I was wondering if anyone out there had insights or recommendations about doing programming on Apple's portable machines. I'd like to start learning Objective-C and iPhone development, so other laptops aren't being considered.
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You don't need an especially powerful Mac to start learning Mac programming. Any of the just-announced MacBook Pro machines will work well. As with so many things, more RAM will always be better. On the new machines, upgrade to the max 8 GB of RAM. You'll find that you can purchase the RAM upgrade from the base 4 GB to 8GB significantly cheaper from third-party vendors, rather than from Apple.
You'll want to join the Apple Developer Program (optional, but not if you're at all serious about programming for iOS or the Mac) and install the Developer Tools from the Mac OS X Install disk.