Apple touched up its line of laptop computers Tuesday with a minimal nod to the economic turmoil that might push consumers to be more frugal...

Share story




CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple touched up its line of laptop computers Tuesday with a minimal nod to the economic turmoil that might push consumers to be more frugal this holiday shopping season.

Apple did lower its least expensive laptop, the existing version of the entry-level MacBook, by $100 to $999.

But in the updated versions of its MacBook and MacBook Pro machines, Apple focused mainly on adding features.

Some had been in the svelte MacBook Air, including thinner laptop casings and a “multitouch” track pad, which, like the iPhone, understands gestures for spinning and zooming.

In an event at Apple’s headquarters, Chief Executive Steve Jobs also said the company had broadened its use of graphics chips and associated technologies from Nvidia, at the expense of Intel, which still supplies the computers’ central processors.

Jobs said the change speeds up processing-intensive activities — playing popular 3-D video games, for example — as much as sixfold.

As at other events in the last few months, Jobs appeared thin but, in a tongue-in-cheek nod to persistent questions about his health, projected a slide with his healthy 110-over-70 blood-pressure reading.

Apple shares fell $6.18, or 5.6 percent, to close at $104.08. Investors may be concerned the price cut won’t be big enough for buyers amid the economic slump, said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

Apple gets half its revenue from the Mac, with laptop sales climbing at more than twice the pace of desktops last year. The MacBook is Apple’s best-selling machine, Jobs said.

Jobs declined to take questions on the economy, telling reporters and analysts, “There are much smarter people than us that you can ask about the global financial meltdown.”

“People wanted a price cut,” Minneapolis-based Munster said Tuesday. “They wanted $900 MacBooks.”

Still, consumers probably will be impressed with the new designs, which represent a “substantial upgrade,” Munster said. The current MacBook, enclosed in a white plastic casing, had sold for $1,099.

Apple’s decision to keep most laptop prices well over $1,000, despite PC makers whose cheapest notebooks cost less than $500, would appear to reflect the company’s confidence it can maintain its premium status even in tough times.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief operating officer, said it was benefiting from negative press for Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system.

He also pointed out that Macintosh sales growth has far outpaced the broader PC market over the last several quarters.

Market tracker IDC said in its last quarterly report, in July, that Apple ranked third in the U.S. PC market, with 7.8 percent share.

The redesigned laptops are thinner and lighter, and use what Apple touted as a construction “breakthrough” when it debuted in the super-slim MacBook Air in January.

All the new laptops now use casings cut and tooled from aluminum, without a stronger skeleton fused to the insides.

At the lowest end of the redesigned laptops, a MacBook will cost $1,299, while the most expensive MacBook Pro, which comes with two graphics chips from Nvidia for extra-fast graphics processing, costs $2,499 — a $300 reduction from the previous top model.

An updated MacBook Air, the ultrathin portable notebook that does not have a CD or DVD drive on board, begins at $1,799, just as the previous Air did.

The track pads built into MacBooks and MacBook Pros also got a makeover.

They’re much larger and made from glass for smooth scrolling. Instead of a separate button to mimic the clicking of a mouse, the entire track pad depresses.

Material from Bloomberg News is used in this report.