Apple also introduced redesigned iMacs -- both sizes, the 21.5-inch and the 27-inch models -- on Tuesday, raising prices $100 for each. It was the first refresh of the desktop line since May 2011.
The new all-in-one desktops pack Intel's "Ivy Bridge" 2.7GHz or 2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 processors, 8GB of memory, 1TB hard drives, and Nvidia graphics chipsets with 512MB of RAM.
New to the desktop line is a subtraction rather than an addition: Apple dropped optical drives from the machines. Apple has been gradually squeezing DVD drives from its systems for several years, and their removal from the iMac marks the completion of that project: The Cupertino, Calif. company no longer sells personal computers with built-in optical drives.
The screens remain the same size -- and contrary to rumors earlier this year, were not upgraded to Retina status -- but have been reengineered, said Schiller, with the cover glass laminated to the LCD. The systems are also substantially thinner, taking a tape at just 5mm (0.2-inch) at their edge. Resolutions remain 1,920-x-1,080-pixels for the 21.5-inch iMac, 2,560-x-1,440-pixels on the 27-inch
Schiller made much of what Apple's called "Fusion Drive," an option that combines 128GB of flash storage with a standard platter-based hard drive of between 1TB and 3TB. OS X and its bundled applications are stored on the flash drive for better performance, but other often-used applications are automatically shifted by OS X Mountain Lion to the faster flash drive.
Fusion Drive is likely not a true hybrid drive, which packs flash and platter drives in a single enclosure, but is better labeled a "hybrid solution," since the controller and software manage where data goes. OS X Lion and Mountain Lion -- the latter is pre-installed -- have a feature dubbed "Core Storage" that lets the operating system, and thus the user, see multiple physical drives as one logical drive.
Apple's 2011 acquisition of Israeli SSD maker Anobit probably played a major role in the development of Fusion Drive.
The hybrid does not come with any standard configurations Apple has spelled out on its website, but is an option. The company has not disclosed what it will charge for the feature. Storage expert Robin Harris, who blogs on ZDNet and his own StorageMojo, has pegged the additional charge at $250 on a 1TB drive.
Analysts were generally positive about the new iMacs. "I thought the intro of the hybrid drive was really good, and something users have been waiting for," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research.
But both Gottheil and Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, were taken aback by the $100 price increase. Apple usually keeps prices steady during hardware refreshes, instead swapping out newer components and adding storage space and RAM, to attract customers.
"That was surprising, especially considering how well the Windows PC makers are doing with all-in-ones," said Moorhead, referring to iMac look-alikes that cost considerably less.
The 21.5-inch iMac starts at $1,299, while the 27-inch desktop begins at $1,799.