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July 20, 2023 · 22 min read

Season 4, Ep. 18 – TWiTH: Apple introduces the iBook, with

What started as a product aimed at educators became the catalyst for the remote work we have the ability to do today. On This Week in Tech, Abbey and Garish talk about Apple’s iBook: the first mass-produced, consumer-focused, WiFi-compatible laptop to ever hit the market. They discuss how it revolutionized the personal computer market, normalized WiFi connection, and contributed to the juggernaut Apple is today.


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Abbey (00:04):

So we all had yesterday off, I’m not sure if you worked.

Girish (00:07):

I had a choice to not work, but I chose, I had all these calls booked in, and I didn’t realize that it was a bank holiday in the US, so I decided to still work. It’s mad.

Abbey (00:18):

Honestly, I kind of like those days when there’s nobody else working. That feels like you can get so much done.

Girish (00:25):

Oh yeah. That’s definitely a day to kind of like, plow through work. (Abbey: Yep.) We’ve never met before, by the way.

Abbey (00:35):

You’re right. We haven’t.

Girish (00:36):

We haven’t met before.

Abbey (00:38):

I feel like I’ve talked to you. Yeah, it’s been really fun kind of stepping in, now that Faith is gone, and doing all of this and to talk to everybody, because I feel like it’s pretty limited to Slack when I need something for marketing.

Girish (00:51):

Of course.

Abbey (00:52):

So this has been a fun way to kind of get to talk to everybody.

Girish (00:57):

I feel like, you know, a lot of people in the company more than anybody else. I feel like.

Abbey (01:03):

I probably do. And then at times, you know, like, we’ve added so many people to the team in the last few weeks that I feel like I’m way behind now. (Girish: Yeah.) Especially, I was out the last two weeks.

Girish (01:15):

Oh yeah. How was your break?

Abbey (01:19):

It was great. We did a camping road trip up the east coast and went to Maine. (Girish: Oh, wow.) Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Girish (01:30):


Abbey (01:31):

It was fun. We took the dogs with us. We bought a new camper this year, so it was our first long trip, and we had a bank holiday yesterday.

Girish (01:40):

Nice <laugh>.

Abbey (01:41):

Girish, thanks for joining me today. We are gonna talk about, on This Week in Tech History, Apple introducing the iBook. I’m not sure, I might be dating myself, but like, I definitely remember these coming out and being so excited about them. This was like, my senior year of high school. (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES IN)

Steve Jobs, via Macworld 1999 presentation (02:00):

(VIDEO CLIP AUDIO FADES IN) (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) There’s been a lot of speculation about this, a lot of rumors, and I get to end them today. We’re gonna introduce our consumer portable machine. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) So, we’ve been working really hard on it, and I hope you like it. So we went to our customers, we went to our consumer and education customers and said, “What do you want in a portable? What precisely is it that you want?” And we listened very carefully, and when you added it all up, what they wanted was an iMac to-go. They loved iMac, they wanted an iMac to-go, could we make an awesome iMac to-go? And we have done that, we hope. So first of all, what are we gonna call it? Just so we have a name to refer it by. (VIDEO CLIP AUDIO FADES OUT)

Abbey (02:51):

On July 21st, 1999, Apple introduced the iBook, which was the first mass produced consumer product that had built in WiFi connectivity. It was a major turning point that ushered in the modern era of wireless devices and had innovative features like an all-in-one design, clam shell shape, hidden hinges, accessible ports, all of those things kind of like, set the bar for what computers are today. It came out in cool colors, which, for like, obviously anything bright, I’m like, (Girish: <Laugh>.) “Yes, looks good. How bright can it get?” Like, they had the blueberry one, like, that tangerine, orange, slate gray, they all looked so good, and they had built in Bluetooth, which was cool. [It was the] first time you could like, kind of port things to it without having to have cables everywhere. On the Wiki page about it, they had a picture of one of the iBooks, but [it] still had a mouse plugged into it. You have all these features, you don’t need the cable. (Girish: Yeah.) So like I said, its most revolutionary feature, it was definitely that I have WiFi, which that you could get WiFi anywhere there was an access point. They cleverly granted this as the “AirPort”.

Steve Jobs, via Macworld 1999 presentation (04:03):

(VIDEO CLIP AUDIO FADES IN)…and we decided to go for it, and we are so excited about this: AirPort wireless networking. It’s a wireless LAN <pronounced phonetically>. It runs at 11 megabits per second, (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) and it’s based on industry standards. This is 802 dot 11 wireless networking, and everybody is jumping on board with this thing over the next six to nine months. So all sorts of devices are gonna be able to interact with AirPorts. We’re just gonna be there first and best. (VIDEO CLIP AUDIO FADES OUT)

Abbey (04:40):

It was initially marketed as an education device, but at the time, Apple had this kind of core box approach that they wanted to meet, where they had a desktop and portable computer for both the consumer and professional markets to this kind of <unintelligible>. It helped popularize wireless internet and showed the world how convenient and easy it can be to access information and communicate remotely. It conditioned users to expect ready internet access at any time for most devices and applications, which set the stage for today’s widespread use of WiFi enabled phones, tablets, computers, watches, millions of, I mean, what can’t you connect to the Internet these days? (Girish: Yeah.) It also brought wireless connectivity to the masses and proved there was a demand for portable devices with always-on internet access, and it ultimately helped kickstart consumer trends towards wireless communication, which is something that, today is like, it’s everything. (Girish: Yeah.) When we went on this trip, the first two days we were just driving. So I worked from the car for two days. (RETRO SYNTHESIZER MUSIC FADES OUT)

Girish (05:43):

Which is not thinkable those days, when we look back.

Abbey (05:47):

No, no. (Girish: <Laugh>.) I mean, now WiFi wasn’t even really like, widely used at that point. (Girish: Yeah.) We were a little bit past dialing up, but (Girish: <Laugh>.) I don’t think by much. I’m pretty sure at that point, (Girish: Yeah.) like, our computer’s still plugged into the wall, plugged into (Girish: Yeah.) the ethernet port. (Girish: Yeah.) I think one of the interesting choices that they made, was that making the consumer product the first one to have WiFi over the professional product. I kind of wonder what their thinking was there.

Girish (06:24):

It’s a really interesting thought, because if you look back, like, why would you, you know, you’ll ask the same question like, pros willing to pay it. Why would you not get the pros on it, first thing? (Abbey: Right.) If you look back, traditionally office spaces always, you know, when it became very modernized, and like, everybody started having internet on their desks, the way to get internet is to have a land cable running through your desk, and you always had a ethernet port for a computer. This is my theory, right? Like, the thinking, the fact that every office space, definitely still today, you can go to WeWork and probably ask them for a cable, and they will provide it for you. And it’s like, a setup, and it’s a very normal thing in a modern office space setting, and the same at the home.

Girish (07:11):

So you can route your own router into ethernet and like, get this to your desk. So for pro consumers, they always had the access, per se, for the ethernet. So I think something revolutionary and very unique, which is Apple’s thing, I guess, right? Like, they want to get something brand new into the hands of everyday users, and like, nobody who’s working would sit in a lounge chair and just like, browse internet. You know, that’s not a thing those days, I suppose. So (Abbey: Yeah.) I think having something detached from the WiFi, detached from the, you know, a traditional ethernet cable, is what people want, people would need, I think. I think Apple saw that very early on. I think Steve Jobs is this revolutionary, visionary guy. (Abbey: Yeah.) [He] thought maybe, hey, imagine if nobody’s connected to the ethernet, what it would look like.

Abbey (08:02):

And I wonder if, in developing the product like, kind of gearing it towards educational use was one of the reasons, you know, where it was, it’s easier to centralize WiFi in a classroom (Girish: Yeah.) than it is to do it in like, a large-scale office setting.

Girish (08:20):

It’s pretty cool idea, as well. Like, you get this whole net network compatibility without like, being threaded to something. So (Abbey: Yeah.) gave like, a new wave of people to start using computers.

Abbey (08:33):

Man, I think it’s also really interesting to think about like, how are you, I mean there obviously was WiFi at the time, but to be able to start integrating that into a product, you know, that like, the footprint of WiFi, at that point, was very small compared to what it’s now. You know like, with a hotspot, you can have WiFi literally anywhere you can get a phone signal. So I think it was an interesting choice that they like, put so much development into that, knowing that WiFi, at that point, had such a small footprint.

Girish (09:08):

One of the cool things is their innovation, like, that “one more thing”. I saw the video where Steve Jobs was announcing the iBook; it’s pretty interesting. And the last “one more thing” was this AirPort, you know, AirPort device that like, you know, which is like, the thing you set up in your house. (Abbey: Yeah.) It’s pretty cool, because like, you know, you would not necessarily have any sort of route of functionality that’s WiFi ready at that time. So when Apple were to introduce it for consumers, it was everybody’s gonna adopt it, or people are gonna consider having that, and they have this interesting TV ad that makes it look like a spaceship coming to you and stuff like that. It’s pretty interesting for those audience when you look at it, and people don’t have vision for what, you know, a WiFi would look like. It was an innovative and novel idea at the time. So it’s pretty cool.

Abbey (09:57):

And to be able to like, to develop that airport system and say, you know like, “We already have a solution.” So it wasn’t just enabling the thing to have WiFi, it was enabling consumers to get WiFi in the first place, (Girish: WiFi, yeah.) since we never, you know, we didn’t have that in our house.

Girish (10:17):

Yeah. The thing about this is that today, nobody buys Apple Express or that device anymore, ‘cause Apple doesn’t sell it. (Abbey: Right <laugh>.) So it was very relevant at that time when it came out. So it was pretty normal, and they were just selling it as a whole package. Even like, these laptops never came out of the box with WiFi, so you had to buy this card, you needed to slot it in. It’s an optional addition, but people bought it with the WiFi setting, and they bought the whole kit <laugh>.

Abbey (10:48):

Yeah. They’re like, “We made this WiFi enabled, but you also have to get the WiFi card,” (Girish: Yeah.) “and the WiFi port.” (Girish: Yeah.) Which I think has also been kind of the trend that Apple has followed (Girish: Yeah.) throughout the years where, you know, they’re doing something really innovative, but it’s not always…I’m thinking of like, them removing the headphone jack from the iPhone. So it was, (Girish: Yeah.) you know, when they did that it was like, well you have to buy the special adapter if you wanna use (Girish: Yeah.) corded headphones. Yeah.

Girish (11:24):

Yeah, they always try to come up with this interesting solution like, “Oh, we’re gonna do something unique, but these are the caveats to it.” So if you look at the like when Apple decided, “Oh, it’s our courage. We are gonna take the headphone, you know, plug off for the iPhones,” they started selling AirPods, which was like, the best seller when it came up, (Abbey: Yeah.) and then right now, the best seller is the, what do they call them? Apple tags? AirTags? (Abbey: Yeah.) Which is like, getting the most popularity and like, the whole “Find My” feature, and everybody integrating to it is like, a new thing. Like, Apple always comes up with like, solving problems very uniquely, and they try to take over the new space and on the old space, too. If they didn’t decide not to do their headphones, probably they would never sell AirPods as much. Well, it’s a controversial question <laugh>.

Abbey (12:18):

And I think that like, obviously, I love good branding and good marketing, and I think a part of that is like, a part of what makes Apple so successful in these things is like, we’re not just doing something innovative. We’re not just doing something that is gonna change the market. We’re selling like, a…kinda like selling the image, selling the good design, selling like, “This is how we’re gonna make your life easier with this.” We did an episode on the iPhone already, and I (Girish: Yeah.) don’t use iPhones. I don’t really like them. (Girish: Oh, wow.) I’m like, I know. I like Android all the way, but I still have AirPods, (Girish: Yeah.) because those are, you know, for the size, the sound, the design is super easy. It’s very portable. They’ve sold me on that.

Girish (13:11):

Yeah, it’s a really cool tech. I think Apple comes up with these novel solutions. Like, you know, traditionally, if you were to buy headphones, you need to manually connect it. I don’t know whether it’s still the same if you were to use Android, but I think what I really like about the Apple’s product line, especially headphone line, is that it automatically connects to your phone or your laptop. So you just bring it next to it, which is just like, pretty cool, and they had to build a chip for it and like, make it like, you know, friendly enough to kind of like, track and all of that. So it’s pretty overkill for a design for like that, but that’s actually, it solves like, the headache of like, “Oh, where’s my Bluetooth? Oh, I need to unplug. I need to disconnect and disconnect it back again.” (Abbey: Yeah.) [It] takes all that time off from you, and it’s like, a cool experience. I think if you look back at this, that’s kind of what they were trying to achieve with the AirPort utility thing with the laptop and the iBook at the time. So it was pretty nice. Like, the philosophy of what Steve Jobs kind of set, it kind of carries on even ‘til today, and I think that’s what’s gonna happen with the Vision Pro, too. So that’s pretty cool.

Abbey (14:19):

Where can you take wireless tech that we, that isn’t even out? Like, have we even explored the frontiers, or do we just think we have? (Girish: Yeah.) It’s very easy these days to be like, always on, (Girish: Yeah.) because now, WiFi enabled devices are everywhere. (Girish: Yeah.) What does the future of that look like? You know like, how can you go further from like, always having access? (Girish: Yeah.) So I think it’ll be really interesting to see like, you’re saying with the Vision Pro, all these new frontiers of WiFi enabled devices and what they do for us, how they help improve our ability to communicate, get things done and experience things.

Girish (15:09):

If you looked at the TV ad for Vision Pro, there was this baby celebrating its birthday, I think kid, I don’t know how old it is, but the dad was like, wearing this vague headset on his face, and he was like, interacting with the birthday event. Like, it was like, pretty absurd, and like, hey,  is that gonna be the norm tomorrow? But historically, if you look back, that’s kind of what we did in video cameras when we had to pull it up and just bring it up on a face. (Abbey: Yeah.) <Laugh>. So it was like, such an interesting transformation to where we might go in the future as well. So I can’t wait. I’m always excited for what’s coming, and how that impacts our society, and like, how humans interact with those computers.

Abbey (15:56):

Because I think like, on the whole, people still want the human element preaching our business practices right now, but it’s like, you know, we work here, because we think that the human element is super important. You know, like you said, like, when we were kids, it was always somebody with a camcorder, and then the camcorder’s (Girish: Yeah.) got smaller and smaller, what really just made it easier for you to be present while still using technology to like, capture those moments, to relive them down the grid.

Girish (16:25):

I think I see that in my Gun work, too, as well. Like, one of the things we do in DevRel is like, “Hey,” I always say this pitch to people when I speak to them, especially new candidates who are joining into the platforms, like, “Hey, you might use this platform, but you’re not dealing with robots. Everything is kind of manual. We use it to scale, so the platform exists for us to scale.” Like, five people can do the job very effectively, but I think what matters for me and also for all the dev team is the meaningful connections we have with people, the developers, you know, who are in the platform. I personally take time to kind of like, learn their story and like, why they want to join Gun, and all of that. So I see a lot of that, and there’s that human element. That’s kind of what makes me be part of Gun in some sense too, as well. So that human element, we care, you know, we genuinely like, wanna know your story and really care for you to be having a good experience in our platform.

Abbey (17:22):

It’s more than running your resume through an ECS.

Girish (17:26):

Yeah, that’s true. And yeah, I think some developers you see in the platform just trying to apply to every single job they get. It’s just like, “Hey, I’m thinking it’s a robot.” No, I said like, I speak to some developers. It’s like, “Dude, yeah, actually speaking to us, and every application has been read by us, and we know that you’re applying to every single job.” (Abbey: <Laugh>.) So it’s, at the same time, don’t treat us as a robot, you know? It’s like, we are people, so talk to us, and like, we have Slack where the community forum can chat to and stuff like that. So I think all of that can make a really cool experience and we, I mean, there is always a learning curve for all of us as well, right? Like, even for DevRel teams. We have a lot to learn, and we want to modernize our experience at the same time. Be like, human as close to possible. (Abbey: Yeah.) You see that translating in tech in other areas too. Like, how human can it be, at the same time, be like, tech in the front. So it’s always an interesting challenge to be solving.

Abbey (18:23):

You bring up a good point, you know, when you say somebody is just applying to every job, because they think it’s a robot. Like, we’ve been kind of conditioned at this point to think that like, everything is being run by computers and robots, because everything has internet, and you always have access to it, you should be responding right away. There’s just (Girish: Yeah.) an expectation that you’re always available. I don’t know, it was really like…being up in Maine, we had no service. (Girish: Yeah.) So we had car troubles with my four year old truck and wound up having to get it towed to a dealership, but we were somewhere where the most you could do was send out a single text message, so you couldn’t send a group messages, and you couldn’t make phone calls. It was incredibly humbling, because I’m used to like, why shouldn’t I have internet? Yeah, it was really humbling to have to like, really go old school, because we were both so being used to always having everything at our fingertips. Having that access is good and bad. We still got everything taken care of, which showed to me, you know, you don’t have to always have the most information available to get something done.

Girish (19:48):

I think we have this human instincts of survival, finding, figuring things out, and like, that kicks in when you realize that the default, we have two character traits. Like, one, like, let’s be as lazy as we can get everything possible. You know? So if we have Google Maps, we’re gonna use every single way and find optimized routes to get to a location where we need to get to, but when we don’t have it, we just become this alert mode like, where we are scanning the street signs and like, being very cautious, and I think that’s how human nature is, I suppose, right? Like, we try to default on things which we are very comfortable with, and when we don’t, (Abbey: Yeah.) when you’re not comfortable, and it kind of like, pulls you into it. You know, it’s like, even like, even pandemic like, you know, the fact that it happened and like, everybody has to be online and like, be present, ‘cause there’s nothing else to do.

Girish (20:37):

Like, you could watch TV. Alright, okay, that’s great, (Abbey: Yeah.) but then you still have to come back to your computer to get your work done. Most of the people who can work online did the best they could to work online, and they were always connected, and I see…so I was like, with this company based in the US I was in the UK working with them, and I see most of the team members are always online on Slacks Like, “Hey, guys. What are you doing?” <Laugh>. It’s just mad. People love to be connected. At the same time, like, there was nothing else to do. So I think when, now that the pandemic has gone, there is that lingering behavior. You’re trying to see that a lot with people being connected, and it’s all like, thanks to WiFi and all these internet advancements we have (Abbey: Yeah.) to kinda be that connected.

Girish (21:26):

But at the same time, it’s a behavioral change we had in people. So like, everything kind of like, opened up new ways. Like, once upon a time, closing a business deal online, it’s different in the US, but in the UK, we are pretty old school. We love to meet people, build that trust, and then like, “Hey, you know what? Let’s close a business deal.” But I’m seeing a lot more now that like, people are opening and closing contracts online a hundred percent. Which just like, makes us more like, connected and like, all the efforts live off computer. Sometimes I wonder like, what’s it like? Hey, I can take my brain and attach [it] to a CPU or something <laugh>, you know like (Abbey: Yeah.) just go do my day, because literally, I’m paid for my brain power. It’s like, a knowledge worker kind of thing, right?

Girish (22:10):

It’s just a new thought. So it’s like, very interesting like, how that’s actually changed our way of working today, and also like, it’s only gonna get better and bigger in that area. I think in DevRel team, one point I would say is that like, we try harder, at least my team, like, we try harder to kind of be asynchronous, ‘cause we are on different time zones. We don’t want to be always online as much as possible. You know, it’s not, I think we are conditioned to think like, the more hours you work, the more online you are, the better and cooler you’re performing, which is awesome. Like, saying that’s a good analogy, but at the same time, people need rest, and we all need to like, work at a different pace. So we try to follow this culture called “asynchronous culture”. I mentioned this in my first podcast with you guys as well. So I was like, the way asynchronous culture works is that you choose your hours, you choose how you wanna work, but as long as the work gets done, it’s not as simple as that, but it’s mostly like, structuring your work, and having some disciplines around it, and setting boundaries, (Abbey: Yep.) and that way you can be very happy at your work and also like, you know, very happy at your personal life, which you need to give time to as well.

Abbey (23:23):

And what a great thing about like, the Internet makes that possible now. You don’t have to necessarily line up your hours with somebody else to get something done or, you know like, I really like writing early in the morning when nobody else is working <laugh>, (Girish: Yeah.) so no one else bothers me. And I think, you know like, I think that that culture has really been beneficial for people with families. (Girish: Yeah.) We don’t have kids, but I see, you know, the ability for other parents in the company to say, you know like, “Hey, I’m gonna take the afternoon off. I’m gonna go watch my kids play.” If there’s an emergency, (Girish: Yeah.) they’re always connected. There’s Slack and email on phones. I forgot to turn off my work email until like, halfway through the trip, and I was like, why do I keep looking at those?

Girish (24:20):

Yeah, you’re right. It’s a really interesting pace of life we are in right now, even like, our podcast right now, right? We are in two different countries, (Abbey: Yeah.) in a two different time zones, but we can do this completely like, not being in a studio, not worrying about this crazy audio setup or anything like that, (Abbey: Yep.) and just make this work is…kudos to the tech that has really made this possible. You just need to log into a browser, and hit record, and you’re on, you know? (Abbey: Yeah.) It’s pretty novel. I think it’s a point to kind of appreciate what we have at the same time. Like, have a like, some sort of like, boundaries on that too, in some sense. Like, you know, Apple kind of tries its own way to kind of do this focus mode thing. So like, hey, focus on your family, so turn on your family time, and focus on work, and just be on focus time. So I think the next generation who’s gonna take over the world like, would probably will have a better acute mind on distractions and like, and this constant connectivity, and they will be better acute for that kinda stuff. ‘Cause, I think our generation, we probably saw the tech taking over our day-to-day lives, and for next generation, they’re born with it, so they will have a completely different mindset,

Abbey (25:43):

Probably will be better at setting boundaries around things like that, because they don’t know what it was like to not have it. And kudos to Apple for making it all possible with that, with their iBook.

Girish (25:58):

Yeah. (THE FRONTIER THEME FADES IN) With starting from the iBook to where we are today, it’s always pretty exciting to kind of see that transition and the next version would be this, you know, Vision Pro <laugh>, probably we’ll be talking [about it] one year from now.

Abbey (26:14):

Awesome. Well, Girish, thank you so much for joining me today.

Girish (26:18):

Yeah, thanks for having me

Abbey (26:20):

Talking about the past and future of all things internet. I hope you have a lovely rest of your week in London.

Girish (26:27):

Yeah. Thanks so much.

Faith, via previous recording (26:29):

Thanks for listening to the Frontier Podcast, powered by We drop two episodes per week, so if you like this episode, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice, and come hang out with us again next week, and bring all your internet friends. If you have questions or recommendations, just shoot us a Twitter DM @theFrontierPod, and we’ll see you next week.