Classic Computer Review: The 1999 Apple iBook

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My writing career began in the late 1990s when Mike McNamara, the Executive Editor of Popular Photography magazine, offered me an opportunity to write a monthly column.

At first, I was fine working after hours on my Apple Power Macintosh G3 desktop, which featured a speedy-at-the-time 266MHz 5600rpm Motorola CPU, a 4GB hard-drive, Mac OS 8, and a choice of a floppy drive, a Zip Drive, or a CD Reader/Writer for transferring and backing up data and image files.

Compared to the stodgy design of my otherwise well-endowed Mac PowerPC G3 desktop (left), my new Blueberry iBook looked unlike anything else in the marketplace when it made its debut, in 1999.

As I became busier writing for other outlets, I decided it was time to get a laptop so I could make better use of my back-and-forth commute time. Fortunately for me, Apple had just introduced the iBook, which in addition to being one of Apple’s first i-branded products and Apple’s first laptop with Wi-Fi connectivity, was an awesome-looking machine.

“Conventional,” “institutional,” and “boring” are words you’d never heard used to describe the design of the Apple iBook. “Unorthodox,” “out-of-the-box,” and even “nauseating” were also bandied about but, regardless, Apple sold boatloads of them at $1,599 a pop.

Unlike most computers and laptops of the day, which were essentially sterile, putty-gray boxes filled with circuitry, the iBook didn’t have a straight line on it. Like an omen of things to come, the iBook’s colors and design made the it the first computer to become a bona fide fashion statement.

Two original ads for the then-new Apple iBook, which was available in Tangerine and Blueberry

Self-contained within its exoskeletal clamshell body when not in use, the iBook had a handy spring-loaded handle that enabled you to carry it around like a small attaché case. The outer body of the iBook was made of white polymer and was available with a choice of Blueberry or Tangerine trim. The problem was that as whimsical as it looked to many people—me included—when you opened it up, it kind of resembled a toilet seat with brightly colored bumper guards. I ultimately got over it, but to this day there’s something unnerving about the sight, nonetheless.

The Apple iBook featured a spring-loaded handle and a built-in CD-ROM.

The iBook was introduced shortly after the iMac, and it shared many of the same specs, i/o options, and technologies as the iMac, including Steve Jobs’s “closed system” concept. It was also the first Mac to feature AGP-based graphics and Unified Motherboard Architecture (UMA), which enabled Apple to standardize the motherboard components throughout the Apple product line.

To keep costs in check, the iBook lacked PC slots, IR, video-out and audio-in ports, Firewire, and other high-speed data transfer ports. It did have a single USB port, Audio out, and a stereo 16-bit mini port. The iBook also featured a built-in 24x CD-ROM and a 56k v.90 modem with 10/100Base-T Ethernet.

The Apple iMac and iBook were the first i-branded Apple products. The iBook, in particular, is credited for bringing fashion consciousness to the computer market.
The Apple iMac and iBook were the first i-branded Apple products. The iBook, in particular, is credited for bringing fashion consciousness to the computer market.

The biggest feature among writers and creative types on the run was the introduction of AirPort, an appropriately named feature that enabled you to connect up to 10 iBooks wirelessly to a single base station for transferring data through an ethernet network or standard land line. An antenna was designed into the chassis of the iBook with a separate slot for the AirPort card.

Under the hood, the iBook featured 32MB of RAM, a 3.2GB hard-drive, and a PowerPC 750 G3 CPU (300MHz / Bus Speed 66MHz). The iBook’s 12.1" TFT active matrix screen boasted 800 x 600 maximum resolution. When closed, the iBook measured 11.6 x 13.5 x 1.8" and it weighed 6.6 lb.

Three additional colors were added a year later, with the introduction of the 2nd-generation iBooks. In addition to the new colors, the RAM on Gen-2 was doubled from 32MB to 64MB, and the hard drive was increased from 3.2GB to 6GB.

What’s interesting is that the larger, bulkier iBook from 1999 is only about a half-pound heavier than Apple’s current line of sleek 13.3" MacBook Pros, which pack far more memory, larger hard-drives, and far better Retina screens in a sleeker, smaller form-factor than the original iBooks.

Twenty years down the line, the Apple iBook is still a head turner.
Twenty years down the line, the Apple iBook is still a head turner.

Looking back, one thing that stands out about using the iBook was the keyboard—it was just right. Unlike the twitchy keyboard on my current laptop, which seems to drop unwanted v’s and g’s into my text at least twice per sentence, the keyboard on my iBook was perhaps one of my favorites.

Because the internal components inside laptops twenty years ago were larger than their contemporary counterparts, there was space to rest one’s hands left and right of the keyboard, which made banging away on the keyboard a friendlier writing experience.

I used my iBook for close to six years before purchasing my first MacBook Pro, and have since gone through several generations of Mac laptops. And though every successive generation of Mac laptops gets better (at least most of them), none of them ever had the style or whimsy of the original iBooks. Think about it. When was the last time you took a second glance at a laptop because it looked cool?

Do you have a classic computer or similar device from yesteryear you still love? Tell us about it in the Comments field, below.

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2 Comments

Nice article. Blast from the past. But, it had 32 MB RAM (not 32 GB) and a 3.2 GB hard drive.

Thanks for the comment! Glad you enjoyed it. Also, you are absolutely correct. Slipped through here because we are now just so used to seeing things in GB. Thanks for catching that.

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