Apple unveils thinner, cheaper iBooks

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs on Tuesday unveiled a new version of the iBook laptop that is thinner, lighter and cheaper than its predecessor.

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs on Tuesday unveiled a new version of the iBook laptop that is thinner, lighter and cheaper than its predecessor.

As previously reported, the unit is all white and bears more resemblance to the sleek Titanium G4 PowerBook than the curvy, bulky iBook it replaces. The new iBook has a 500MHz PowerPC G3 processor, weighs 4.9 pounds--2 pounds lighter than its predecessor--and is considerably thinner at 1.3 inches thick. The notebook's 12-inch screen can show 1,024-by-768 pixels, as opposed to the 800-by-600-pixel resolution of many 12-inch screens.

"We think this will set a new standard," Jobs said at a briefing with reporters at the company's headquarters here.

Jobs also used the event to announce that a second upgrade to Mac OS X will come out Tuesday with the ability to burn CDs.

The new iBook, which will start shipping in about two weeks, comes in four versions, each identical in appearance but with a different optical drive.

The entry-level version, which comes with 64MB of memory, a 10GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive, will sell for $1,299--$200 less than the previous low-end iBook.

All of the other models come with 128MB of memory. One of those models, which can play DVD movies, will sell for $1,499. A version with a CD-rewritable drive will cost $1,599. The highest-end iBook, which has a combination drive that can record CDs and play DVD movies--but not record DVDs--will sell for $1,799.

Apple is going to price its entry-level notebook even lower for schools, teachers and some students--offering it at $1,199 for the education market.

Jobs said the company has already taken the industry's largest order ever for notebooks for the education market. It's a deal to sell 23,000 of the new iBooks to the Henrico County Public School District in Richmond, Va.

Guernsey Research analyst Chris LeTocq said the timing of the launch at the start of the so-called education-buying season and the large deal with the school district are encouraging signs that Apple is making headway to regain ground lost to Dell Computer. Last year, Apple slipped to No. 2 in the education market.

"This is Apple landing on the beaches to take care of education and grab back what they feel is theirs," LeTocq said.

LeTocq also praised the new iBook, saying it offers a good combination of price and features. He had only the most minor of critiques.

"In a perfect world, you could wish for something like this to have a handle" like the previous iBook did, he said.

The original iBook was released in September 1999 in colors to match the iMac. Apple has sold 700,000 iBooks, Jobs said.

The four models all feature FireWire and USB ports, as well as video-out ports that allow the iBook to connect to a projector, television or a second monitor. However, a second monitor will only mirror the display of the iBook as opposed to serving as extra display area.

Meanwhile, the second upgrade to Mac OS X will be available for download on Apple's Web site Tuesday afternoon. Mac OS X also has a feature that allows people to get their software updated automatically. It will take about a week to send the upgrade to all OS X owners because it is done in blocks, Apple said.

Jobs had promised at the time of the new operating system's launch that the CD-burning feature would be available by the end of April.

LeTocq said it was important for Apple to get that update in the hands of Mac owners. "That's something that people were really waiting for."

The new notebooks are roughly within the same price range as competitors' products, although the price competition continues to escalate. Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer sell entry-level notebooks with 13-inch screens for $999 and $1,199, respectively--although their products weigh more than Apple's new iBook. Dell Computer's Inspiron 4000, which weighs about the same as the new iBook, starts at $1,249 and comes with a DVD drive and a free year of MSN Internet access.

Staff writer Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

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