Touchy-feely new MacBook Pros are smaller, faster and more expensive

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Apple's 2016 MacBook Pro marks the first redesign since 2012

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Tim Cook and company rolled out this year's MacBooks at an Apple special event in Cupertino today. The line axed the 11-inch MacBook Air and introduced three updated Pro models. Of these, two are equipped with Touch Bar, a multi-touch interface just above the keyboard with customizable app-specific shortcuts.

Evidently, Apple believes Touch Bar and other bundled updates will increase consumer excitement and productivity enough to substantiate a higher price tag. This year's MacBook Pros received a considerable price hike over last year's lineup, and a significant portion of the keynote today focused on Touch Bar's use in professional applications.

Touch Bar replaces the physical F1-F12 function keys with dynamic shortcuts that change depending on personal preferences and the app in use. It also includes Touch ID, bringing iPhone-style fingerprint-powered security to the laptop computing experience.

Touch Bar's utility was demonstrated in both native and third-party apps, where it replaces mousing and clicking with tapping and swiping. In some cases, it removes toolbars off of the display and onto the keyboard area. For example, in Messages, Touch Bar populated with emojis and predictive text suggestions. In Mail, it was populated with compose, replying, flagging and folder buttons. While using Photos, the Touch Bar could be used to browse and perform quick edits.

Touch Bar was also demonstrated with Final Cut Pro, Photoshop and DJ Pro, with app-specific functions along the same lines. These third-party apps promised to start supporting Touch Bar by the end of the year, and Apple also promised future compatibility with Microsoft Office.

A demonstration with Photoshop showed how Touch Bar could be used to work with both hands on the keyboard during photo-editing applications

This year's MacBook Pros also include much larger Force Touch trackpads (46 percent bigger on the 13-inch models, 50 percent bigger on the 15-inch), a second-generation butterfly mechanism keyboard, and louder speakers with double the dynamic range. Display upgrades include a 25 percent larger color range and a 67 percent higher contrast ratio.

They have also been made thinner and lighter. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has been shaved down to 14.9-mm (0.59-inch) thick, a 17 percent decrease from last year. The 15-inch version is 15.5-mm (0.61-inch) thick, for a 14 percent reduction. Both sizes weigh half a pound less than their previous counterparts. All run with macOS Sierra.

The base model MacBook Pro, with the 13-inch display with traditional function keys (no Touch Bar) starts at US$1,499 – a $200 hike over the previous 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. That new model includes an Intel Core dual-core i5 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.1 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of flash storage. This model starts shipping today.

As for the Touch Bar-equipped variants, the 13-inch version starts at $1,799. It is equipped with an Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of flash storage. The 15-inch size starts at $2,399 and features an Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.5 GHz, 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of flash storage. These models are available for pre-order today and start shipping in 2-3 weeks.

Secondary to the MacBook reveal, Apple also announced updates to Apple TV. A new app entitled simply "TV" will be released before the end of the year; it unifies television, movie, news and sports content, drawn from other apps, and displays them all in one place for easier viewing. The TV app will also work on iPhone and iPad.

Product page: Apple

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