CUPERTINO, Calif. -- Apple unveiled a redesigned MacBook Pro, which incorporates smartphone-like touch screen features right into the keyboard and carries a higher price tag of $1,800.
Apple has been furiously updating its smartphones every year, but it has been years since customers saw much more than basic refreshes of the company's highest-end laptop. At its event here, Apple spent considerable time showing off its newest innovation for its new MacBook Pro. The company called it the "touch bar," which replaces the long-standing function keys at the top of the keyboard with a small touch-screen strip.
The touch bar changes depending on the program that is running on the computer. It offers quick typing suggestions in a word processor, emojis in a texting program, or volume and play buttons in a music program. It also offers "touch id", enabling a user to unlock the computer with a fingerprint.
The 13-inch MacPro Pro without the touch bar costs $1,500. The new feature brings that price up to $1,800. The 15-inch screen starts at $2,000. Previously the MacBook Pro line started at $1,300.
The rising price of Apple's notebooks is unusual in the consumer electronics world where products such as big-screen TVs and computers become cheaper over time. But Apple has been making a bid to become an upscale retailer, something some analysts long ago thought was difficult to do in mass-produced hardware computers.
"The price points for the new MacBook Pro models sit in a rarified stratum of the PC market," J.P. Gownder, a technology analyst at Forrester, said Thursday. Laptops and tablets designed by Microsoft, he added, "have eaten away at Apple's lead among both high end buyers and creators, so Apple had to fight back.... but Apple's deep brand loyalty will make the products successful among the target audience anyway."
Price also appears to be the way that Apple is distinguishing its somewhat confusing lineup of laptops. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro is actually thinner and weighs the same as Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air, which was originally intended to be the company's ultra-light laptop. The MacBook Air is priced at $1,000 and is Apple's cheapest notebook. Beyond these computers, Apple also offers its traditional MacBooks at various screen sizes, starting at $1300.
Apple said its new MacBook Pro had a 67 percent brighter screen, a faster processor, and was lighter -- 4 pounds for the 15-inch notebook, which Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said was "almost unheard of" for a high-performance professional notebook. The laptops could be ordered online starting Thursday.
Apple did not update its iPads or desktop Macs. In August, Bloomberg reported that Apple was working on new iMacs and a new high-end "Thunderbolt" display, but fairly reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities says that these are unlikely to come out until 2017.
The Apple event comes just a day after Microsoft introduced two new expensive computers — the Surface Book laptop and the Surface Studio desktop. Microsoft took aim at its old rival, Apple, by noting that the Surface Book was three times faster than Apple's best 13-inch MacBook Pro. Thursday, Apple had its chance to hit back with a few jabs of its own.
Apple kicked off its announcements with a somewhat unexpected subject: Apple TV.
The company did not announce a new version of its set-top box, but it announced some new apps that could make the device more appealing to consumers. Apple chief executive Tim Cook said that Minecraft, the popular building game owned by Microsoft, will hit Apple TV by the end of the year. Twitter's Ryan Troy, the company's global lead for TV devices, also took to the stage to show off the new Apple TV Twitter app, which is being held up as a prime example of interactive viewing apps.
Apple is trying to simplify the Apple TV for users — a key move as more cord-cutting services flood users with more options than they may actually be willing to sift through. With a new Apple TV app simply called “TV,” the company is aggregating users' many streaming options into one spot, making it easier to search and surface content. It looks somewhat like iTunes, but with television content. And, of course, it works with Siri for search.
The app will look the same across Apple TV, iPhone and iPad and will be part of a free update in December.
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