CUPERTINO, Calif. — Once upon a time, Apple was all about computers.
But in 2007, the iPhone took a bow, and the company’s laptops and desktops suddenly slipped into that best
-selling smartphone’s long shadow.
On Thursday, Apple looked to return its sleek Macs to the spotlight, introducing what the company hopes will be a market-differentiating laptop feature called TouchBar. There’s now also the ability to sign into your MacBook with a fingerprint.
The new bells and whistles come not a moment too soon. Improved laptop and desktop offerings from rivals such as Microsoft and IBM have cut into Mac sales, which for the fiscal year ending Sept. 24 were down 10% year-over-year to 18.5 million units, while Mac revenues were also down 10% to $22.8 billion.
In fact, Microsoft needled Apple Thursday by offering consumers $650 f
or a MacBook trade-in towards a Microsoft Surface laptop, which features a touch-sensitive screen.
By contrast, the portion of the new MacBook that responds to touch is a long strip of glass positioned where those lonely function keys collected dust.
TouchPad’s Retina-display strip gives users instant access to an array of digital buttons related to whatever app they’re working in. Sending a text message? TouchPad surfaces emojis. Looking through photos? TouchPad offers handy image editing options.
Another innovation to the venerable MacBook is a new TouchID feature cribbed straight from the iPhone. Press your finger against a small pad near the power button and you can not only log into the device but also OK online purchases.
It remains to be seen if these laptop upgrades will be enough to move the sales needle this upcoming holiday season. Significantly, this product event comes just days after the company reported its first annual sales drop in 15 years, largely due to slowing iPhone sales.
Apple fiscal year 2016 revenue of $215.6 billion declined 8% from the $233.7 billion it rang up the previous fiscal year. The fourth-quarter results mark Apple’s third consecutive quarter of declining revenue and iPhone shipments.
“The TouchBar is interesting, but I think the difference-maker will be how many ISVs (independent software vendors) invest in it, ” says Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.
Moorhead says that going with a touch-sensitive screen would have been the bigger leap. As it stands, he is eager to see Apple offer “some more differentiated add-one like storage, graphics and even a dock in the future.”
The new MacBooks come in 15- and 13-inch sizes. The machines are roughly 15% thinner and lighter than their predecessors. The display is 67% brighter with 25% more colors. There is also a 13-inch new MacBook available with out the new TouchBar.
Pricing: $1,499 for the 13-inch without TouchBar, $1,799 for the 13-inch with TouchBar and $2,399 for the 15-inch with TouchBar. The laptops can be ordered today, with the versions featuring TouchBar shipping in the next two to three weeks.
Other companies also are working on making sure their products work with TouchPad, Apple executives said. For example, Microsoft will make Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Skype for Business work with TouchBar shortcuts.
“It’s the gold standard in notebooks,” said Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller, bringing up an image of Apple’s original laptop from the early days of mobile computing.
“The new MacBooks are 6.8 million times faster than that first device,” he said. “Put another way, a full year of compute time can be accomplished in less than five seconds on the new MacBook Pro.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook also announced a new app for Apple TV simply called TV, or formerly known as the Videos app.
Click on the TV app – which also will appear on your iPad or iPhone — and everything you’ve been watching, whether it’s a purchased movie or your binge-TV fare, automatically surfaces. It will be available by the end of the year.
Siri also comes into play with the new TV app. Ask what football games are playing, and the app immediately pulls up every game that is playing live at that moment.
“Now there’s a unified TV experience, one place to discover and enjoy your favorite shows across your devices,” said Cook.
Apple shares dropped 3% on the earnings news, and was down 0.9% Thursday to $114.48.
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava @marcodellacava