2001 Revisited: The iBook Settles Down 

In my series 2001 Revisited, I’m covering Apple’s major announcements from 20 years ago.

On May 1, 2001, Steve Jobs unveiled an all-new iBook, and the new notebook was a huge departure from what came before it.

This came at a special on-campus event1 at Infinite Loop, and a somewhat-janky video of the event is still online:

This event came just a few months after the launch of the Titanium PowerBook G4, and Apple’s notebook game had never been stronger. In fact, Jobs announced that notebooks accounted for nearly 30% of the company’s Mac sales, up from less than 20% just a year before.

Redefining the iBook

The all-new iBook was a huge departure from the “Clamshell” design that came before it:

iBook G3 changes

Gone were the swooping edges and vibrant colors of the original iBook; this new iBook G3 was far more conservative in design, being dressed in all white.

The top and bottom parts of this enclosure were actually made of clear plastic that had white paint applied to the inside, giving it a slightly frosted look, earning it the nickname “IceBook.” This design lent itself to some … interesting modifications made by some users.

The new iBook was 4.9 pounds, a huge reduction from the 6.7 pound Clamshell. It was also some 35% thinner. As Jobs was quick to point out, this made the iBook the thinnest and lightest notebook in its class.

This was made possible by Apple ditching the large rubber-injected molding that gave the original iBook its rugged nature.

That said, Jobs insisted that the new machine would still hold up to the demands of being used in the home and in schools, saying it proved to be “twice as durable” in Apple’s internal testing. The hard drive was rubber-mounted to absorb shocks and the magnesium frame was meant to be strong and light, but as many Apple techs from back in the day will tell you, it wasn’t uncommon to see iBooks with broken frames come in for repair.

iBook G3 display

The display was still a 12-inch LCD, but now running at 1024×768, an upgrade from the old 800×600 panel. The additional space made running Mac OS X much more comfortable, and matched the number of pixels on the iMac G3.

The screen rotated down and away from the keyboard on a new hinge that was markedly better than anything Apple had shipped on a notebook before. I honestly think the hinge feel holds up today, two decades later.

iBook G3 hinge

The I/O on the new machine was also an upgrade from before, with an additional USB port joining the single port on the Clamshell. It joined the power, FireWire, Ethernet, modem, mini-VGA and the combo audio/composite video ports, all along the left side of the machine.

Inside, the iBook had been improved as well. The Clamshell topped out 466 MHz, but the new iBook was clocked at 500 MHz and could be equipped with up to 640 MB of RAM. The display was powered by the ATI Rage Mobility 128 GPU 8 MB of video memory, which was the same as the FireWire-equipped Clamshell models.

The laptop could be outfitted with one of four optical drives:

  • CD-ROM player
  • DVD-ROM player
  • CD-RW burner
  • Combo (DVD-ROM + CD-RW burner)

Prices ranged from $1,299 to $1,799 — $200 less than the Clamshell:

iBook G3 prices

Regardless of price, the iBook came with a 10 GB hard drive, something Apple would improve drastically later in 2001 when it revised the machine for the first time.

In its press release about the new laptop, Apple was quick to praise it:

“The new iBook is wonderfully small and light, and packs in all the amazing features you’d expect from Apple,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With iMovie, iTunes and iTools, the new iBook builds on the incredible success of the original iBook and is designed to fit today’s digital lifestyle.”

Every iBook is powered by 500 MHz PowerPC G3 processors, and offer up to twice the onboard memory, twice the memory expansion, and twice the storage than previous models. iBook’s new stunning design is almost two pounds lighter and twice as durable than previous models, and small enough to easily fit into any backpack or computer bag. Made for students and consumers alike, iBook’s streamlined impact resistant polycarbonate enclosure has no doors protruding, latches or levers to break or accidentally catch.

I encourage you to watch the video, but I love how the whole thing is announced. Jobs talked about the specs for over ten minutes, before ever showing off the iBook’s new design. He holds it up compared to a Dell, making fun of the PC’s design and features before Apple employees passed iBooks down the rows of journalists in the audience. As they looked at the machines, Jobs answered a couple of questions about the notebook, and he shared that the notebook did have a fan, and that the only color it came in was white.

Schools

After announcing and showing off the new iBook, Jobs demoed it for the audience, showing iTunes, iMovie, and the DVD Player all running on the 12-inch machine. Despite its size, Apple wanted people to see the iBook as worth of being part of the company’s Digital Hub strategy.

After that, Jobs spoke about the importance of education to Apple, leaning on its history with schools going back to the Apple II. However, he then spoke about dedicated computer labs and how the idea of moving student into a room full of computers was an outdated idea. With wireless notebooks, computers could come to the students, he said, showing off a cart full of iBooks on the screen behind him. Apple was the number one computer company in education, he said, and Apple planned on keeping that title. In fact, the iBook could be bought starting at $1,199.

Jobs then announced a huge deal with Henrico County Public Schools in Richmond Virginia, with 23,000 notebooks making it the largest portable computer order in education to that point. Every middle school student, high schooler and teacher in the district would have their own iBook G3.

Apple shared more about this in a press release:

“This is the mammoth–the single largest sale of portable computers in education ever,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Apple is thrilled to partner with Henrico County Public Schools in their revolutionary initiative because when every student and teacher has access to wirelessly-networked mobile computing, learning reaches far beyond the classroom.”

“Students, teachers, parents and the community will now have the best technology tools in the world at their fingertips every day,” said Dr. Mark Edwards, superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools. “We chose Apple’s iBook because our experience has shown that it costs significantly more to support other platforms. Apple’s iBook is the best product available to meet our instructional needs.”

When these machines were sold off by the school district four years later, all hell broke loose in Richmond.

Legacy

This new design would stay with the iBook until its demise at the Intel transition five years after this announcement, with some changes. The clear-but-painted exterior would be swapped for white plastic panels, and the nasty smell would be resolved with a keyboard revision as well.

A 14-inch version would show up as well, but neither would survive the introduction of the MacBook in 2006. While that machine is well-loved by many, the IceBook was an important step in the Mac’s shift to being a primarily mobile platform.


  1. Before getting to the iBook news, Jobs announced that Apple was shipping the second software update for Mac OS X 10.0 over the Internet. It included support for burning CDs.