Apple laptop gets jumbo screen

On the two-year anniversary of the high-end Titanium PowerBook, Apple Computer releases a 17-inch display model.

4 min read
On the two-year birthday of the high-end Titanium PowerBook, Apple Computer on Tuesday upped the ante by introducing a model with a massive 17-inch display.

"We believe someday notebooks are even going to outsell desktops," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said during his keynote speech at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. He predicted the sales ratio will climb to at least 50 percent in a few years.

"We want to replace even more desktops with notebooks," he said.

To achieve that goal, the company created a PowerBook that is 1-inch thick, slightly thinner than its predecessor. It weighs 6.8 pounds, compared with 5.4 pounds for the 15-inch PowerBook. It's made from high-grade aluminum.

New features include built-in Bluetooth (a short-haul wireless technology), FireWire 2 and AirPort wireless networking. The long-anticipated FireWire 2 has a throughput of 800mbps (megabits per second), about twice as fast as the previous version.

The 17-inch PowerBook, with a screen resolution of 1440-by-900 pixels, a 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a DVD recording drive, is priced at $3,299 and ships next month.

Apple also introduced a 12-inch PowerBook. "We decided to apply this technology to something a little smaller," Jobs said.

The smaller PowerBook costs $1,799 and includes an 867MHz G4 processor, a 40GB hard drive, Bluetooth and is 802.11g-ready. (802.11g is a wireless networking standard that boasts faster speeds and better security.)

"This is the most affordable PowerBook ever, and we will be shipping them in about two weeks," Jobs said, touting the new 12-inch PowerBook as a portable digital media studio.

"This is clearly going to be the year of the notebook for Apple," he said.

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The 12-inch PowerBook appears to be the new entertainment portable product that sources close to the company said would be unveiled at the show.

"It's a personal digital media station," said Michael Gartenberg, a Jupiter Research analyst. "The 12-inch (model) is going to fly off the shelves."

The introduction of the two new PowerBook models, which are encased in airplane-grade aluminum, greatly broadens Apple's line of professional portables. In fact, the new PowerBooks give Apple a full range of sizes and prices that could better compete with Windows PC portables.

Tough competition
Still, the 12-inch model could face stiff competition and comes at a bad time. Sales of ultraportables like the 12-inch PowerBook are declining. IDC predicts manufacturers will ship 666,000 ultraportables this year out of an estimated 13 million notebooks. Much of that market could be consumed by notebooks running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, which adds inking and handwriting technologies to Microsoft's flagship operating system.

"Subnotebooks are clearly a declining category," said IDC analyst Roger Kay. "The subnotes may be revived by Tablet PC, but the PowerBook is not a tablet. Also, at $1,800, the price comparison to Windows products is not favorable to this. I don't think Apple will sell a lot of these."

Apple isn't the only company shipping big-screen notebooks. Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Toshiba all offer at least 16-inch models. All three models offer faster clock-speed processors and cost considerably less than the 17-inch PowerBook. But Apple has the edge in terms of size and weight.

"It's a pretty cool product and shows they are more in tune with customer demand than they were with their last product release," said Matt Sargent, an ARS analyst. "The trend is toward larger notebooks. That portion of the market accounted for the largest growth of the PC market in the last year."

Toshiba's Satellite 1955-S803 sells for $2,800 with a 16-inch display with resolution up to 1,280-by-1,040 pixels, a 2.5GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, 802.11b wireless networking and Windows XP Home; the portable weighs in at more than 9.5 pounds. Sony sells the Vaio PCG-GRX670 for $2,400 with a 16.1-inch display with resolution up to 1,600-by-1,200 pixels, a 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a DVD recording drive, 802.11b wireless networking and Windows XP Home; the unit weighs 8 pounds.

"You get a smaller display on the Sony but with better resolution than the Apple," Sargent said. "It's disconcerting to me that the new PowerBook has a bigger display but with lower resolution."

HP's Compaq Presario 3005us is the lowest-cost of the bunch, at $1,900. The 8.1-pound portable comes with a 16-inch display, a 2GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive and Windows XP Home.

The new PowerBooks benefit from smaller size and weight, Bluetooth, 802.11g wireless networking, and FireWire 2, which are not available on any of the Windows XP 16-inch models. But Apple chose to go with the older USB 1.1 at a time most Windows notebooks ship with the much faster USB 2.0.

"There are a ton of devices out there that utilize USB 2.0," Sargent said. "I was surprised they didn't go with that."

Apple also introduced a new version of its AirPort wireless base station, which supports 802.11g and can transfer data at 54mbps. The most common wireless technology, 802.11b, operates at around 11mbps.

New AirPort features include support for 50 users, bridging between base stations, and USB printer sharing. The new base station sells for $199, which is $100 less than the older 802.11b AirPort product.