Classic Project: Apple iBook G3 laptop (‘Clamshell’)
Image credit: Apple
Apple’s iBook G3 was launched in 1999 at Macworld New York with the words ‘Say hello to iBook’. The slogan writers pushed our imaginations (and the limits of grammar) when they invited us to ‘think different’.
While the slogan was a huge success for Apple, the same can’t be said for the iBook G3, which remained on the market for less than two years. Despite its relative lack of longevity, it qualifies as a classic, if only because the iBook G3 introduced wireless networking to the world of personal computing. At the launch, Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated the lack of wires by passing the unit through a hula-hoop. That was less than two decades ago. Apple has come a long way since then.
One of the first and most distinctive features of the iBook G3 was the unconventional exterior design. With its rounded corners, exaggerated size, rubber trim and bright colour options, Apple’s offering was eye-catching to the point where it became a stock prop in TV shows and movies at the time.
Opening the ‘clamshell’ (which rapidly became one of the nicknames for the machine) revealed a more conventional approach to the laptop layout – keyboard, trackpad, screen – that was, unlike its aesthetics, to be passed along to future models. Commenting on the inclusion of an AirPort card to allow wireless internet, one reviewer says that, looking back, it’s hard to realise that “this was a feature that wowed an entire audience”.
It was also the first Apple product to have uncovered ports on the side rather than at the back, their configuration conceptually virtually identical to the arrangement on today’s MacBook Pro. Early versions came with 32MB RAM, 3.2GB hard drive and CD drive, while the special edition (SE) model had 64MB RAM, 10GB hard drive and a DVD drive.
As there are no fans in the unit – it is passively cooled – there was the potential for the iBook G3 to be one of the first quiet laptops. This was blown out of the water by the clunky hard drive. As one reviewer said: “The iBook G3 does a perfectly respectable job as a laptop, as long as you keep your expectations low.”
Yet as with so many Apple products, technical specification is only one part of the story. In this case the narrative was really about the marketing. The main point of the iBook G3 was to plug a gap in the market – entry-level, low-cost, students – that couldn’t be reached by the higher-specification PowerBook.
To accentuate the machine’s user-friendliness, Apple integrated features such as a carrying handle (part of the hinge mechanism), while the use of coloured plastics ensured that the iBook G3 remained resolutely of its time.
The first colours to appear on the ‘clamshell’ were blueberry and tangerine. These were followed by graphite, indigo and key lime, the last of which was only available from the Apple online store, and described by Jobs as “a little less conservative, a little more fun”.
While London’s Design Museum approved to the point that the computer is now on display, some weren’t so taken with the overall look, with another nickname soon emerging: ‘Barbie’s toilet seat.’
Despite its popularity, the iBook G3 wasn’t long for this world and on 1 May 2001 it was discontinued, to be replaced by the next-generation iBook G3 that, with its rectangular shape and white polycarbonate case, seemed to tell its own story about what insiders at Apple really thought of the previous model. This became the G3 ‘Snow’ model, the direct descendents of which - courtesy of periodic tech spec upgrades and speed bumps - lasted in Apple’s product line-up until 2006 when the iBook name was finally retired, replaced by the MacBook.
Apple iBook G3 laptop (‘Clamshell’): facts and figures
Date: 21 June 1999-1 May 2001.
Originator: Apple Computer, Inc.
Unit launch cost: US$1,599 (approx £1,800 today).
One advertisement slogan for the iBook G3 read: “Is it possible to fall in love with a computer? Oh, yes.”
Five colours: blueberry, tangerine, graphite, indigo and key lime.
On the market for less than two years.
Replaced by the iBook G3 ‘Snow’.
Incorporating Apple’s AirPort card, it was the first mainstream wireless internet laptop.
Described by Steve Jobs as the “iMac to go”.
Aimed at the entry-level and student market.
Powered by the PowerPC G3 processor.
General arrangement of the Apple iBook G3
Ports (no hinged cover, unlike previous Apple computers)
Colour design features
Non-standard shape case
Colour design features
Non-standard case shape
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