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Next-gen MacBook Pro to shine brighter

A forthcoming update to Apple's MacBook Pro line will usher in a generation of more vibrant and uniformly-colored notebook displays thanks to some new underlying backlight technology, AppleInsider has learned.

Confirming an earlier but widely discounted report from Taiwan-based DigiTimes, faithful industry sources say the new pro-oriented systems will mark the start of a gradual transition away from cold cathode fluorescent backlights (CCFLs) and towards LED backlights for the Mac maker.

Thus far, those sources say Apple has agreed to implement the LED technology only within a revision to its 15-inch MacBook Pro due sometime in the second quarter of this year. A broader expansion to the 17-inch model and across the company's 13-inch consumer line, though inevitable, reportedly remains under consideration.

While pricer than CCFLs, LED technology is more efficient at distributing lighting evenly across the entire display surface and offers an increase in color saturation. According to a white paper from Cree, a backlight solutions provider expected to provide its LED technology to Apple, LED-based backlights also consume less power, run cooler, and last longer than CCFLs.

For end users, the new technology translates into improved notebook battery life and displays that will maintain their initial levels of brightness longer into their respective life-cycles. Come this spring, LED-lit displays will also deliver a more vivid canvas for the various software user interface enhancements and animation techniques that will be included with Mac OS X Leopard.

Advancements in notebook technology and price/performance have played an essential role in the resurgence of Apple's Mac personal computer line over the last several years. And it comes as little surprise that they would receive the royal treatment ahead of other company offerings, such as the iconic iMac. By the end of of last year, MacBook and MacBook Pro systems accounted for roughly 35 percent more unit sales than the Cupertino-based firm's numerous desktop PC models.

Apple said it sold 969,000 thousand notebook systems during the three-month period ending December, a 65 percent increase over the same period last year. And although it missed the majestic 1 million mark by just a hair, it broke ground by achieving one of the most sought-after buyer habits by PC manufacturers: upsells to premium models.

During its fiscal December quarter conference call with analysts and investors this past Wednesday, Apple said it witnessed a sharp uptick in sales of the professional MacBook Pro systems during the holiday season, as many customers with sights originally set on a consumer-oriented 13-inch MacBook wound up "buying up the line" to the 15-inch models. Sales of the higher margin systems bled through in the company's notebook revenues, which rose nearly 80 percent from the year-ago period to $1.45 billion.

The trend bodes well for Apple leading into the new year, as published reports say one of its primary objectives is to push sales of its 15-inch notebook systems harder than it did in 2006. Preparations for the push have already been set in motion: the company has signed Foxconn Electronics, the now infamous builder of iPod digital music players, as a third contract notebook manufacturer.

Apple's emphasis on breakthroughs for the MacBook Pro line will also signal a veritable about-face in the company's marketing approach for 2007, which began with the seemingly ironic dismissal of the Mac's importance at the recent Macworld conference in San Francisco two weeks ago.