Jobs wows crowd with wireless iBook

Apple announces a new consumer portable called the iBook, a $1,599 laptop that borrows from the iMac and works with a wireless network.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
5 min read
NEW YORK--Apple interim chief executive Steve Jobs introduced a new consumer portable here today and proclaimed that the iMac has become a pervasive part of American culture in only a year since its introduction.

In a flurry of announcements at the Macworld Expo--the industry trade show devoted to the company he cofounded--Jobs unveiled a compact "iMac to go" consumer portable called "iBook." He also debuted something called QuickTime TV and said the OS 9 operating system for the Macintosh will be available in October for $99.

The keynote was heavy on spectacle. Actor Noah Wyle--who played Jobs in the recent TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley--was first to appear on stage, pretending to be Jobs, much to the delight of the Apple faithful. Later, Apple showed TV ads for the iBook, one of which featured the silky voice of crooner Barry White.

The iBook will be priced at $1,599 and will be available in volume in September, Jobs said. The 6.5-pound portable will also include a 12.1-inch active-matrix screen, the "fastest graphics [chip] ever in a portable," a 300-MHz G3 processor, a 3.2GB hard drive, CD-ROM drive, modem, and Ethernet networking.

The iBook that Jobs displayed was a two-toned model, sporting hues of tangerine and white. The notebooks will also be offered in blueberry, he said, adding that the colored lip on the back of the computer's screen is made of rubber.

"We wanted ground-breaking battery life. We have six-hour battery life. This is an all-day battery life product," Jobs said.

Apple's designers added some interesting touches to the portable, including a built-in handle, antenna, and a power adapter that winds up the power cord into a round plastic case when not in use. The notebook's look is reminiscent of the iMac but is limited to two colors.

"That's it?" remarked one disappointed audience member. There had been speculation that the iBook would be available in five colors.

In a press conference after the keynote, Apple's head of industrial design, Jonathan Ives, said that the two colors were chosen because the rubberized material looked and worked best in tangerine and blueberry. Jobs said it was possible Apple would introduce more colors at a later date.

The keynote was vintage Jobs, an executive known as much for his theatrics and marketing acumen as his technological expertise.

He used the opportunity to espouse Macintosh religion, as he has been doing for the last two decades. With his usual flourish, Jobs proclaimed that the iMac "has already become a pervasive part of our culture" despite being on the market for only a year.

He also took the time to tout computer sales numbers. He predicted that 1.9 million iMacs will have been sold by the time the iMac has been on the market one year.

But Apple still has a long way to go to regain a significant chunk of the market. Apple's market share in the U.S. retail notebook market in May was a meager 2 percent, according to Infobeads. Senior analyst Matt Sargent said in a written report that Apple's share of the retail desktop market was in the same situation last year before the iMac rescued Apple from the doldrums. Since the release of iMac, Apple's desktop computer share has stayed in the 5-percent range, double their share before iMac, according to Sargent.

Jobs also said that inventory for these computers has been reduced to 15 hours. If true, this is amazing, because typical inventory for PC makers such as Dell Computer and Compaq Computer is about six to 25 days.

Apple iBook Jobs also demonstrated a number of potential TV commercials for the iBook and rated the audience's reaction. One ad--which asked, "Can you fall in love with your computer?"--featured a sedate statement on the significance of the cutting-edge design.

Wireless connection
Perhaps the most captivating feature of the iBook had more to do with its wireless connection than the hardware itself. Jobs showed the iBook working with "AirPort Wireless Networking" that runs at a speedy rate of 11 mbps and uses the wireless networking feature built into the iBook. This allows the iBook to connect to the Internet without a telephone cord.

"This marries Lucent's wireless technology with our computer. We have been working with Lucent over the last 18 months on this," he said. He said it works at up to 150 feet away.

The AirPort add-in card will be $99, he said.

Jobs said QuickTime TV will be comprised of a "receiver, station, network, and content." ABC News is a partner, and QuickTime TV will include content from Rolling Stone magazine, BBC, Fox news, HBO, National Public Radio, Disney, ESPN, and WGBH public TV in Boston.

The initiative involves video and audio content aggregated with Apple's QuickTime multimedia software. Despite its name, however, the video quality does not approach that of television and does not involve any TV transmission using Apple's technology.

Jobs also offered new details on upcoming versions of the Macintosh operating system. He said the next version of the current Macintosh will be called Mac OS 9--previously known by the code name Sonata. Analysts have been looking for indications of when this software will ship, because it's a high-profit-margin product that will add to Apple's bottom line for the company's fiscal first quarter of 2000.

Among the notable features of Mac OS 9 that were demonstrated was a new version of the company's search engine technology, called Sherlock II. It is being modified to make it easier to shop for any items sold on e-commerce sites ranging from books to CDs--to any kind of computer hardware. The technology was originally developed to search content on a user's hard disk drive, as well as provide a way to search Internet sites.

The appearance of Wyle set a light-hearted tone for the speech. The actor, dressed in a black shirt and jeans, a trademark style of Jobs, kicked off the keynote by saying he'd be showing "insanely great products," while mimicking all the gestures and speech patterns of the erstwhile showman and interim CEO.