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Apple iBook famine feeds upgrade rumours

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Updated Apple's iBook consumer-oriented notebook appears to be in rather short supply at the moment, fuelling speculation that a new version of the machine will be unveiled at the company's 1 May "Special Event".

Mac sites around the Web are noting shortages of iBooks throughout Apple's reseller channels - most notably at distie Ingram Micro - in the US and the UK. Even Apple's own online AppleStore has the computer listed as "temporarily unavailable".

Talk of an updated iBook has been running round the rumour mill since before last Christmas, first as possible Macworld Expo San Francisco launch material - in the end, the Titanium PowerBook G4 and faster Power Mac G4s took the stand - then as CEO Steve Jobs' surprise unveiling at Macworld Expo Tokyo.

Post-PowerBook G4, speculation has centred on the new iBook's new metal shell, which is a distinct possibility given the success of the iBook's high-end sibling. It's not hard to envisage a streamline, lightweight, high speed model for pros and a heavier, slower, all-in-one machine for the consumer and education markets. It will be interesting to see whether Apple maintains the iMac and iBook lines' distinctive two-tone styling in a new metal case. Something rather Vaio-like, anyone? Given Jobs' keenness on emulating Sony, that's a distinct possibility too.

What we can say is that it's over six months since the iBook was last updated, and the line is in need of a revamp. A faster G3-class processor, more memory, a bigger hard drive and better graphics acceleration will be introduced to the iBook sooner or later.

Of course, it seems to us a bit much for Apple to host a special event just for an upgrade to an existing product, and indeed, the launch invite, according to Macworld, hints at multiple launch.

The one-off nature of the launch suggests something big - the last time Apple had one was to debut the iMac, three years ago. The launch of an iMac 2 has been suggested, though it's not that long since the last upgrade - February, in point of fact. That said, Jobs noted that if the new colour schemes don't sell, Apple will replace them, so perhaps that's exactly what has happened.

Other products mooted are dual-processor Power Mac G4s, but we think they'd make more sense in the summer when they can be used to leverage MacOS X's multi-processor support at the next-generation OS' 'real' launch at Macworld Expo New York.

Other candidates include some kind of PDA or information appliance, but the most likely announcment isn't for a product at all, but Apple's chain of High Street stores. Now that is a launch worthy of a 'special' event. ®

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