Mac Musings

Anticipated Overhaul of iBook and eMac, Timed to Ship with Tiger

Daniel Knight - 2005.04.20

I have a feeling that Apple's going to announce some new computers next Tuesday - and that the new models will ship with Tiger.

iBook DV

The current iBook design has been around since May 1, 2001, and while it's very attractive and utilitarian, it's looking a bit dated. Further, the 14" iBook has never offered anything to distinguish it from the 12" model except for screen size; both have the same 1024 x 768 resolution.

Apple's overseas suppliers are great at spilling the beans, so we've known for weeks that Apple has contracted assembly of a 15" widescreen iBook, and rumors of a 12" widescreen model have been circulating as well.

Apple has been making widescreen displays since the PowerBook G4 was introduced in January 2001, but to date widescreen displays have only been available in 15" and 17" PowerBooks, 17" and larger iMacs, and 20" and larger Cinema Displays.

Why Widescreen?

With Apple's commitment to high definition (HD) video, it's time to move the entire line to displays that work better with HD content. The Mac has used a 4:3 ratio for displays since the original 640 x 480 monitors for the Mac II. That's the same ratio as old fashioned television sets - but not wide enough for HD.

If you've ever watched a widescreen DVD on your Mac or TV, you've probably noticed those black bars above and below the picture. Movies can have aspect ratios beyond 2:1, although most are closer to 1.85:1.

One goal in creating high definition standards was better use of of screen space, and HD TVs have a 16:9 (or 1.78:1) ratio. That's nearly perfect for most movies, and HD broadcasts and HD camcorders are designed to support that ratio.

We'll still see black bars with some extra-wide movies, and conventional 4:3 content (like those DVDs of your favorite TV series) will be displayed with black bars to each side of the video. HD DVDs will no longer have to offer widescreen and full-screen versions.

Back to Laptops

You don't have to match the HD specification precisely on a computer screen, but you should be in the ballpark. That would mean replacing the 1024 x 768 4:3 display on the 12" iBook with a wider 1280 x 768 (5:3 or 1.67:1) display. My guess is that's what we're going to see in the 12" iBook HD.

For the 15" model, I'm guessing Apple will finally offer a higher resolution screen on the upscale iBook - not simply the same resolution with bigger pixels. Something in the 1400 x 850 range would be perfect. That's the same aspect ratio as the 12" model would offer but with 30% more pixels on the screen.

Expect a speed bump as well, but not a big one. I'd expect 1.33 GHz for the 12" iBook DV and 1.5 GHz for the 15" model.

eMac DV

The eMac design is three years old, and its days are numbered. The all-in-one design is great for a lot of markets, but the CRT is definitely 20th century technology. If Apple doesn't phase out the CRT eMac this year, they are almost certain to do so next year.

But I have a feeling this is the year for the flat panel eMac. When my girlfriend was in Orlando visiting her daughter over spring break, she wanted to show her what my eMac looked like. They visited the local Apple Store, but there wasn't an eMac in sight. Lots of minis and iMacs, though.

It's almost like Apple is clearing the channel to make room for something different.

My guess is an eMac DV, which might be designed around the motherboard of a Mac mini sitting behind an LCD monitor, pretty much a hybrid of the iMac G5 design and the mini's insides.

Continuing the eMac's "one size fits all" philosophy, I'd expect Apple to use the same 17" 1440 x 900 flat panel display found in the iMac. And to keep costs down, I'd figure on finding a 3.5" hard drive inside.

A speed bump would be nice. Probably to 1.42 GHz, same as the upscale mini.

PowerBook DV

Apple just overhauled the PowerBook line in January, and they've had some teething problems with the new hardware, so don't expect DV PowerBooks just yet.

Besides, the 15" and 17" models already have widescreen displays. The 12" model would be the logical one to turn into a DV 'Book to complement the anticipated 12" iBook DV. The rest will probably wait until Apple moves to a dual-core G4 processor or solves "the mother of all thermal challenges" and releases a G5 'Book.

iMac DV

Um, the iMac G5 already has widescreen displays. Besides which, August is iMac month. (January is PowerBook month, and April & May are iBook and eMac months.)

With Tiger ready to pounce, there's no better time to overhaul the two oldest designs in Apple's collection.