While the new laptops Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) unveiled at WWDC 2012 may draw the most attention, it's the upgrades to its two operating systems that in the long run will mean more to the company's bottom line.
The Worldwide Developers Conference is Apple's annual event aimed at those who write apps for Macs, iPhones and iPads.
WWDC's "grabber" product is the next generation MacBook Pro. This very thin laptop — 0.71 inches – features the same high-resolution Retina display technology as the iPhone 4s and the third-generation iPad. It adds ports using the new USB 3.0 standard as well as Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) developed Thunderbolt technology.
Of course, all the fancy new bells and whistles come at a price – this fancy new MacBook Pro starts at $2,199.
Apple also unveiled upgrades to the rest of its MacBook line, which were all blessed with Intel's new "Ivy Bridge" chipset in addition to USB 3.0.
The popular MacBook Air also got something unexpected: a $100 price cut on both base models. That puts Apple's cheapest laptop at $999, a clear attempt to better compete with "ultrabooks" – the MacBook Air's Windows PC imitators.
Contrary to rumors, a new Mac Pro desktop did not appear at WWDC 2012. Perhaps the changes are major enough to warrant a separate "Apple event" later in the year.
WWDC 2012 and Mountain Lion
But the bulk of the WWDC keynote was all about upgrades to Apple's two operating systems – upgrades that will tighten the company's hold on the consumer electronics market.
The new features for Mac OS X 10.8 "Mountain Lion" indicate a greater emphasis on cloud computing and integration with social media, for instance.
Apple showed off a handful of the 200 new features it said are part of the next version of Mac OS X, Mountain Lion (version 10.8).
Apple's iCloud already has 125 million users, which should rise rapidly as the service is integrated more tightly with both the Mac OS and the iOS used by the iPhone. Mountain Lion adds syncing between iMessage (text messaging that bypasses the cellular carriers, avoiding their fees), Notes, Reminders, and Documents.
Documents is Apple's answer to Google Inc.'s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Google Docs. Documents created in its suite of productivity apps, such as Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheet) or Keynote (presentation) can be modified on any Apple device. Changes become available almost instantly via iCloud to all the user's other Apple devices.
Mountain Lion will also integrate more tightly with Twitter and Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB).
And in a nod to the market that will support most of Apple's future growth, Mountain Lion offers much better support for Chinese users. That means integration with many Chinese Web service providers, such as Chinese search engine Baidu.
Mountain Lion, a $19.99 downloadable upgrade for Mac users, will be available in July.
WWDC 2012 and iOS 6
Perhaps of the greatest interest to the WWDC 2012 audience was Apple's planned new features for iOS 6, the operating system used by the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Like Mountain Lion, iOS gets better integration with Facebook and Twitter. And of course, iOS will work more closely with iCloud and the Mac OS.
Beyond that, iOS 6 offers several enticing new features.
What could be a game-changing iOS 6 feature is Passbook. Here Apple has created a place to put such things as electronic tickets to movies and sporting events, airline passes, and merchant payment cards in one place.
This is another step on the road of enabling the iPhone to do NFC (near-field communication) payments, a potentially lucrative new market for Apple.
Apple also showed off the rumored 3D Maps feature, which is now integrated with Siri. So now it's easier to ask your iPhone for directions.
Apple demonstrated several improvements to Siri, the voice recognition software featured on the iPhone 4s. Siri can now deliver sports scores and statistics, and offers more restaurant information than before. It can also launch apps.
And with Siri now able to give directions, Apple said many major car manufacturers have agreed to include a Siri button on the steering wheels of some models of their cars. While the list includes luxury car makers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, it also includes General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), Chrysler, Honda Motor Co. (NYSE ADR: HMC), and Toyota Motor Co. (NYSE ADR: TM).
Overall, the announcements at WWDC 2012 should help keep Apple at the forefront of consumer technology.
With its emphasis on more and more integration, Apple continues to build an ecosystem that not only lures new customers in, but keeps old ones so satisfied that few want to leave.
Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) stock slipped 1.6% Monday to $571.17.
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