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New Macbooks but no Apple TV

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An attendee looks at the new MacBook Pro on display at the Apple Developers Conference in San Francisco. Photo / AP
An attendee looks at the new MacBook Pro on display at the Apple Developers Conference in San Francisco. Photo / AP

The World Wide Developers Conference, AKA Dub Dub Dee Cee, is always exciting for Apple fans, but never quite as exciting as it could be. This is partly because there are always leaks, many utterly inconsequential but some not, and also because it's often pretty clear what models are due updates.

So the fans go berserk, and almost inevitably Mac sites publish wish-lists that can be over enthusiastic. So, if you were really hanging out for an all-new iPhone or and Apple Television, you'll be disappointed.

If you don't get overrun by flights of Apple tech fancy, the event is pretty solid.
But I'll start with the disappointments. No Apple Television, no iPhone 5, no 7-inch iPad. I'm not saying these were ever actually coming (except iPhone 5, that will, some day). But I've always been very sceptical about an Apple Television and a 7-inch iPad, the former because it makes no sense to me and the latter because all the iOS developers would be upset at having to retool all their apps, and if you really want a smaller iPad, get an iPod touch for goodness sake.

But there wasn't even a new Apple TV in today's announcements - I had one of these for three months, thanks to Apple, and had to return it yesterday, which I thought might mean something. It's OK, with much better film availability compared to a year ago, and it's small and easy to use, and useful for iPhoto slideshows streamed from your Mac or iPad to your TV, but the search function with that otherwise beautiful and handy little remote is an absolute verging-on-unusable pig. Why Apple hasn't released an iOS app for this still mystifies me.

But here's the good:

Firstly, Apple had its usual brag. Apple does crow about its numbers but hey, the company was still struggling just a few short years ago, so let it glory in self-back-patting.

There are now 60 million Mac users around the world, says Apple, with Apple's market share been rising exponentially in the desktop space over the past few years. Meanwhile, as is often pointed out, the rest of the PC industry has been in decline. Apple's operating system OS X Lion has forty per cent of all Mac users running the operating system nine months after it was released. Apple says 26 million copies have been shipped exclusively through the Mac App Store.

Sixty-million Macs sounds pretty good, but 365 million people have bought iDevices. I'll talk about that in a separate post.

As for hardware, the long expected new MacBook Pro models were announced, along with new MacBook airs, which I don't think anyone really expected. No new iMacs yet, though. And the long-ignored Mac Pro tower got a little bit of love. But really not much. Apple quietly released updates to the towers, nearly two years after its last update. At least the prices of the new Mac Pros have not changed, unlike the MacBook Pro (see below).

Apple offers two standard configurations of the Mac Pro. The cheapest (NZ$3999) now sports a 3.2GHz quad-core Xeon W3565 processor, capable of speeds up to 3.46GHz thanks to Turbo Boost. It supports Hyper-Threading for up to eight virtual cores, and has 8MB of L3 cache and ships with 6GB RAM. The next-up model (NZ$6099) has two 2.4GHz six-core Xeon E5645 processors, with Turbo Boost performance up to 2.67GHz. The E5645 also has Hyper-Threading (24 virtual cores) and 12MB of L3 cache, plus ships with 12GB RAM.

Apple also updated the Mac Pro Server. The updated version costs NZ$4799 and is the same as the standard Pro, but with two 1TB hard drives, 8GB of RAM and OS X Lion Server software installed.

But no Thunderbolt on these Pros, which seems crazy considering their audio-video uses, and not even USB 3, which Apple has been shunning - but did add into the new MacBooks...


So that was pretty disappointing for the tower when you consider how far Apple could go with these beautiful, workhorse and user-expandable machines.

So the real exciting news is the new MacBook Pro, available now, although expect at least a week before they arrive once you put your money down. The new 15.4-inch MacBook Pro has a 'Retina Display' which means it has four times the graphics resolution of other models (5,184,000 pixels). That's even more even than Apple's gargantuan 27-inch Cinema HD Display, all packed into a smaller area. This means sharper, more contrasty and better blacks, and while it's a glossy display, work has been done to reduce glare and reflections.

But the 17-inch MacBook Pro ... see you later. It's gone. I always thought they were too big to be portable anyway. I use a 15-inch, and at home I plug it into a larger 21-inch LG display. That was cheap and gives me the best of both worlds.

The current (still available) MacBook Pro dual-core 13-inch is NZ$1899, while the standard quad-core 15-inch is NZ$2899. The new 2.3GHz MacBook Pro with Retina has a quad-core Ivy Bridge i7 processor and costs NZ$3499, while the new Retina 2.6GHz MacBook Pro will set you back NZ$4499.

They both come with 8GB RAM, the lesser has a GeForce GT 650M video card with Kepler graphics, 1GB video RAM, and 256GB flash storage (the more expensive version has a 512GB flash drive). Yep, no optical drives at all, so they're slimmer, not wedge shaped like the Airs but overall now just 1.8cm thick. If you need an optical drive, you can buy an Apple external for $119.

The new ones both have two USB 3/2 ports, one on each side, and two Thunderbolt ports. New, too, is a built-in HDMI port.

The graphics card for both is the GeForce GT 650M with Kepler graphics and the whole unit is built around flash storage which can be configured up to 768GB. Apple promises up to seven hours of battery life and 30 days standby.

Apps have to be updated for the new displays; if they aren't, they'll be pixel doubled which will need to be seen to see how effective that is. Apple has been working with key developers to update their apps and Adobe has already updated Photoshop, for example.

Meanwhile, Apple released versions of Aperture and Final Cut Pro today to take advantage of the new display, plus Mail, Safari, iMovie and iPhoto. And the game Diablo III is ready for Retina on the Mac.

You can compare the models at Apple online.

They look pretty exciting, but frankly, with OS X and a few apps on the new standard Retina model, you will have no room for files at all, and you can't add in a traditional hard drive.

Unexpectedly, Apple also announced new MacBook Air laptops, refreshed with faster Intel Ive Bridge CPUs. USB 3.0 is now on the devices, and they have more robust RAM and storage offerings. New integrated graphics means the new Air is up to 60% faster plus up to 2GHz dual-core i7 speed. With Turbo Boost it goes up to 3.2 GHz and can be fitted with up to 8GB of 1600MHz RAM. The new Air also has the new FaceTime HD 720p camera, and it's shipping now, starting at NZ$1549 for the 11-inch and $NZ1899 for the 13-inch.

There were also some Mountain Lion announcements but I'll leave that for later.

- NZ Herald

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