Opening Macworld Expo San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced a new laptop and an iMac computer that use Intel's latest processor, six months ahead of the schedule outlined by Apple last year.
Excitable Mac fans not disappointed
The long-awaited update to Apple's laptop line was unveiled before a cheering crowd of Apple fans at San Francisco's Moscone Center. Intel's Core Duo processor will be used inside a 15.4in laptop now called the MacBook Pro, as well as in 17in and 20in iMac computers. The popular iMac uses an all-in-one design, in which the computer's motherboard sits behind the display.
Intel's president and CEO, Paul Otellini, joined Jobs on stage to announce the new systems, which Jobs said are up to five times more powerful than comparable notebooks using the G4 processor.
"It's not a secret we've been trying to shoehorn a G5 [processor] into a notebook, and have been unable to do so because of its power consumption," Jobs said. The G5, or PowerPC 970FX processor, is used in Power Mac desktops and iMacs, but Apple never released a version of its notebook lineup with the chip. The Core Duo processor provides roughly five times as much performance per watt of power consumption as the G4 or G5 chips, he added.
The 2.5kg laptop comes with an Apple-developed technology called MagSafe, which is designed to prevent a user's notebook from flying off the table when someone trips over the power cord. MacBook Pros will use a power cord that is magnetically attached to the notebook, so if the cord gets yanked it merely detaches from the notebook rather than taking the notebook with it to the floor, Jobs said.
The MacBook Pro will not be available until February, but Apple is taking orders for the systems now, Jobs said. Two versions will be available for £1,429 and £1,779 respectively, including VAT.
For £1,429, the MacBook Pro comes with a 1.67GHz Core Duo processor, 512MB of DDR2 (double data rate 2) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), an 80GB hard drive, Apple's SuperDrive DVD/CD burner, a Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics chip from ATI with 128MB of video memory and integrated Wi-Fi support. The £1,779 version features a 1.83GHz Core Duo processor, 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM, a 100GB hard drive, SuperDrive, a X1600 graphics chip with 256MB of video memory and integrated Wi-Fi support. Both systems ship with Apple's Front Row media software and an infrared remote control.
Jobs ran the ubiquitous demonstrations that are part and parcel of Macworld keynotes on an iMac with the Core Duo processor. The new iMacs will be the same price as previous systems and are shipping immediately.
The 17in iMac comes with a 1.83GHz Core Duo processor, 512MB of DDR2 DSRAM, a 160GB hard drive, integrated Wi-Fi support, double-layer SuperDrive and the X1600 with 128MB of video memory for £929. The 20in iMac costs £1,229 and includes a 2GHz Core Duo, 512MB of DDR2 SDRAM, a 250GB hard drive, integrated Wi-Fi support, double-layer SuperDrive and the X1600 with 128MB of video memory.
Bob O'Donnell, research vice-president for client devices at IDC, was impressed by the performance of the new systems as compared with Apple's previous-generation technology, but said the prices of the new iMacs were higher than he had expected.
"It would have been nice if they were faster and cheaper [compared with older iMacs]," O'Donnell said.
Intel's Core Duo processor, formerly known as Yonah, was built from two Pentium M processor cores. It was formally introduced last week at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The chip uses a different instruction set from the one used by Apple's G4 and G5 processors, so software developers need to port their applications to the new chips. New Apple software, including an operating system update and new versions of its iLife and iWork software released yesterday, has been designed to run on both the PowerPC and x86 instruction sets, Jobs said. Other software developed for PowerPC chips will run in translation mode on new Intel x86 Macs using a technology called Rosetta.
Programs running with Rosetta are not powerful enough for professional Mac users, who push the performance limits of software like Adobe's Photoshop, but should be fine for home users, Jobs said. By March, users with professional PowerPC-based Apple applications such as Aperture will be able to trade in the most current version of that software for new 'universal applications' that will run on either PowerPC or Intel Macs, for a price of $49 (about £28).
Financial analysts who have been waiting to see if Apple's brisk iPod sales would translate into Mac market-share gains will probably get one of their first tests of the so-called 'halo theory' with these systems, said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies. Apple professionals signalled their approval of the new systems with more noise than the polite applause usually reserved for technology industry keynote speeches, meaning that regular users will probably follow suit, he said.
"If the Apple core is interested, the average American consumer looks at these and says, 'That's not bad,'" Bajarin said. "But the iPod is still what is getting people in the Apple stores."
Jobs announced that Apple sold 14 million iPods during the fourth quarter, up from sales of 4.5 million iPods during the same period in 2004. The iPod sales allowed Apple to record $5.7bn (£3.2bn) in revenue for the quarter, he said. Apple was not expected to release financial results until next Wednesday, and analysts had been expecting $5.04bn (£2.9bn) in quarterly revenue, according to Thomson First Call.
Apple also unveiled its own iPod Radio Remote, and released an update for Mac OS X Tiger.
This story first appeared on Macworld.co.uk.