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Apple iBook Makes Debut At Macworld

The thousands of Apple faithful attending the Macworld Expo in New York City last week must have thought they were seeing double.

First, actor Noah Wiley, dressed in Jobs’ trademark black turtleneck shirt and faded blue jeans, came on stage to welcome the crowd to the keynote address. Wiley, who played a young Steve Jobs in the -made-for TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, then gave way to the real Steve Jobs who unveiled Apple’s long-awaited iBook portable computer that closely resembles the iMac in both color and form factor.

“I wanted an iMac to go,” said Jobs.

The iBook features battery life up to six hours, a 300MHz PowerPC G3 processor with a high-speed 512K backside L2 cache, and the optional new AirPort wireless Internet networking. The iBook has 32MB of RAM, 24x CD-ROM, USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port and is made of the same composite material used in bulletproof vests, Jobs said.

The computer comes in two colors: blueberry and tangerine. Blueberry has been the most popular iMac color since its introduction last January, while tangerine is popular in Japan and Europe. The iBook will be available in September for a suggested retail of $1,599, and Jobs did not rule out the addition of new colors.

The iBook also features a folding handle, eliminating the need for a computer bag, and Apple engineers managed to eliminate the standard brick-shaped battery charger. The iBook’s charger looks like a yo-yo, and like the toy, the charger’s wire coils up inside the device for easy storage.

If the iBook thrilled the Macworld crowd, they were visibly stunned when Jobs showed off its wireless capabilities.

Consumers can purchase an AirPort card and Wireless Station that together create a local area network capable of handling up to 10 iBooks. The AirPort card fits into an internal bay in the iBook and is the computer’s link to the Wireless Station, which sits in a centrally located place. The LAN has a 150-foot range. All transmitted data is fully encrypted and is broadcast at 11MB per second.

Both will ship in conjunction with the iBook in September with AirPort card carrying a $99 suggested retail price and the Wireless Station coming in at $299.

Retail response to the iBook has been strong. Tony Violanti, VP of sales for Computer Town, Salem, N.H., said, “The iBook is going to be very hot.” Computer Town has already developed a promo for the iBook, he said, in which customers will be given a 32MB RAM upgrade with each purchase.

Jack Wahrman, senior merchandising manager for New York’s J&R Computer World, called the Airport wireless LAN a very cool peripheral that will sell well into the educational market. However, he was not certain if the customer base that is attracted to the iMac will also find the iBook to their liking and said, “the iMac is for the first-time user looking for a simple computer to use. The iBook isn’t as simple.”

Jobs also said Mac OS 9 will start shipping in October with a $99 suggested retail price. It will include 50 new features including an improved Sherlock Internet search function and the ability to hunt out specific products that are on sale over the Internet, then rank them by price and availability. Mac OS X, a total revamp of the operating system, is expected to follow in early 2000.

Apple also unveiled QuickTime 4 and QuickTime TV. The latter service offers TV programming from a wide variety of sources including ABC News, Disney, ESPN, the BBC, NPR, VH1, HBO and Rolling Stone. Each programming source offers streaming video content to be viewed on a computer equipped with QuickTime 4. The content varies from film trailers to live news to online shopping.

Retailers were surprised at the lack of news concerning the iMac. No new versions or upgrades were announced. The rainbow-hued computer just experienced its best-selling quarter ever, and the company expects 1.9 million to have shipped by the iMac’s first anniversary on August 15.

The downside of the iMac’s hot sales pace is that supply has dried up. Wahrman and Violanti said they have not been able to get any in for the past two weeks. Apple is expected to place 50,000 units into the distribution pipeline this week, but Violanti was not sure this would be enough to solve the crisis.

Apple also has no plans to join in the free PC or large ISP rebate craze, said Jobs. “We’re watching things closely, but all I can say is we sold more iMacs last quarter then ever, so that says to me our business model does work.”