You forget sometimes, with all the attention showered on the iPad and iPhone, that Apple's initial infatuation was with traditional computers.
The beautiful new MacBook Pro that the company introduced at its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, shows Apple still fancies its first love.
This latest flagship is an object to be desired, a powerfully robust laptop in a .71-inch aluminum unibody design that is nearly as thin as Apple's own MacBook Air, though considerably wider. There is nothing skinny about the price, though. Add a faster processor, more generous storage and more memory to the Pro, which starts at $2,199, and the cost could swell well north of three grand.
In that sense, the computer has broader appeal to well-heeled creative professionals than to the mainstream for now. But the design suggests where Apple's portable Mac lineup is likely migrating, and will almost certainly have an effect on rival computer makers who watch Apple's every move. Ultrabooks, for one, seem to have been inspired by the MacBook Air, just as the Air inspired this more powerful Pro model.
Most users will drool over the new MacBook Pro's gorgeous low-glare 15.4-inch Retina display, the same screen technology found in the newest iPad and the later iPhones. In geeky terms, it has a screen resolution with more than 5 million pixels or picture elements, 3 million more dots than a high-definition television, and a pixel density of 220 pixels-per-inch. Text pops off the screen, icons are sharp, and color images are vivid and true to life - even in bright sunshine. Some software, including Apple's own Aperture and Final Cut Pro X programs, have been updated to take advantage of the new display.
The computer, which I only had a day to try out, is zippy. It has the latest Core i7 quad-core processors, known as "Ivy Bridge," from Intel, as well as discrete graphics-processing innards from Nvidia. Traditional hard drives have been replaced by faster, quieter, more reliable - and yes pricier - all flash storage. On the $2,199 model, you get 8 gigabytes of internal memory and 256 GB of flash storage. You can have up to 16 GB of internal memory and 768 GB of flash.
Though I wasn't able to test the claim, Apple says the presence of flash lets you play up to four simultaneous streams of uncompressed 1080p HD video from internal storage.
The computer has excellent sounding stereo speakers, two microphones, a high-definition FaceTime camera, and a handsome backlit keyboard that is a pleasure to type on. The glass multi-touch trackpad is smooth and responsive.
If you buy the MacBook Pro now, you'll get it with OS X Lion, the current flavor of Apple's Macintosh operating system. But you'll be eligible for a free upgrade when Mac OS X Mountain Lion becomes available next month.
At just under 4.5 pounds, the Pro model is heavier than its 13-inch MacBook Air sibling, which comes in at a shade under 3 pounds.
Apple claims battery life of up to 7 hours, same as on older MacBook Pros without the Retina display. The fine print reveals that Apple measures battery life by wirelessly browsing 25 popular websites and with the display brightness set to 50%. I ran a far harsher test in a hotel room, streaming a Netflix movie via Wi-Fi, brightness cranked up, all battery saving measures off. Under that scenario I got just a couple of hours, suggesting you'll do a lot better under conditions closer to Apple's testing environment.
It's also important to point out that Apple has ditched several of the features common on other notebooks. There's no optical drive for using a CD, DVD or Blu-ray. You can purchase an external USB Super Drive for $79. Apple is betting that in the age of cloud computing you'll rarely, if ever, need such a drive.
There's no ethernet port either, though adapters are available. Same goes for the FireWire port that is also a no-show on the new computer--some folks use FireWire to connect older camcorders. An adapter will be available in July.
What you will find on the new MacBook Pro instead are two USB2/USB3 combo jacks, one on each side of the unit. On the right side, there's also an SD card slot and an HDMI port for connecting the computer to an HDTV. On the left is a headphone jack, two Thunderbolt ports (a fast emerging connector that Apple is pushing for peripherals), and a MagSafe power adapter port that is incompatible with any earlier Mac power adapters you may own.
Not everyone needs or can afford the new MacBook Pro. But I wouldn't blame anybody who fancies one.
The bottom line
Apple MacBook Pro
with Retina display
www.apple.com, $2,199 and up.
•Pro. Powerful computer in beautiful, slim, light design. Gorgeous display. Fast.
•Con. Expensive. Some will miss optical drive and ports for ethernet and FireWire.
By Edward C. Baig