Apple's Snow Leopard poised to pounce

Apple announced four major revisions to its product line-up at its annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) this week, including the iPhone 3G S, the MacBook Pro Family, Safari 4 and the long-awaited update to Mac OS X, Snow Leopard.

Philip Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, used his keynote speech to unveil the new iPhone 3G S; the new MacBook Pro Family of laptop computers; the release of the long-awaited upgrade to Apple's operating system, Mac OS X 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard), and the official public release of Apple’s web browser Safari 4.

iPhone 3G S

The iPhone 3G S was billed by Apple as “the fastest, most powerful iPhone yet”, running at twice the speed of the previous generation iPhone 3G. The new phone will also have improved battery life, a three-megapixel autofocus camera, video recording and hands free voice control.

iPhone 3G S will also include the new iPhone OS 3.0 mobile operating system, bringing over 100 new features such as Cut, Copy and Paste, Spotlight Search, enhanced accessibility tools, a GPS-controlled Compass app and more. It will also finally bring MMS (text message) capability to the iPhone.

“We think people will love the incredible new features including autofocus camera, video recording and the freedom of voice control,” said Schiller.

iPhone 3G S will feature the OpenGL ES 2.0 standard for higher-quality 3D graphics and will support 7.2 Mbps HSDPA for faster networking speeds.

The new iPhone 3G S will be available in the UK on June 19. Pricing has yet to be confirmed.

MacBook Pro

Apple also refreshed and consolidated its laptop line, renaming its entire range the MacBook Pro Family. 

The aluminium unibody MacBook Pro Family will comprise of three laptops with a choice of either a 13”, 15” or 17” screen. Up to 40 per cent additional battery life is advertised courtesy of Apple’s Adaptive Charging technology and the advanced battery chemistry first introduced with the 17-inch MacBook Pro earlier this year. Each machine also includes an LED-backlit display for improved colour intensity; Apple’s glass Multi-Touch trackpad; an illuminated keyboard and either an SD card or ExpressCard slot.

All MacBook Pro systems can for the first time be upgraded with up to 8GB of RAM and up to a 500GB hard drive or a 256GB solid state drive. Firewire (in the shape of a FW800 port) has also been restored to the entry-level MacBook, following its controversial removal during the last MacBook revision in October 2008

Apple is touting the MacBook Pro Family as the computing industry’s greenest laptops range, with all Mac notebooks achieving EPEAT Gold status, meeting Energy Star 5.0 requirements

“Starting at just £899, the aluminium unibody MacBook Pro is more affordable than ever and sets a new standard for environmentally friendly notebook design,” said Schiller. 

Apple also took the opportunity to update the MacBook Air laptop, lowering the price and increasing processor speed and drive size.

All four laptops are available immediately.

Snow Leopard

One year after a preview release was issued to developers at WWDC 08, Apple has officially confirmed a public release date for the next upgrade to the Mac OS: Mac OS X 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard) will be available in September 2009.

Snow Leopard’s focus is on streamlining the OS for greater speed, efficiency and a smaller hard drive footprint. Apple states that Snow Leopard is half the size of the previous version and frees up to 6Gb of drive space once installed.

Snow Leopard brings support for 64-bit applications. OS X system applications such as Finder, Mail, iCal, iChat and Safari will be 64-bit and Snow Leopard’s support for 64-bit processors makes use of large amounts of RAM, while remaining compatible with 32-bit applications.

Two further new features under the hood, Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) and Open CL (a C-based open standard), provide a new way for software to take advantage of multicore processors and allow developers to tap the power of the graphics processing unit respectively.

Snow Leopard also offers out of the box support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, the inclusion of which offers the potential for much easier integration of Macs into any business enterprise.

“We’ve built on the success of Leopard and created an even better experience for our users from installation to shutdown,” said Bertrand Serlet, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “Apple engineers have made hundreds of improvements so with Snow Leopard your system is going to feel faster, more responsive and even more reliable than before.”

Snow Leopard will ship as an upgrade for Mac OS X Leopard (OS X 10.5) users. Support for earlier versions of the OS is limited to Tiger only (OS X 10.4). Furthermore, Snow Leopard will only run on Intel-based Macs: Apple will no longer develop software for Macs running on the PowerPC chip architecture.

With regard to legacy applications, Snow Leopard will not include Apple’s code-translator Rosetta by default: if a user needs to run PowerPC applications, Rosetta will have to be installed from the Mac OS X DVD. Support for Universal Binary software – i.e. applications coded to run on both Intel and PowerPC chips - will continue.

Safari 4

Following an extensive public beta phase, Safari 4 is available immediately. It features the Nitro JavaScript engine which Apple claims runs JavaScript up to 4.5 times faster than Safari 3. Apple’s own tests also suggest Safari 4 noticeably outperforms Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.

The new version of Safari also promises more intuitive and enjoyable browsing, courtesy of features such as Top Sites, which presents a picture wall-style overview of frequently visited and favourite pages; Full History Search, which details titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages, and Cover Flow – Apple’s visual concept for finding information by flicking through thumbnail images of files like browsing CDs in a rack. Apple already uses Cover Flow extensively in both iTunes and Mac OS X’s Finder windows.

Safari 4 also supports modern web standards, such as HTML 5 for offline technologies and advanced CSS Effects. Safari is also the first browser to pass the Web Standards Project’s Acid3 test, which examines how well a browser adheres to CSS, JavaScript, XML and SVG standards that are specifically designed for dynamic web applications.

“The successful beta release helped us fine tune Safari 4 into an even better, faster version that customers are going to love,” said Schiller.

When Snow Leopard is released later this year, Safari 4 will run as a 64-bit application, further boosting the performance of the Nitro JavaScript engine. Snow Leopard will also make Safari 4 more resistant to crashes by running plug-ins in a separate process.

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