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Thursday, December 09, 2010, 11:00 pm PT (02:00 am ET)

Five years of Apple: 2005 iBook to 2010 MacBook Air

Over the last half decade, Apple has radically changed what $999 can buy, with major advancements in the processor power, efficiency, connectivity, size, weight and quality of its entry level notebook.

Five years ago, Apple was selling the iBook G4, a popular entry level notebook that had evolved from the original iMac-inspired iBook from six years prior. The final iBook model was released mid 2005 with 1.33 or 1.42 GHz PowerPC G4 processors.

It came in both 12.1 inch and 14.1 inch versions, with the smaller weighing in at 4.9 lbs (2.2 kg) and the larger version being 5.9 lbs (2.7 kg). Both supplied the same 1024x768 screen resolution. Both models were also 1.35 inches (3.4 cm) thick.

Fast forward to today, and Apple's latest offering is the similarly priced 11.6 inch MacBook Air, which delivers a 1.4 or 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, weighs just 2.3 lbs (1.04 kg) and is only 0.68 inches (1.7 cm) at its thickest, tapering down to 0.11 inches (2.8 mm).

iBook MacBook Air

iBook MacBook Air


Apple's style of innovation

The entire PC industry has always rapidly adopted new technologies to make computers faster, smaller, and more useful. In some cases, competitors have brought to market technologies that Apple hasn't, ranging from newer or cheaper CPUs to integrated mobile 3G WWAN to fingerprint scanners to SD card readers to BluRay playback; Apple's latest MacBook Air models drop the option of an integrated optical drive completely.

At the same time, Apple has frequently set the model for other PC makers to copy, starting with the original front palm rest notebook design that Apple introduced with the PowerBook back in 1991.

iBook MacBook Air


Apple has since led the market with integrated trackballs, trackpads and the latest multitouch trackpads used across its current MacBook lineup, as well as with features like backlit keyboards, sudden motion sensors to protect the hard drive and ambient light sensors to adjust the display.

Apple was also an early adopter of Lithium Ion batteries, USB, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 wireless networking, optical digital audio input and outputs, integrated batteries, and standardized Mini DisplayPort video output. This year, the company became a leading proponent of flash storage as a replacement for conventional hard disk drives, integrating a solid state drive as the only option on its latest MacBook Air models.

The company has often bucked convention, adding FireWire and keeping it while the industry largely rejected the fast, flexible, smart interface in favor of the slower, simpler, and less functional (but cheaper) USB 2.0, although it has recently removed FireWire from its cheapest models, including the MacBook Air.

Apple also dropped separate buttons from its trackpads, making the entire surface a tactile button and supporting the configuration of virtual right and left button clicks in software, while also supporting a variety of multitouch gestures.

Despite its long history of introducing innovative notebook technologies, between 2000 to 2005 Apple's notebook advances largely just mirrored those of PC makers: mostly cosmetic changes with regular updates of faster, newer chips.

When ignoring the 2001 leap from the previous clamshell iBook G3 design to the more conventional iBook design, Apple's entry level iBook made no advancements in size or weight across nearly five years, and continued stuck at the same 1024x768 screen resolution. Then something big happened: the MacBook.

On page 2 of 3: New MacBook technologies of the last five years.