New MacBooks, accessories debut at WWDC

The latest Mac laptops were the star of Apple’s 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference, but a few other surprise items popped up, too.

Apple’s kickoff press conference for its 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference is now history. While the show is arguably a show aimed at the company’s army of iOS and Mac software developers –and there was plenty of new iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion news on display — WWDC was once again used as a launching pad for a variety of new hardware products as well.

In addition to a line of updated MacBook laptops (including a first-ever high-end Retina Display model), Apple also delivered some notable hardware refreshes that it didn’t choose to highlight at its press conference: a new AirPort Express router, an updated iPad case, and a very slight upgrade to its Mac Pro desktop.

The new Apple hardware and accessories, in-depth:

MacBook Pro with Retina Display: This was the big news of the show: a redesigned 15.4-inch MacBook Pro that takes some design cues from the MacBook Air line (see video above). Starting at a whopping $2,199, this one is strictly for those with deep pockets, but the 2880 x 1800 resolution Retina Screen may make it well worth the price for imaging and video professionals. It also boasts an HDMI port (an Apple first), USB 3.0, discrete Nvidia graphics, and the requisite Intel “Ivy Bridge” CPU and Thunderbolt connections.

New MacBook Pros: The Retina Screen MacBook Pro lives at the high-end, but the standard MacBook Pros got a refresh as well. While the chassis is all but identical to earlier versions, the 2012 Pros get Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs, USB 3.0, 720p HD webcams, and — in the 15-inch model — discrete Nvidia graphics. The non-Retina Pros are also the only consumer Macs that retain an integrated DVD drive. Gone, however, is the 17-inch screen size (just 13 and 15 remain). Read the CNET first take of the 2012 MacBook Pros.

New MacBook Airs: Like the standard MacBook Pros, the Airs basically got a spec bump for 2012: Ivy Bridge, USB 3.0, and 720p HD webcams. Prices still start at $999 for the 11-inch model (albeit still with a very stingy 64GB storage) and $1,199 for the 13-incher. Except for that $999 model, all of the 2012 ones are $100 less than their 2011 predecessors. Read the CNET first take of the 2012 MacBook Airs.

(Barely) new Mac Pros: Despite earlier rumors, the desktop Macs were a no-show at the Apple presser. After the show, however, the online Apple Store showed “new” versions of the Mac Pro desktops. Upon further inspection, the only upgrade on the “new” Pros appears to be an ever-so-slight CPU bump. So once again, Mac Pro lovers are left sounding like old Brooklyn Dodger fans: wait ’til next year. Read: Apple desktops get (almost) no love at WWDC

New AirPort Express: Another product not shown at the press conference but popping up on the online store: an upgraded AirPort Express. The new model gets a design change (no more wall wart), an extra Ethernet port, and — most importantly — simultaneous dual-band wireless 802.11n. That means the potential for less interference from other devices on the crowded 2.4GHz wireless band. It also maintains AirPlay audio compatibility, so you can connect it to a stereo or powered speakers to stream audio from your Mac, iPad, or iPhone. Pretty cool for a $99 router. Read the CNET first take of the 2012 AirPort Express

New iPad Smart Case: The much-beloved iPad Smart Cover — which uses magnets to induce the iPad to “wake” and “sleep” when its opened and closed — debuted alongside the iPad 2 in March 2011. But it had one big flaw: it only covered the screen, while leaving the iPad’s backside (and edges) prone to scratching. Enter the brand new $49 iPad Smart Case — which now features a snap-on back cover. A no-brainer upgrade, but one that will likely be appreciated.

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