When Apple quietly updated the 13-inch MacBook a couple weeks ago, giving the company's least-expensive -- and previous-generation-design -- laptop better performance than the more-expensive aluminum unibody models, it was a good hint that the aluminum models were due for a refresh. After all, what company wants to undercut its 'premium' models by selling a better-performing product for less money?

Sure enough, just 12 days later, Apple announced updates to nearly the entire MacBook line. The MacBook Air gains faster processors; the 17-inch MacBook Pro gets a faster processor and a larger hard drive; and the 15-inch MacBook Pro sports faster processors, higher RAM capacity, a solid-state drive option, a longer-life battery, an improved display, and an SD memory-card slot (in lieu of the ExpressCard slot found on the previous version). All of these changes are accompanied by lower prices.

These are notable upgrades, but it's the changes to the 13-inch MacBook that are generating the most buzz. Keep in mind that Apple's consumer laptop line got a dramatic overhaul just last October, when the company switched all but the entry-level model to a new aluminum unibody enclosure, converted to LED displays, added a multi-touch trackpad, upgraded the graphics and processor performance, and even added the "pro"-level backlit-keyboard feature (albeit only to the most-expensive model).

As I pointed out at the time, these upgrades brought the MacBook models enticingly close to the 15-inch Pro line. For people who didn't need the large screen, the less-expensive 13-inch MacBook was mighty tempting. In fact, it appeared that Apple omitted FireWire from the MacBook models solely to differentiate them from the Pro line.
So it was interesting to hear, during Monday's WWDC keynote, Phil Schiller ask rhetorically, "What can we add to just make [the MacBook] a MacBook Pro?"

Indeed, the 13-inch member of Apple's laptop line now includes most of the same features and technologies as its larger siblings: a longer-life, integrated (read: non-swappable) battery, improved display technology, 8GB RAM capacity, a 500GB hard drive or 256GB SSD, a backlit keyboard on all models, and an SD memory-card slot. It even includes...wait for it...FireWire 800.

The 13-inch model still can't match the 15-inch MacBook Pro when it comes to screen real estate and processing power -- the 15-inch models start at 2.53GHz and can reach 3.06GHz, while the new 13-inch models start at 2.26GHz and max out at 2.53GHz. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is also available in a dual-video-card configuration. But the two lines are otherwise nearly identical. In fact, they're similar enough that Apple has officially bestowed 'Pro' status upon the unibody 13-inch models -- welcome, 13-inch MacBook Pro.