Live: Apple laptop event

We’re live blogging from the Town Hall at Apple’s (AAPL) Cupertino campus today as the company shows off new laptops. Refresh the page for updates.

The event has begun. Steve Jobs comes out (he looks pretty good), and says we’re here to talk notebooks. He says we’ll first go over the state of the Mac, and Tim Cook, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, comes out to do that.

Apple sold 2.5 million Macs last quarter, he says, and the Mac has been growing at 2-3x the market rate of growth.

Among the reasons he lists for the Mac doing well: Better computers, better software, compatibility, and Microsoft Vista (which hasn’t lived up to expectations). Other reasons are marketing (those clever Mac vs. PC ads), and retail stores. The stores greet 400,000 visitors each day, and half of Mac buyers there are new to the Mac. Cook shows a picture of the new Apple Store in Sydney, Australia; and the Beijing store in China.

The Mac has outgrown the market for the last 14 of 15 quarters, he says, citing data from IDC. The Intel transition is the one quarter when Apple stumbled – he says it’s because they weren’t able to keep up with demand. He also notes that Macs make up 18 percent of PCs sold at U.S. retail, and 31 percent of PC revenues. Apple is back on top as the number-one supplier of laptops to education. He says that at major university, the Mac now has about 49 percent market share.

Jobs is back on stage to talk notebooks. First, he says, we’ll talk about the ways laptops are built. He invited Jony Ive, Apple’s design guru, to the stage to talk about it.

He puts a MacBook Pro on the screen to talk about design challenges.

One of the biggest challenges, he says, is to make a thin and light product robust, strong. The internal frame (with some magnesium) plays a bigger part than the aluminum skin, he says. He talks through the stiffening plates and structural frames that provide support, showing it all in on-screen images.

Apple has for years been looking at a better way of building a notebook, he says, and he thinks Apple has found it. The MacBook Air was the first example of the breakthrough that Apple thinks it has achieved. Rather than start with a thin piece of aluminum and add structures, Apple starts with a thick piece, and remove other traditional notebook structures. (This is getting pretty wonky, but the crowd is riveted because we know this is leading to the big reveal of the product at the end.)

With the MacBook Air, Apple starts with a solid slab of aluminum that weighs 2.5 pounds, and ends with a .25-pound machined part. (Apple recycles the leftovers.) “We’ve been working super-hard on trying to deisgn some new uni-body enclosures for some new notebooks.”

Jobs is back to talk about new graphics. Nvidia came and talked to Apple a while back about a chipset for desktop computers, but Apple says it wanted a notebook version. It’s the GeForce 9400M. It has 16 parallel graphic cores, with 54 gigaflops of performance, and it delivers up to 5 times faster graphics than the Intel integrated graphics Apple has been using. The new integrated graphics compares much more favorably to the high-end graphics in the MacBook Pro.

There’s a new multi-touch glass trackpad that’s 39 percent larger than what Apple’s had before. There’s no button now – the whole trackpad is the button. You can get multiple buttons through software, and there are now four-finger gestures. There are one-finger gestures to pan, two-finger gestures to pinch and rotate, three-finger gestures to flip through things, and four-finger gestures to use the Exposé feature.

Jobs says he’s unveiling the new MacBook Pro. Instant-on LED display, all connectors on one side, black keys, and a black border around the screen.

The new structure saves Apple half the parts. He’s so proud of it that he’s assign one around. (I just got my hands on one. I haven’t handled a lot of uni-body enclosures in my time, but this one seemed sturdy enough.) Besides the GeForce 9400M chipset, there’s the 9600M GT. They offer 5 hours of battery life with integrated graphics, 4 hours with discreet. There’s a slot-load optical drive on one side. On the other there’s Ethernet, FireWire 800, USB 2, a Mini Display Port, a battery indicator on the side, and other ports. There will be an option for solid-state (flash) drives. There, of course, is 802.11n, and Bluetooth. It’s .95 inches, the thinnest MacBook Pro ever.

The 15.4-inch starts at $1,999 with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the Nvidia goodies, and a 250-gigabyte hard drive. There’s a higher-powered configuration for $2,499 that has a faster processor among other upgrades. The MacBook Pros are shipping today, and will arrive in stores tomorrow.

Jobs says Apple is just as proud of the things they left out of these products – specifically, toxic chemicals. They’re Arsenic free, BFR free, Mercury free, PVC free, highly recyclable, and it has 37-percent smaller packaging.

The MacBook Air will also get an update with faster Nvidia graphics, a 120-GB hard drive, and an option for a 128-GB flash drive. It’s $1,799. At $2,499 you get a faster processor and a solid-state drive. They’ll be available in early November.

Moving on to displays, there’s a new 24-inch model with LED backlighting. It has a new three-way connector that allows you to power a notebook. It has built-in webcam and mic, and a three-port USB hub. They’ll be $899, available in November.

There’s One More Thing – the MacBook.

Jobs says it’s the best-selling MacBook ever. Apple’s dropping the starting price to $999 from $1,099.

Also, people wanted a metal enclosure, faster graphics, and an LED backlit display.

The new top-tier MacBook, above the white MacBook, will have the aluminum uni-body enclosure that the MacBook Pro has. It will of course have the Nvidia graphics.

The new MacBook with metal enclosure will start at $1,299. An upgraded version will start at $1,599. The base-level white MacBook with the plastic enclosure will start at $999.

Now he’s ordered the lights down, and he’s showing a video with Jony Ive talking about the design of the new MacBook. It’s basically going through the same features he just discussed, with some nice production values.

The video will be on the web today.

Now they’re doing a Q&A.

Three caveats, Jobs says.

One, no questions about last quarter, because they announce next week.

Now he flashes “110/70” onto the screen. “This is all we’re going to talk about on Steve’s health today, if you want to see this number go higher, try asking more questions,” he says.

Third, they won’t talk about the overall economy.

First question on the Nvidia chip: Does Apple have exclusivity? Jobs doesn’t clearly answer it, but the upshot seems to be no. He doesn’t expect others to have the same solution soon.

Second is a question about HDMI vs. Display Port. And Blu-ray. Why no Blu-ray yet?

“Blu-ray is just, it’s a bag of hurt,” Jobs says. The licensing of the technology is a pain, and costs too much, he says.

Gene Munster asks whether there will be cannibalization of the MacBook Pro from the new aluminum MacBook. Jobs says there may be some, but he doubts there will be much – pros like to get top-flight performance.

There’s a question about how much smaller the new MacBooks are.

There’s a question on whether the new MacBook manufacturing process saves costs. Tim Cook is coy on the answer, but seems to imply there will be cost advantages. Jobs is a little clearer, saying these things tend to be move expensive in the beginning, and costs come down over time.

Another question on the glossy screens: Jobs says Apple’s going to go with straight glass (glossy), because most people prefer it.

There’s a question about whether Apple will come out with a netbook. (These are low-cost, lightweight, underpowered laptops.) Jobs’ answer: “That’s a nascent market that’s just getting started, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Question on whether Apple designed the motherboards in-house: Yes.

Do touch screens make sense on laptops? “We’ve certainly experimented with it, as you might imagine,” Jobs says, “and so far it hasn’t made a lot of sense to us.”

The Q&A, and the event, have ended.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.