ISSUE 536: The high tech office- Feb 1
Apple's affordable iBook boasts style and power
More on things Apple.
Last week we looked at the company's latest operating
system, OS9 --
and saw a bunch of new features, but also a product that may be
overshadowed by the company hyping its next major release: OS X.
This week, we will look at another product Apple
announced several months before anyone could buy -- the iBook. It is
the company's first portable computer at the popular $2,500 price
The August announcement of the iBook brought about a
storm of interest, but more for its colour scheme than its
capabilities. It's available in an unbusiness-like choice of blue and
grayish-white ("blueberry" in Apple-speak) or orange and white
("tangerine"). Its rounded clamshell shape reminded some of a make-up
compact, others of a toilet seat.
Computer columnist John Dvorak referred to it
as "a girly computer," stirring passionate comments for and against the
Respondents in an on-
line poll were split pret-
ty evenly about whether they'd want to be seen in public carrying one.
All the to-do may have paid off in sales. Once the
iBook finally became available, it shot up to the top of the sales
charts for retail notebooks for several months at the end of the year.
Colour and curves aside, though, how capable is it as
a business machine?
At 12 inches, the screen size isn't huge but the
iBook's active matrix (TFT) screen is a pleasure. It is bright and
crisp and looks larger than it actually is. The keys and keypad are big
and there isn't the cramped feeling you get with some notebooks. The
combination rubber and plastic case feels solid, like it should be able
to take the abuse that comes with being portable.
Battery life is exceptional. Apple claims a charge
lasts six hours, but I found that four is more realistic. Nevertheless,
it's still much better than you'll find on most comparably priced
The iBook's PowerPC processor is rated at 300 MHz,
around the same speed you'll find on a number of its PC competitors.
But at the same megahertz rating, the PowerPC is more powerful than PC
processors and seemed plenty fast enough for the writing, Web browsing
and other tasks I threw at it. A 56k modem and 10/100 kb/sec Ethernet
networking adapter is built in. Built-in networking is lacking in
almost all PC notebooks. As well, antennae for Apple's Airport wireless
networking are built in, though they can't be used without purchase of
a $150 add-on card and a $450 base station.
Apple continues to pay attention to the fine details
of design that many other manufacturers neglect. The power cord winds
up neatly, making for less clutter in your briefcase. Where it plugs
into the notebook, the power cable lights up, letting you know that
it's connected. The case doesn't need any clasps to keep it closed.
There's a handle, but if you don't want to use it, it tucks away
But there are some less appealing features. It's big
and it's heavy. There's a lot of empty space around the screen and the
keyboard -- the penalty for the iBook's curvaceous shape. You'll pay
that price when you try to pack it up and tote it around.
There's no PC-card slot, though with the built-in
modem and Ethernet connector, most users probably won't care. Like
Apple's other recent models, there's no floppy drive, though again,
many users won't notice. As is equally true with PC notebooks at this
price, the iBook ships with a not-very-generous 32 MB of memory. With
the operating system (Apple's no-longer-current OS 8.6) using up 19 of
those megabytes, not much is left over. The iBook performs reasonably
well browsing the Net or running the included AppleWorks software, but
if you plan on any more intensive computing, budget a few hundred
dollars to upgrade its memory.
The iBook is marketed at students and home users,
which shows in its lack of a video-output port. You can't connect this
computer to a larger monitor when you're working at your desk and you
can't use it for business presentations -- there's no way to connect it
to a projector. If you have those sorts of needs, Apple would prefer
that you pay double the price for a more fully equipped Powerbook --
available in more corporate tones of basic black.
It's too bad; a slightly more expensive version --
call it an iBook Pro -- with more RAM, a bigger hard drive,
video-output and perhaps the classy two-tone grey colour scheme found
on some of Apple's recent models, would have a lot of business appeal.