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Apple unveils cheaper, faster MacBook Air

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference was chock-full of announcements, but perhaps the most compelling was its faster and cheaper new MacBook laptop line.

Still, the new products weren’t enough to lift Apple’s stock out of the mini funk it’s been along with the rest of the market lately. Shares were relatively flat Monday, June 11th.

WWDC kicked off with jokes from Siri, the iPhone’s voice assistant. Apple CEO Tim Cook helmed the conference for the first time, after the death of former CEO Steve Jobs in October.

Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller talked about the hotly anticipated updates to the company’s laptops.

MacBooks: The ultra-thin MacBook Air got a $100 price cut, now starting at $999 for 11-inch models and $1199 for the 13-inch version. Each will feature a 720p camera and new Ivy Bridge processors from Intel.

The rest of the Air’s guts are also new and improved: up to 8 GB of memory and 512 gigabytes of flash storage. The new Air models begin shipping Monday.

Schiller took a swipe at ultrabooks, the super-thin laptop PCs that launched last year but haven’t taken off so far, as a failed attempt to knock off the MacBook Air: “Everyone is trying to copy it, but it’s not so easy.”

The higher-end MacBook Pro will also feature an Ivy Bridge processor. The new model includes 60% faster graphics and up to 1 GB of video memory. As before, the Pro starts at $1199 for a 13-inch model.

Then Schiller literally pulled the cloth off a new notebook: the MacBook Pro with Retina display. This next-generation Pro features an iPad-like high-pixel display, at 2880 x 1800 pixels. It starts at $2,199.

Apple says it’s the “world’s highest resolution display,” and programs including Final Cut Pro and Safari have been updated to take advantage. Glare is reduced by 70%.

The next-gen Pro is just 0.17 inches thick, about the same as a MacBook Air, and weighs about 4.5 pounds. It features 1 GB of video memory, up to 760 GB of flash storage and about 7 hours of battery life.

Operating system updates: Mac software head Craig Federighi detailed more features of OS X Mountain Lion, the operating system that’s “designed with innovations from iPad.”

Mountain Lion will include than 200 new features, Federighi said. That includes apps optimized for its iCloud sync service, more sharing options, streamlined web browsing and new dictation capabilities.

The OS will be available next month for $19.99, about $10 cheaper than the previous version.

Scott Forstall, the head of iOS software — which powers the iPhone and iPad — talked about Apple’s new iOS 6, which will include more than 200 new features. Forstall noted improvements with the Siri voice assistant — which will now be available on the iPad.

Other iOS 6 features include a “Do Not Disturb” option, in which users can control which calls they want to receive — or set reminders to call back later. FaceTime video calls can also now be made over a cell network, instead of only Wi-Fi.

Meanwhile, the iPhone is becoming increasingly mass-market, as two wireless carriers recently announced they’ll offer prepaid plans. Leap Wireless’ Cricket brand will start selling the first prepaid iPhone on June 22. One week later, Virgin Mobile will add the device to its own prepaid lineup.

At last year’s WWDC — which the late Jobs ran — Apple unveiled its iCloud service and software updates for iPhone, iPad and Macintosh computers. Those updates included new features similar to popular third-party apps like Instapaper and GroupMe, which left some developers nervous.

Apple stock: To infinity and beyond? While many industry watchers believe Apple’s stock is fairly valued, its shares have been on a meteoric rise over its record-breaking past few months.

Shares are up 45% in 2012 alone, with double-digit percentage growth in January, February and March. That followed a stellar earnings report in January, in which Apple said it generated record tech-industry sales of $46.3 billion for its fiscal first quarter.

Apple shares topped $600 for the first time on March 15, just one month after they cracked the $500 level. A few days later the company announced a stock dividend — its first since 1995 — and a share buyback.

On April 10, Apple’s valuation briefly crossed the $600 billion mark, a feat previously achieved only by Microsoft.

But after that milestone, Apple’s stock fell prey to weakness in the overall market. The stock tumbled 11% in a one-month period from early April to early May, despite reporting strong quarterly earnings.

After a further dip in early May, Apple shares have bounced back a bit and are trading at about $585 each.

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