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Apple's Updates: Cheaper Laptops, A Mac OS X Upgrade, New iPhone Software And Hardware

Apple opened its annual Worldwide Developers Conference this morning by introducing a round of updates to its laptop, operating-system and mobile-phone product lines.

(My thanks to the liveblogs at Gizmodo and Engadget, plus everybody Twittering away about the news, for relaying the keynote as it happened.)

A set of Apple executives and developers, led by marketing vice president Phil Schiller, began this two-hour presentation at San Francisco's Moscone West convention center by unveiling a set of cheaper, yet more capable MacBook Pro laptops. The 15-inch model (the name refers to the size of its screen) now starts at $1,699 instead of $1,999, while the 13.3-inch model -- until today, it was called a plain old MacBook -- now goes for $1,199, $100 less than before.

Both new models adopt the sealed-in-the-case rechargable battery of the 17-in. MacBook Pro Apple introduced at January's Macworld Expo -- which itself just got a $300 price cut. In addition, these two upgraded laptops add an SD Card slot for the nearly ubiquitous memory cards; on the 15-incher, that comes at the cost of an ExpressCard slot. (SD Cards would be completely ubiquitous if Sony, Fuji and Olympus would finally admit the uselessness of their proprietary Memory Stick and xD-Picture Card formats.)

The 13.3-in. MacBook Pro also adds the backlit keyboard and FireWire 800 data port of its bigger sibling -- addressing some of my major complaints about the model Apple shipped last year under the MacBook name.

The ultralight MacBook Air got its own price cut, dropping to $1,499 from $1,799. Its solid-state drive option now costs far less; a 128-gigabyte "SSD" flash-memory drive now only adds $300 to the price.

Next, Apple showed off the next version of its operating system: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. The company said it will use less disk space and run faster than the current release, 10.5 Leopard (which I think pretty good in its own right.) Snow Leopard, only available for Macs with Intel processors, will feature an upgraded Safari 4 browser -- also available today as a separate download for Mac and Windows, now that Apple has ended its beta testing -- a slicker, more capable QuickTime video player and support for Microsoft's Exchange 2007 mail/calendar/contacts server, used in many offices.

Apple will charge Leopard users only $29 to upgrade to Snow Leopard. It will ship in September -- a month before Microsoft plans to deliver its own operating-system upgrade, Windows 7, at an unannounced price that (let me take a wild guess here) won't be nearly as cheap for most Windows Vista users.

The last chunk of the "WWDC" keynote was taken up with iPhone news, not all welcomed by the audience of developers, journalists, and analysts.

Apple first showed off the iPhone OS 3.0 software that it previewed in March, demonstrating such new-yet-overdue features as the ability to copy and paste text and receive multimedia messages. But while the 3.0 software will ship June 17, AT&T users won't get multimedia messaging until "later this summer" -- a revelation that led Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen to react by writing "FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL." That carrier, the only one to offer the iPhone in the United States, will also sit out another new iPhone feature -- "tethering," the ability to connect an iPhone to a computer via USB or Bluetooth for service as a wireless modem.

When iPhone OS 3.0 arrives -- it'll be free for iPhone users, $9.95 for iPod touch owners -- subscribers to Apple's $99/year Mobile Me service will get a bonus "Find My Phone" feature that will let them locate their device, remotely order it to display a this-phone-is-lost note on its screen and, if necessary, wipe its data.

After a long series of demonstrations of 3.0-enabled applications from such vendors as Gameloft (a racing game), ScrollMotion (an e-book and e-magazine reader) and TomTom (a GPS-guided navigation program, with an optional car mount -- yet another reason why I think standalone GPS receivers seem ultimately doomed), Schiller revealed the next iPhone.

The new iPhone 3G S looks much the same on the outside as the existing iPhone 3G, but it features more powerful components that Schiller said perform a variety of tasks 2 or 3 times as fast as the current model. It includes a new 3-megapixel camera that can record video in addition to still images, a voice-control feature that lets you place calls and control music playback by speaking commands to the phone, a digital compass and built-in support for Apple's Nike+ running-tracking system. The 3G S will go on sale to AT&T customers in the U.S. on June 19 in two versions: $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of memory, $299 for a 32-GB version. The current model now sells for $99 and will remain in stores alongside the 3G S.

Note the things that Apple did not mention in today's keynote: the increasingly-irrelevant Apple TV; its desktop Macs (though they got their own revisions in March); any sub-$999 laptops (much less a Mac netbook that would let Apple compete in that booming sector of the business); the rumored-but-possibly-mythical Apple tablet computer; and founder and chief executive Steve Jobs (supposedly, he's recovered from his illness and is ready to get back to work, but he didn't make an appearance this morning).

So there you have it. Is this the news from Apple that you wanted to hear today? What else were you hoping to see come out of the keynote? The comments are yours...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 8, 2009; 3:12 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Mac  
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I was hoping for a new iPod touch. The iPhone is cool, but not right for me now. My 32GB touch is good, but I'd like to see features like a camera and a more reliable battery (though maybe it's just that mine's a dud).

Maybe in the fall.

Posted by: deduck | June 8, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand the upgrade options at AT&T for existing iPhone 3G users. Does AT&T give me the equipment discount and extend my plan two years or do I have to pay full price for an iPhone 3G S?

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | June 8, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe Apple TV is being abandoned. Something more is going to happen in that space.

I wanted multitasking for third party apps in the new iPhone, but understand why Apple decided to default to better battery management.

Current iPhone customers who have had contracts since the original iPhone are offered the 3G S at prices higher than new customers but lower than recent purchasers. My inquiry result was $499 for the 32GB 3G S. The message also told me when I would be eligible for a regular upgrade for $299.

Posted by: query0 | June 8, 2009 9:16 PM | Report abuse

yes!!! finally, i'll be able to find my phone! and snow leopards will be a wonderful download and so cheap too.
but i think the big deal will be the $99 iPhone so ATT can give it free with the data plan. These data plans are expensive, but a free phone might make a big difference to the consumer.

Posted by: mollytjm | June 9, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

You have written before about wireless handset lockdowns. So why bother to introduce tethering if it isn't available from the carrier? Does it work in Europe?

Yet another sign of monopoly behavior from AT&T, who would rather sell you a separate wireless plan for your MacBook rather than let you have "free" wireless access using your iPhone -- which of course comes with hefty data plan charges.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | June 9, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

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