September 13, 2000 12:25 PM PDT

Apple beefs up iBook with DVD, more storage

Apple Computer today added brawn to its colorful line of iBook notebooks, beefing up storage, offering speedier processors and adding a DVD drive to the high-end model.

CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the new laptops, which also come in new colors, at Apple Expo 2000 in Paris. The company also released the test, or beta, version of the OS X operating system and said it will offer ATI Technologies' high-end Radeon graphics card as a $100 option in its PowerMac G4 and G4 cube models.

Behind the scenes a startling drama unfolded, as show exhibitors struggled with the aftermath of a faulty fire sprinkler system that left up to 2 inches of water in many areas of Porte de Versailles Hall. Jobs gave his 10 a.m. Paris time (1 a.m. PT) keynote in another building, showing off the new iBooks.

At the low end, Apple is adding a faster 366-MHz G3 processor, a larger 10GB hard drive, a FireWire port and iMovie 2 software for $1,499. The new model, available in indigo, costs $100 less than the existing iBook.

The higher-end iBook Special Edition will still be in graphite, but sports a 466-MHz G3 processor, FireWire port, iMovie 2 and DVD drive for the same $1,799 price as the previous model. Both new laptops also can be ordered through the Apple Store in a new color, key lime.

An Apple representative said it chose the bright key lime over the more subdued sage because iBook targets a more energetic, youthful customer.

The details of the new iBook match those posted by "worker bee" an Apple worker accused by the computer maker of leaking company trade secrets.

Beefing up iBook is an important move for Apple, which is likely to see sales pick up as a result. Analysts have criticized the iBook as being too expensive.

"They're kind of skimpy for the price," PC Data analyst Stephen Baker said, referring to older iBook models. "You can get a lot of features now (in competing systems) for around a thousand bucks."

One factor hurting iBook sales was the exclusion of DVD drives--a hot commodity on portables. PC Data estimates about 35 percent of the notebooks sold at retail prices include the drives. Adding DVD is seen as a positive move for iBook.

The new crop of iBooks keeps the 12.1-inch TFT display. With the upgrade, the relatively small screen of the iBook is the key differentiator between it and the pricier PowerBook line. Still, the screen size might not please those interested watching movies on their iBook.

"We're finding that people just don't want to watch DVD on a 12-inch display," said Steven Andler, Toshiba's computer systems vice president of marketing. Once consumers "decide they want DVD...they tend to go up to a 14.1-inch screen."

Apple last refreshed iBook in February.

The inclusion of FireWire on iBook is an important move for Apple, which with its iMovie 2 video-editing software has been marketing more Macs as consumer digital video studios. Most digital camcorders come with FireWire ports for transferring video to PCs or Macs equipped with the connectors.

"iBook has been a big hit with consumers, students and educators, and the addition of portable digital video editing with FireWire and iMovie 2 makes it even better," Jobs said in a statement. "Anyone can now own a portable movie studio for just $1,499."

As when Apple unveiled new iMacs in July and retired nearly all the colors, only graphite will remain. Apple has replaced blueberry and tangerine with indigo and key lime.

The key lime models will not be available in stores and must be ordered directly from Apple. Meanwhile, Apple's online store was busy today as customers rushed to check out the new laptops and order the OS X beta.

Two basic iBook configurations are available, and models can be custom-built at the Apple Store.

In an unrelated product announcement, Apple also said it will start selling ATI's Radeon graphics card on PowerMac G4 and Power Cube G4 models ordered directly from the Apple store. The card adds about $100 to the cost of any system.

Apple had been expected to show off Radeon cards at the Macworld Expo in July, but that didn't happen. Following an errant press release from ATI the day before the show that revealed some details on new PowerMac models, Jobs reportedly pulled Radeon from the show.

Following the event, ATI spokesman Rick Hall dismissed suggestions that Jobs pulled the card, which he said would not be shipping until September.

Apple shrugged off concerns that the improved iBooks would cannibalize the market for its PowerBook laptops.

Although the PowerBook uses either a roughly comparable 400-MHz or 500-MHz G3 chip, it has more cache memory, a faster system bus and a larger screen. Those differences are enough to keep the iBook in the education and consumer markets, said Greg Joswiak, director of product marketing for Apple's portable lines.

Some had hoped Apple might offer a significantly cheaper laptop, but Joswiak said it just isn't possible without dropping the high-quality active matrix display used in the iBook.

"We didn't want to compromise on the display," Joswiak said. "To get significantly cheaper, you really need to cut costs on the display."

 

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