Cook unveils iOS 6, new OS X, Retina display MacBook Pro

Apple can still generate 'a ton of anticipation' about upcoming products without former CEO Steve Jobs, says analyst

Apple CEO Tim Cook and a trio of top executives took the stage today at the company's annual developers conference to outline the new iOS 6, talk up this year's Mountain Lion upgrade for OS X and unveil a new MacBook Pro laptop with a high-resolution "Retina" display.

"The products we make combined with the apps that you create, can fundamentally change the world," said Cook near the end of the keynote. "Really, I can't think of a better reason to get up in the morning."

As expected, Monday's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote focused on software -- the venue, after all, was for developers who build apps and applications for the iOS mobile operating system and OS X on the desktop -- but it also included a large dose of hardware.

Apple refreshed its notebooks today, revamping both its existing MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines but more importantly, introducing a new model in the latter, which the company's head of marketing, Philip Schiller, dubbed "next generation MacBook Pro."

"The next generation MacBook Pro is the most beautiful computer we've ever made," said Schiller, who walked attendees through the hardware refresh part of the keynote. "It's dominated by an amazing, magnificent new display."

As many pundits had expected, the new MacBook Pro features a higher resolution screen than its predecessors. Schiller called it a "Retina" display, the term Apple uses to describe the pixel-dense screens on its iPhone and iPad.

The 15-in. display provides a resolution of 2880 x 1880 pixels, or approximately 220 pixels per inch (ppi). The total number of pixels is four times that of existing MacBook Pros.

"This is the world's highest-resolution notebook display," Schiller claimed.

The next generation MacBook Pro comes stock with a quad-core third-generation Intel processor, the architecture code-named "Ivy Bridge;" Nvidia's newest graphics processor, called "Kepler" but officially designated the GeForce GT 650M; and can be ordered with as much as 768GB of flash-based storage.

The form factor is reminiscent of the MacBook Air, but somewhat thicker, and at 4.5-lbs., heavier. It ships with Lion and several Apple-made apps, including Mail and Safari, that have been updated to show off the higher resolution.

Prices start at $2,199 with a 2.3GHz quad-core i7 CPU, 8GB of memory and 256GB of space on the flash memory-based SSD (solid-state drive). The new model is available today.

"This will bring a lot of excitement back to the personal computer," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, in a Monday interview. "It puts new life, actually buckets of life, into their $2,000-plus tier, which has been pretty moribund of late.

Gottheil, who called the pricing "aggressive," also noted that the new MacBook Pro should boost Apple's Mac ASP, or average selling price, a number which has been falling as more users opt for the less-expensive notebooks in Apple's inventory.

Schiller also announced a less radical revamp of the existing MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines that also feature Ivy Bridge processors.

All new MacBook Airs now come with 4GB of memory standard -- previously, the lowest-priced model sported half that -- with the most expensive model, a 13-in. notebook, boasting 8GB. Storage space has also been increased, with the maximum now a 512GB SSD.

The new MacBook Airs also boast USB 3.0 and their built-in cameras have been upgraded to 720p. The new models begin shipping today, said Schiller.

For the slightly-heavier MacBook Pro line, Apple also went with Intel's Ivy Bridge processors, boosted RAM and for the priciest 15-in. laptop, equipped it with a quad-core processor as standard.

Prices changed for three of the four models in the Air line: All but the entry-level 11-in. Air now cost $100 less than before. The MacBook Pro laptops retained their earlier prices.

"We are so proud of this lineup.... [It's] the best in the industry," said Schiller.

After Schiller's time on stage, Craig Federighi, Apple's head of OS X development, took the WWDC crowd on a quick spin of Mountain Lion, aka OS X 10.8, the upgrade now slated to ship next month.

"Mountain Lion is a major new release with hundreds of new features," said Federighi, who then spelled out only eight, including iCloud integration, three new apps -- Messages, Reminders and Notes -- and something called iCloud Tabs in a new version of Safari.

Most of the additions in Mountain Lion had been revealed before today; Apple seeded developers with previews starting last February. But Apple had a few surprises up its sleeve, including built-in dictation, presumably via the same Siri-based technology that debuted in March on the new iPad, and Power Nap, which lets Macs conduct backups and receive updates while in sleep mode.

Power Nap works only on second-generation MacBook Airs and the new Retina-equipped MacBook Pro.

Recognizing the importance of China to its current and future revenue, Apple also added some new China-only features to Mountain Lion, including improved support for Chinese-language input, a new Chinese-language dictionary and support for Baidu, the Chinese search engine.

Federighi said that Mountain Lion would ship in July -- somewhat sooner than many had expected from Apple's "late summer" window of earlier this year -- and will be priced at $19.99, a third less than last year's Lion. Macs running either Snow Leopard or Lion can be upgraded to Mountain Lion.

The disclosure of a release month and the price mirrored Apple's practice for the last two OS X releases, when similar information was offered during 2009's and 2011's WWDC keynotes.

"Apple wants people to use their newest OS X," said Gottheil, referring to the 33% price cut of Mountain Lion. The change won't directly impact Apple's revenue, but it may help boost sales of Macs, he argued. "They want customers to enjoy the new features [in Mountain Lion], so that those people will help them sell new customers on the Mac."

Apple also unveiled some of the new features in iOS 6, the mobile operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Scott Forstall, the top executive for iOS development, announced that Siri, the voice-activated assistant that's been running in a long "beta" program on the iPhone 4S, will be available to the third-generation iPad with the iOS 6 update.

More languages have been added to Siri's comprehension, including both Mandarin and Cantonese for China and Taiwan, Italian, Spanish, French and Korean. The assistant has been tweaked to answer sports questions and by retrieving information from the popular Rotten Tomatoes website, movie-related queries as well.

Not mentioned, and apparently not in the cards, was an API (application programming interface) that would let developers tap into Siri for their own mobile apps. Gottheil had expected to see such an API announced today.

The iOS upgrade also uses Apple's own mapping technology, making good on rumors that circulated before today that the company was going to dump Google as its map provider. "We've built an entirely new mapping solution from the ground up," said Forstall, who also showed off the 3-D "Flyover" feature that shows some cities in three dimensions.

The new map app offers local search and turn-by-turn driving and walking directions, the latter a major omission on the iPhone -- and something rival Android phones had by default -- unless the owner ponied up for a separate app.

How well Apple pulls off mapping will be crucial, said Gottheil, who cited a pair of reasons why the Cupertino, Calif. company decided to tackle the technology itself.

"Google was already dealing a nicer version of maps to Android than it was to iOS -- a good reason for buyers to pick Android -- so Apple [did this] to compensate for that as well as to not make themselves vulnerable to Google's whim," Gottheil said.

iOS 6 also features tight integration with Facebook -- along the lines of the Twitter integration Apple launched last year with iOS 5 -- a new tool called "Do Not Disturb" that lets users set which notifications or calls that they receive off-hours; over-cellular FaceTime video chat; and a revamped Safari browser.

As another example of the movement toward convergence between iOS and OS X, iOS 6 also lets users tie a phone number to an Apple ID. "So if someone calls your iPhone, you can answer that call on your iPad or even Mac," said Forstall.

Other new features ranged from shared Photo Streams and VIP emails -- the latter automatically display, even on a locked screen -- and something called "Passbook," which Forstall described as a locker for all tickets and boarding passes that are stored in various apps.

"There are a lot of great apps that put your boarding passes and tickets right into the app," Forstall noted. "The problem is, when you get to the movie theater, you have to fumble around to find the app and then the ticket."

Gottheil didn't see one individual element today of iOS 6 that made him swoon, but in the aggregate, he saw a step forward by Apple. "There were many bright objects, but no shining star," he said.

Even so, he called out the Facebook integration and Passbook as two of those most likely to not only have legs, but to impress current iOS device owners and potential customers, too.

"Facebook integration is big -- it's going to make a lot of people very happy -- and I think that Passbook could become very important down the road, as a way to handle all the different virtual slips of paper, not just tickets and boarding passes, that people have on their iPhones and iPads embedded in their apps."

A beta of iOS 6 is available today for developers only, and the upgrade will support iPhone 3GS and later, the second- and third-generation iPads, and the fourth-generation iPod Touch.

Apple was coy about the release date, saying only that it would be available this fall. As it did last year, Apple is expected to launch iOS 6 alongside a new iPhone, perhaps as early as September, but failing that, in October as it did with the iPhone 4S last year.

Not surprisingly, Apple made no mention of a next iPhone, just as it kept quiet last year about a new handset.

Cook, who opened and closed the keynote, did not spend much time on stage, essentially mimicking former CEO Steve Jobs' performance at 2011's WWDC, his second-to-last public appearance.

Jobs died Oct. 5, 2011, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

"What was clear today was that Apple is perfectly capable of generating a ton of anticipation about its products without Steve being there," said Gottheil.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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