In the past, a change this dramatic would have surprised me. Apple has traditionally reserved the best features--SuperDrives, FireWire 800, you name it -- for its most-expensive models, only later trickling those features down to the consumer line. This feature segregation, if you will, often seemed to be little more than a mechanism for propping up the sales of higher-end systems and their larger profit margins.

But as Macs have become more and more popular, especially in the consumer market, we've been seeing more and more 'pro' features finding their way into "consumer" models, and much earlier. Whether it's FireWire 800 on iMacs or aluminum bodies for MacBooks, Apple has gradually been moving to a model where you pay more for raw performance, rather than useful features.

Part of this is likely due to competition from other computer makers: when everyone else is offering particular features for less money, there's pressure to improve your own products to stay competitive. But I suspect it's also because of the growing popularity of Macs in general--the more computers you sell, the less profit you need to make on each to generate healthy balance sheets. Apple no longer seems afraid that 13-inch-laptop sales will cannibalize sales of the larger, more expensive models, instead aiming to sell more laptops overall.

Whatever the reason, from a consumer's point of view Apple's new laptop line sports the company's most aggresive pricing, and provides the best value, to date. Personally, I'm hoping this new approach eventually finds its way to Apple's desktop computers. There's quite a hole there between the consumer and pro machines.