(WSJ) Apple Inc. moved to infuse its Macintosh computers with popular features from its newer iPhones and iPads, including a new online store for Mac applications.
The company also introduced a restyled version of its ultrathin MacBook Air notebook. Like the iPhone, the new notebook uses chips known as flash memory rather than a disk drive for data storage, contributing to longer battery life and smaller size and weight.
Chief Executive Steve Jobs described the machine as a result of combining features from the iPad with those of the Mac. “We think all notebooks will be like this one day,” he said at a press event at Apple’s corporate headquarters.
Mr. Jobs said Apple was aggressively pricing the new MacBook Air, which previously started at $1,499. The new models start at $999 for an 11.6-inch display and $1,299 for a version with a 13.3-inch display. That narrows the gap with the iPad, which costs between $499 and $829, but remains well above low-end netbook PCs.
Apple said the new Mac App Store, similar to the one for its portable devices, will launch within the next three months. Apple also demonstrated a new version of its Mac operating system, due out next summer, and a Mac version of a technology called Facetime for conducting video calls that had previously only been available for its latest iPhone 4 and iPod Touch devices.
Once Apple’s mainstay business, the Macintosh computer unit is now eclipsed by the iPhone and comprises just 24% of the company’s overall revenues, but it has continued to grow strongly.
In the September quarter, Apple said Mac sales rose 22% from a year ago to $4.87 billion. According to research firm Gartner Inc., Appple increased its U.S. market share in the third quarter to 10.4% from 9.3% even as PC makers Dell Inc. and Acer Inc. lost ground.
Analysts had initially been worried the iPad would cannibalize Mac notebook sales, but so far, the iPad and the iPhone have helped feed demand for Apple computers, despite their premium prices. Mr. Jobs acknowledged the relationship in his presentation by discussing the “virtuous circle” of the three products.
Apple has always bundled internally developed software to boost the appeal of the Mac. On Wednesday, it showed off a new version of its iLife suite of programs, which includes photo, audio and video editing programs. The newest version, which includes enhanced ability to synchronize photos and comments from user’s Facebook accounts, is free on new Macs or $49 for existing Mac users.
But Macs have suffered from a relatively small number of titles from independent software developers, who have long have focused their efforts on the bigger market for PCs that run Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system. But the situation is reversed in the smartphone market, where the hit App Store has become a focal point for thousands of developers.
An app store for the Mac, analysts said, could create new titles for the computer and drive more user adoption of the computer line.
“The 95% of the people out there not using a Mac are going to want to migrate over to Apple’s platform because it’s so cool and because it’s so familiar now.” said Brian Marshall, an analyst at Gleacher & Co.
Clive Downie, the vice president of mobile game company Ngmoco Inc., said it is excited to see Apple “broadening the opportunity for developers and publishers.” He said his company, which was just acquired by Japanese social videogame developer DeNA Co., would continue to mainly focus on the smartphone market, but plans to look at the new opportunity.
Another app store also could generate more revenue for the company. Kaufman Brothers estimates Apple, which takes a 30% cut of app sales, currently makes roughly $2 to $2.5 billion on a yearly basis from the App Store.
The new version of Mac OS X, dubbed “Lion,” also adds more features from its mobile devices to the Mac—including enhanced multi-touch features to let users access applications and resize photos with a track-pad or mouse. Mr. Jobs said the operating system would be available next summer.
A demonstration of the new operating system showed how users can display icons for their applications in a similar way as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch and manipulate them with a swipe of their fingers.