Ethernet port and can be plugged into whatever type of Internet connection you have running. By communicating via antenna with the AirPort Base Station, the AirPort card allows users to dial into their accounts from anywhere in their homes, without moving cables from place to place or moving furniture out of the way to access phone jacks.

Now that more and more consumers are seeking to network their home computers sans the mess created by Ethernet cabling, Apple seems to have picked the perfect time to introduce this particular feature.

The iBook comes with Mac OS 8.6 installed, as well as software packages like the latest version of AppleWorks, Netscape Communicator, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, and a variety of other tools. With standard equipment, it retails for the same price as a desktop G3 ($1,599)--more expensive than the $1,199 iMac, but less expensive than the $2,499 PowerBook G3. The optional AirPort card adds $99 to the price tag, and the Airport Base Station is $299, though neither item will be available until September.

More information on the iBook is available at http://www.apple.com/ibook/.

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