While the announcements were not earth-shattering, the new notebook PCs do represent a significant evolutionary enhancement to the way laptops are built, once again putting Apple ahead of its competitors. I have no doubt that engineers at Hewlett Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba and other companies will be studying - and perhaps copying - the new Macs.
The big news at Apple's press conference at company headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., was the $1,299 MacBook. Weighing 4.5 pounds, the new notebook has what Apple is calling an "aluminum unibody encloser" that, according to Apple Vice President Jonathan Ive, makes the notebook stronger, and more rigid as well as a bit lighter. The new notebook also features an NVIDIA GeoForce 9400M graphics processor that Steve Jobs said will increase performance by a factor of 5, compared to older MacBooks. The new notebook also has a 13.3 inch all glass LED backlit display that not only uses less energy but delivers more vivid colors than previous technologies.
Almost as interesting as what Apple added is what they removed. The button below the trackpad is gone. Instead the trackpad is a button. If you wish to click you simply press down on the pad itself. You can also tap on the pad or use "multi-touch" gestures similar to the way people work with an iPhone. Frankly, I don't think anyone is going to miss the physical button. Using your figures to click, press, resize or move images is a lot more intuitive than dragging and clicking. The trackpad is also 39 percent larger and made of glass for smoother scrolling.
Apple also removed the firewire port from the new MacBook. This could be a problem for people who want to edit video created with a DV (Digital Video Camera). Of course the MacBook does have two USB ports but that won't help you with most DV video cameras.
Apple also introduced a new 15-inch MacBook Pro which shares many of the design innovations of the cheaper MacBook. Starting at $1,999, the new Pro has two NVIDEA graphics processors which give users the ability to trade speed for increased battery life. The base NVIDEA GeoForce 9400M is said to run for about 5 hours but users can use the 9600M for 1.5 times the speed with four hours of battery life, according to Apple. The MacBook Pro does have a firewire port that supports the faster 800 megabit per second format.
With both the MacBook and MacBook pro, Apple replaced the DVI (digital visual interface) monitor cable with a newer and smaller Mini DisplayPort. An optional $29 adapter allows you to continue to use DVI monitors.
While I had a chance to play with the machines after the press conference, I did not take either model home for testing, so I can't verify Apple's battery life or speed claims.
Both NVIDEA graphics processors replace the integrated graphics used in previous Apple notebooks. Apple will continue to use Intel CPU processors.
Apple is making a big deal about the new "unibody" frame that it introduced earlier this year with its ultra light MacBook Air. Ive said that Apple starts out with a solid block (or brick) of aluminum that is then shaved and machined down to light-weight frame that includes holes for keys and peripherals. The frame is what holds all of the components and is largely responsible for the notebook's strength and rigidity.
The new aluminum MacBook is said to be about a half pound lighter and, at .95 inches, a bit thinner than the plastic model.
While the price reduction of the older white MacBook brings it just under that magic $1,000 threshold, it's far from the most inexpensive notebook PC on the market. Dell, for example, has notebook PCs starting at under $400 with several other models under $1,000. So, people who want to use Apple notebooks will continue to pay a price premium over competing products. But, after seeing the $1,299 aluminum MacBook, I think most users in the market for an Apple notebook PC will be tempted to pay a bit extra for it over the $999 plastic notebook. In addition to being lighter and a bit thinner, it's also a lot cooler which, after all, is what Apple is all about.
By Larry Magid