Apple Computer Inc. on Wednesday previewed its long-promised portable computer for the consumer and education market--a colorful companion to the highly successful iMac desktop machine.
The new portable, dubbed the iBook and touted by interim Chief Executive Steve Jobs as "an iMac to go," will be available in September for $1,599.
The rounded, translucent computer features a built-in handle and comes two-toned--white with either "blueberry" or "tangerine"--leaving out three iMac shades that reportedly proved less popular with consumers. It comes equipped with a 300-megahertz central processor, considered amply fast for a portable in its class. Like the iMac, the new machine lacks a floppy drive, instead offering a CD-ROM slot and supplying connectors for other peripheral devices.
"It's an important product for Apple and an important product for the industry," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, an analyst group in Campbell, Calif. "What Jobs has the opportunity to do is kick-start the consumer-portable market."
Until now, Bajarin said, PC makers have built portables designed for business users rather than focusing on consumer needs and sensibilities.
Apple also announced equipment for high-speed wireless networking, co-developed with Lucent Technologies, priced at $99 per iBook plus $299 for an "AirPort" base unit that supports 10 computers within a range of 150 feet.
Jobs enlisted his chief marketer, Phil Schiller, for a vivid demonstration of the scheme's robust performance during its unveiling at the Macworld trade show in New York. Schiller jumped off a platform about 25 feet above the stage onto a foam pad while holding an iBook that was transmitting data to Jobs' computer.
The leap upstaged the opening theatrics for Jobs' keynote, in which actor Noah Wyle--who played Jobs in the TV movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley"--posed onstage as Jobs, promising some "insanely great products."
"Apple is making a statement on their ease of networking," said Roger Lanctot, director of research for PC Data, a Reston, Va.-based market researcher. If the wireless system proves as easy to use and effective in homes and schools as it did in demonstrations, Apple will have a system that is superior to anything available for Microsoft Windows-based PCs, he added.
Jim Piccolini, technology director at Alexander Dawson School in Lafayette, Colo., was shopping for portable computers for his teachers and was impressed with what he saw.
"This is a chance to stay with the Apple platform, which is something we want to do," he said. "We should be able to bankroll this."
However, the iBook comes too late for the bulk of this year's sales to schools.
Schiller expects shortages in September but ample supply of the new portables in time for the holiday buying season. Analysts predict that the line will help Apple continue its winning streak, marked by seven consecutive profitable quarters and improving market share. In U.S. retail sales in May, Apple held 6.7% of the desktop market and 2% of the market for laptops, according to ZD InfoBeads, a research firm in San Diego.
The iBook's somewhat unwieldy size and 6.7-pound heft disappointed some attendees who expected a unit that weighed 4 to 5 pounds.
"We added extra weight to make it more solid" and needed extra space to implant the wireless antenna, said Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president for hardware engineering. Ultralight portables, he said, would cost more than the iBook, whose base price places it near the middle of the pack for economy portables that use the Windows operating system.
Jobs also announced that the next generation of Apple's operating system, MacOS 9, will go on sale for $99 in October. It will add new Internet search features, including a way to compare prices among e-commerce vendors.
Shares of Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple rose $1.19 on Wednesday to close at $54.06 on Nasdaq.
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Apple hopes the iBook will boost its share of the portable computer market, where it now ranks eighth. 1998 market share for the top five brands and Apple: