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Apple is looking to make its ultrathin product line the models to beat amid tougher competition

It's that time a year again.  Love it or hate it, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) no industry player is perhaps as much of a showman as this Cupertino company.  P.T. Barnum once remarked, "Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!"

Apple tirelessly promotes itself year-round. But, of all the events on Apple's yearly calendar, one name has come to dominate in recent years -- the Worldwide Developer Convention.

While much of the attention, as always if fixated on the company's iPhone/iOS announcements, at this year's WWDC 2012 keynote address Apple also announced a slew of new additions to its personal computer line, including the release of its new version of OS X, OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion", new MacBook Pros/Airs (and maybe even new iMacs...waiting on that).

Here's a taste of what new Apple CEO Tim Cook offered up:

I. Laptops

i. MacBook Airs (11-/13-inch)

Of all categories laptops are a place where Apple is most competitive in terms of cost versus deliverables versus its rivals.  While Apple has delivered on certain fronts (e.g. small form factors with the Mac Mini), it's hard to deny that there's a big "Apple Tax" on Mac Pro desktops.

Laptops are a place where that "Apple Tax" is largely a case of you get what you pay for.  Apple has long competed with another pricey player -- Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) to deliver the thinnest, lightest, most full-featured ultrathins.  Now with ultrabooks coming from a slew of other companies, Apple has to put on its 'A' game.

At the 2012 WWDC keynote Apple announced new 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs.  The new designs pack a new dual-core 1.7 GHz (11-inch) or 1.8 GHz (13-inch) Ivy Bridge third-gen Core i-Series CPU from Intel Corp. (INTC), up to 8 GB of DRAM, and up to 512 GB of NAND flash storage in the SSD-driven designs.  

The base configuration comes with a 64 GB (11-inch)/128 GB (13-inch) SSD and 4 GB DRAM (both).

The new Airs also add USB 3.0 support to the two onboard ports that grace either side of the laptop (legacy USB 2.0 support is also maintained).  The USB 3.0 inclusion isn't exactly glamorous, but it at least fills in a long criticized lack in Apple's line.  A 720p FaceTime camera is also added, for those who use Apple's video-chat service.

The bad news for those Apple fans who have been blasting laptop makers for their "garbage" "low-resolution" displays, is that Apple is sticking with its low-resolution 1440x900 pixel LCD units in the MBA line (but wait, there is a silver lining, read on) -- not even bleeding edge by its own standards.  Unlike many upcoming Windows 8 designs, there's still no touch on the screen -- for better or worse.

There's also no discrete graphics, MBA owners will have to make due with integrated HD 4000 graphics from Intel.  The 11-inch starts at $999 USD (filling the slot once occupied by the defunct MacBook) and the 13-inch starts at $1199 USD.

ii. MacBook Pros (13-/15-inch)

Next up is the MacBook Pro refresh.  

Apple first unveiled a 13- and 15-inch models -- relatively ho-hum designs, with 1280x800 and 1440x900 pixel (respectively) displays and new Ivy Bridge CPUs.  The pair start at $1199 and $1799 a pop, respectively.  The 13-inch has 2.5 and 2.9 GHz dual-core CPU options, while the 15-inch model's processor options are bumped to 2.3 and 2.6 GHz quad-core chips. 

The base configurations comes with 4 GB DRAM and a 500 GB HDD.  The new Pros are 0.95-in. thick and weigh 4.5 and 5.6 lb, respectively.

An upgraded 17-inch model was not mentioned, it's possible Apple is eliminating that SKU.

iii. "Next Generation" MacBook Pro (15.4-inch)

But wait -- Apple packed a surprise -- a much more impressive single new entrant into the MacBook Pro line.  Tim Cook teased, "With the MBA, the team did something bold. There were aggressive in embracing new tech. They also got rid of stuff that was trending out. That enabled them to do something bold. So we've been asking the team to think about what would make the next gen MBP?"

"Want to know the answer?  You want it to have a killer new display. You want an architecture built for the future, you want it to be light. You want it unlike anything else.  Want to see it? Let's show it now.  The most beautfiul computer we have ever made."

Remember those dashed "Retina Display" hopes with the Air?  Well Apple is including an incredible 15.4-inch 2880x1800 pixel display on its high-end laptops.  So MBP gets double the resolution, while the MBA gets a miniscule bump.


MacBook Pro's flagship model indeed received a Retina display. 

Tim Cook remarks of the new screen on the 'Pro, "The pixels are so small that your retina cannot discern them."

Among the apps promised to make good use of that impressive resolution are Apple's own Mail, Safari (browser), iMovie, iPhoto, Aperture, and Final Cut Pro.  Apple's frienemy Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE) is also offering HD Photoshop, while AutoDesk, Inc. (ADSK) is giving the high-resolution treament to its AutoCAD app.

For the gamers out their Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI) Retina display Diablo III was briefly demoed.

The new "Next Generation" 15-inch MacBook Pros are also as thin as the Air (0.71 in.) and only weigh 4.46 lb.  What's more they also feature GeForce GT 650M graphics (1 GB GDDR5) from NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) (Kepler chip).


This new super-ultrathin packs up to a 768 GB SSD (yes, you read that right).  It gets the same 7 hour battery life as its lesser 'Pro brethren, despite its 220 ppi screen.  The discrete graphics remain unchanged, but it supports an upgrade to a 2.7 GHz CPU and support for up to 16 GB of DRAM.  Bluetooth 4.0 is onboard.

The base configurations comes with 8 GB of DRAM, a 256 GB NAND SSD, and a 2.3 GHz quad-core chip.  That variant costs $2199 USD, a cost Apple promises is due to all its custom components like "asymmetrical fans" and other ultrathin oddiities.

All the new laptops are available immediately to ship, according to Tim Cook

II. OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion"

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has received much criticism (including from Apple) for boldly importing pieces of its mobile operating system du jour (namely the Metro UI bits) into its upcoming Windows 8.  In many ways Apple is following a similar approach, bring onboard more iOS-like features, after first opening up the App Store expansion Mac App Store.

That said Mountain Lion's new features mark slightly less of an extreme makeover than Microsoft's arguably, and thus should be a bit less of a system shock to veteran users (though on the flip side potentially passing on the benefits of a more extreme redesign).

Mountain Lion
[Image Source: HD Wallpapers]

i. Yay Cloud

Craig Federighi previewed the new OS.

Apple claims that there are 65 million Macs in the wild, with 26 million of those on OS X 10.7 Lion.  Humorously Apple bragged that its own OS outsold Windows 7.  Of course it's talking about percent adoption within its drastically smaller user base, but in Apple's world it's the "fastest"* selling operating system in history (*=some restrictions may apply).  So take that, reports of slowing OS X Lion adoption.

Mountain Lion brings iCloud integration.  Apple has added "Documents in the Cloud" to iCloud, which allows you to use Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Preview, and TextEdit options to present or edit your content on the go.

The new OS also supports cloud data backup (AirPlay mirroring) when its in "sleep" mode.  The process is done silently and power-efficiently, according to Apple. 

iCloud backup
Airplay mirroring [Image Source: The Verge]

ii. New Apps

The new OS introduces 3 new apps -- messages, reminders, and notes -- whose purposes are pretty self-explanatory.  Apple also has integrated dictation with a Siri-like icon into Mountain Lion.  It even works, as Apple humorously notes in Microsoft Word.  

Mountain Lion new apps
OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion also introduces 3 new core apps. [Image Source: The Verge]

Then there's the notifications -- a feature some disliked in preview builds. (Apple has added the ability to turn them off at least.)  Sharing has also been made easier with Apple's GUI offering many options such as Twitter, Facebook, AirDrop, or Message.

A new build of the Safari browser is also onboard with unified search (like Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Chrome).  Apple claims Safari is faster than Firefox 13, Chrome 19, and Internet Explorer 9 in JavaScript.  There's a couple new additions to the browser like iCloud tabs (syncs your mobile tabs) and Tabview, which allows easy zooming in and out.

Other new features include the "Gatekeeper" security app, offline reading lists, Mail VIPs, LaunchPad Search, and more -- 200 in all by Apple's estimation.  Apple is also looking to woo Chinese buyers with freshly added Baidu.com, Inc. (BIDU) support and an improved Chinese dictionary.

iii. Availability

Apple is releasing Mountain Lion next month for $19.99 USD.  The license is good for installing on any supported existed (Apple) system.  For those buying the aforementioned fancy new laptop designs, they will receive a free bump to Mountain Lion, so early adopters won't be burned (not that $20 USD is a big deal after you've ponied up $2200 USD for that new MBP).

Sources: Apple, The Verge



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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Flunk on 6/12/2012 9:03:01 AM , Rating: 2
You do have to consider that there are other people and that everyone's eyesight is different. I'm quite nearsighted and because of that I actually see things that are close to me much better than someone with "average" sight. There are also people with above average vision. So what may be good for you may not necessarily be right for everyone.

I do see your point that the resolution seems excessive, I just have a bone to pick with your reasoning because there is a wide range of human sight to account for.

Also, you won't need a microscope for the new MacBook. Apple will just blow up the size of all the text and images so all the onscreen objects will be the same size, just more detailed. But you're right, that probably doesn't matter and even if it does it doesn't matter much.


By CubicleDilbert on 6/12/2012 9:49:58 AM , Rating: 2
I heard that the ultra high resolution is because it is just 4x Macbook (1440x900) resolution and old programs can just be scaled up. Just like with the step from regular iPhone to iPhone 4.

The human eye has only a limited amount of light receptors on its retina, much lower than e.g. eagles. And the lens is suboptimal too. The very best human eyes (beyond 20/20 vision) can distinguish about 20-30 arcsec. Regular humans (like me) have maybe 45-60 arcsec resolution.

Now building a notebook LCD that satisfies a 5-10 arcsec human eye is nonsense, because no such human exists. But it increases production costs dramatically.

I guess Apple marketing just wanted this high resolution for boasting and Apple engineers wanted the simple 2x scaling horizontally and vertically. And who cares, there are enough Apple fanatics who have more than enough money to spent on a USD 2300-2800 notebook. I don't mind.


By aliasfox on 6/12/2012 2:38:12 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, but building a display with 5 arcsec resolution would allow you to pick any resolution between 5 and 45 arcsec and still have perfectly legible (ie non-fuzzy) screens.

If (for example) 1440 x 900 equates to 60 arcsec, then 2880 x 1800 equates to 30 arcsec. Even if you pick a resolution in the middle such as 1920 x 1200, you'll *still* have a display around 45 arcsec, or 1680 x 1050 would give you around 52 arcsec - still perfectly crisp to the normal eye. If you were to start with a 1920 x 1200 resolution, scaling and aliasing artifacts would be much easier for your eye to see.

In other words, if you start with 1920 x 1200, only 1920 x 1200 and 960 x 600 would look like 'native' resolutions on an LCD. If you were to start with 2880 x 1800, the pixels are small enough that pretty much every resolution down to 1440 x 900 would look 'native,' including 1680, 1920, 2560, etc.

I could see resolutions maxing out one more step above 2880 x 1800 (5760 x 3600) in a few years - with resolution independence and dynamic scaling (along with appropriately fast hardware), the screen would be able to scale from 1440 x 900 up to 4k resolutions and you'd never actually be able to tell - everything will simply always be crisply rendered at ~300dpi - a point where your computer screen will look just as sharp as a National Geographic (printed at 300 dpi, I believe).


By TakinYourPoints on 6/13/2012 5:06:52 AM , Rating: 2
Text that requires no anti-aliasing and is sharper than physical print by itself should be enough to sell anyone on the benefits of high resolution displays. I can't believe this argument is still happening when both the iPhone and iPad have made the advantages so clear.

I can't wait to hear the argument again when 27" monitors go to 5120x2880.

"But you don't need all those pixels, herp derp"

Please


"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner














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