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New MacBook Air Is the Future of Notebooks

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Beginning his presentation by waxing philosophical on the impact of iOS devices on Apple (s aapl) industrial design, Jobs rhetorically asked what would happen if an iPad and a MacBook Air “hooked up?” The result is the new MacBook Air. Proving the rumormongers right, the new MacBook Air will come in two distinct models, with screen sizes of 13.3 inches and 11.6 inches respectively.

Both models will share the aluminum unibody construction design, and a number of features, including Core 2 Duo CPUs, NVIDIA (s nvda) GeForce 320M GPUs, full-size keyboards, multi-touch trackpads (no button) and a FaceTime (not iSight any longer) camera.

The biggest internal change will be the use of solid-state storage across the lineup, which was a major rumor circulating about the new MacBook Air. The new storage system, which doesn’t appear to be upgradable, will have “instant on” capabilities similar to iOS devices, and be up to twice as fast as standard hard drives. This will also allow for a standby time of 30-freaking-amazing days.

Sporting an even more wedge-shaped design, the new 13.3-inch MacBook Air will have a backlit-LED with a resolution of 1440 x 900, making for a higher pixel density than the current MacBook Pro line. Only 0.68 inches at its thickest point, and 0.11 at its thinnest, it’ll be thinner than the previous MacBook Air. At 2.9 pounds, it’s also lighter than its predecessor.

In terms of battery life, it appears not even Apple can defy the laws of physics, as the new MacBook Air will only jump from five hours to seven hours under normal usage. However, Jobs said Apple is using a new method to test battery life that should produce more accurate results. Even so, battery life may be an issue with the 11.6-inch model, which is reported to get only five hours. However, that’s made up for by an even greater degree of portability, since the computer weighs only 2.3 pounds.

As for price, the new MacBook Air will start at $999 for the 11.6-inch model, the same price as the 13.3-inch MacBook. The new 13.3-inch MacBook Air will start at $1,299, $100 more than the low-end MacBook Pro. RAM is upgradable from the stock 2GB to 4GB for an extra $100. CPU speeds will start at 1.4 GHz on the low-end, 11.6-inch model, and go up to 2.13 GHz for an extra $100 on the 13.3-inch model. Here, many of the rumors, which asserted everything from 2GHz-plus Core 2 Duos to Intel’s (s intc) Core i-series, were just plain wrong.

You won’t need to get an external optical drive to reinstall software with this generation of MacBook Air. Instead, Apple introduced a flash-based Software Reinstall Drive that ships with the computer. Just stick that into one of its two USB 2.0 ports, and you’re good to go. Other ports on the Air include a Mini DisplayPort, a MagSafe adapter, and a headphone jack.

Arguably, the CPU and battery life are probably the biggest disappointments in the new MacBook Air, but this is more than balanced by the aggressive pricing, at least for Apple, which appears to have no problems playing with the price divisions of its carefully segmented Mac portable lineup, and that may be the biggest change to come out of today.

When Steve Jobs said he believed “all notebooks will be like this one day,” (meaning no optical drives, flash storage, lightweight and small), you can bet that we’ll see the rest of the MacBook lineup take on these changes down the road.

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23 Responses to “New MacBook Air Is the Future of Notebooks”

  1. Ames Tiedeman

    Interesting pice in the WSJ:

    Flash memory chips outduels hard drives, WSJ reports
    Makers of flash memory chips are riding high as disk drive manufacturers see companies such as Apple (AAPL) drop the disk drive option, reports the Wall Street Journal.

  2. Ames Tiedeman

    I want a drive in my computer. The MacBook Pro is the perfect computer. The Air is neat and amazing, but I like the internal hard drive. If I wanted an Air I would just buy an iPad.

  3. Without the optical drive in my MacBook Pro, it could easily fit much more battery as well as a 4G WAN card & SIM slot. It’s what I’ve been wisihng they’d do with the MacBook Pro for YEARS.

  4. I just don’t get all the comments about ‘not enough storage space’. Yes, you may like your 250GB+ HD now, but I would wager a pig in a poke that in 2-3 years, we’ll all have 1TB+ cloud storage and won’t give a wolf in a henhouse about no stinkin local data storage.

    Just my .02.

    • @Mike

      Yeah…I agree. At the current rate of progress, we’re rapidly approaching 1TB storage ability for conventional drives. IMO…I see diminishing returns when you factor in trying to backup that much data to some form of external drive. People still backup their cylinder-based drives still right? Pretty sure it’s still the highest fail-rate component on a ‘puter. Unless RPM’s and disk i/o increase at the same rate as the storage limits…those backups are going to get VERY long.

      Also, surprised no one has mentioned that solid-state is more robust and snappier.

      If the SSD & RAM is fast enough, it’ll compensate for the slower CPU…which in turn SHOULD reduce heat as well…correct?

  5. Well, it sure looks tempting. Hopefully it will run 10.7 fine, because that OS might just make the Air really shine. (Not that it’s bad as it is already!)

    This might be offtopic, but did GigaOM kill your forum? I really liked it, and now I need it for an important question, but now it’s not accessible anymore. What’s going on? :-(

  6. Hmm. The future of notebooks will be an device with specs that look suspiciously like a netbook? Oh, no – wait. Jobs has already said that netbooks are not the future and he’ll not build them.

    Clearly, he’s added an addendum to that statement with the introduction of the new Air 11″, which reads, “….until we can sell them at a premium price”.

  7. Its the solid state drives that will kill this thing. In a portable machine, 64GB for the base model is terrible. My macbook from 4 years ago had 80GB.

    It doesnt matter how fancy and fast your hard drive is, if theres not enough room to tore everything.

  8. Ahmet C. Armagan

    The cpu is a disappointment yes because people were expecting faster ones but that may not be much of an issue. I think it’s pretty much common knowledge that the cpu is not the most important factor in the speed of a computer. they say the primary factors are the ram and the so-called ‘non-volatile storage device’ (hd, flash memory). If the mba can overcome the slowness of the cpu with the speed of flash memory. mba could be a notebook that people could use on an everyday basis.

    I agree with the opinion that apple is slowing moving the mac platform away from the intel cpus, chipsets, etc.

  9. steffenjobbs

    I doubt if this is the future of notebooks. Windows users can’t stand the idea of such a small amount of storage at such a high price. Besides, Apple practically controls the flash memory industry. People over on Engadget were lamenting that 320 GBs were a minimum for a notebook because they want to store all their videos and music and have tons of programs to play with. It’s so easy to replace a hard drive in a notebook and in this particular case, you can’t even upgrade via a slot or something to get more memory. So I don’t see consumers switching to some flash memory-based notebook when much less expensive alternatives are available. This MBA seems just fine for road warriors who only need a light duty notebook with good battery life, but it seems a rather odd compromise to run OSX and have a relatively weak processor. My choice would still be a high-end processor MacBook Pro.

  10. If by “future” you mean limited storage space and under-powered processors, then I will pass on his version of the future.

    If you mean super slim and light, then I am game.

    Although currently, I am planning on sticking with my 12″ Win7 laptop that gives me more power than the base level MBA’s even if I don’t get the battery life.

  11. My wife isn’t even home from work, yet, and I know I’ll be getting her an 11″ MBA.

    She absolutely wouldn’t turn loose of her old G4 iBook because she just plain didn’t want a bigger laptop. It fits her assorted places to fit in – from briefcase to [business] purse to space set aside on her desk – and she didn’t want to change any of that.

    So, I called her after the live stream and told her about the new MBAs – and she asked me what I was getting her for her birthday?

  12. I went to my local Apple store right after Steve left the stage to pick up a new Air. Unfortunately, they didn’t have them yet. According to the sales guy I wasn’t alone in rushing to the store.


    I don’t have a problem with no optical drive who loads anything from disc any more. What I do have a problem with is the removal of the express card slot from the 15″ model. That is why I wont upgrade. 17″ is too big. They need to add eSATA or USB 3.0 to their lineup if they are going to take away the express card. Who cares about firewire its too slow to do anything with it.

  14. When Jobs says all notebooks will be like this, he may be right.

    Think about it. The Mac App store sort of negates the need for disks, and with most users now having digital-only music, tv shows and movies, there is little opportunity for an optical drive to be used. So, that’s one part binned.

    Then its flash storage. Taken out of its housing, like in the new MacBook Air, it takes up far less room. Put that in something the size of the current MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, and the storage capabilities are great.

    And, as we have seen more and more, notebooks are increasingly getting smaller, and lighter. The need for an SD slot is also negated by card adapters. Bulky, yes, but the lack of it does provide smaller and thinner notebooks, like the MacBook Air.

    Knowing Apple, in ten years time we may look back and say “Jesus, Jobs was spot on”.

    Never thought I’d say this about a MacBook Air but, this *could* start a notebook revolution. Providing anyone buys it, that is.

    Well, I for one am buying one of these. For someone like me who just writes a lot and doesn’t need a silly amount of storage or some super-fast processors, this fits the bill.

    • Zack Lee Wright

      No “May Be” about it. STEVE IS ALWAYS RIGHT!

      The only time he has been wrong to my knowledge is when he let the Google CEO on the Apple board where they promptly stole half of Apple mobile tech ideas, hence Android phones and tablets. That was prolly a $100 Billion Dollar mistake.

      • don’t hate man… android is awesome and it has been developed by other companies too. I honestly can say that the android operating system is apple’s biggest concern right now, especially this holiday season when so many new android phones are coming out. Apple is overpriced but for sheer enjoyment, it is totally worth it.

      • you could at least get some of the facts straight. no one from google stole the mobile ideas from apple and used them to create android. android was independently developed, and then bought by google.

        second, i fail to see how this is the future of laptops. there is no way i would buy a laptop without user upgradable storage. as storage gets cheaper and cheaper, i like the ability to upgrade myself. all apple has done is create a netbook with a nice screen and charged a ton for it (before anyone says anything, i realize that it’s a faster processor that’s dual core and it has decent graphics). why in the world anyone would buy one of these over a macbook pro is beyond me.

        i can’t think of a time when i’ve ever looked at my little dell mini 10v and though, “if only you were a little thinner.”

        i’ve said this before to my friends, and i’ll say it again here. apple no longer cares about the future of real computers. they have given up on the nerds and are focusing on consumer electronics. i feel like that is proven when they host an even called “back to the mac” that’s really all about making their laptops more like their ipads.

      • Constable Odo

        I have to agree that Google pulled Steve’s pants off without him even knowing it. Android has sent the mobile industry back into the hands of the carriers so they can put all their crap onto the poor users smartphones and Google sits back and gives them a blessing.

        Android will probably cost Apple hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few years. Yeah, Android is open alright. Open to carriers and smartphone vendors being able to dump a whole lot of junk on innocent consumers. The one good thing about Android is that it effectively killed off all chances of Microsoft ever making a comeback in the mobile world. Android definitely killed Steve’s dream of the iPhone and iOS having the dominance of the iPod.


        Andy Rubin was originally from Apple. Left Apple formed Danger. Andy leaves Danger. Microsoft buys Danger. Andy forms Android. Where do you make the connection that Apple stole anything from Android. If anything Apple stole from Palm. Eric Schmidt was a failed CEO of Novell and Sun. Google is his first success for the most part because he’s just a figurehead place holder for Google.

        @ derrick

        i can’t think of a time when i’ve ever looked at my little dell mini 10v and though, “if only you were a little thinner.”

        Yes, but I bet you thought, “this f’ing trackpad if it f’s up one more time I’m tossing it out the window”

        I think about this all the time when I use mine.

        I don’t see why anyone would buy any of the MacBook Air products ever. Especially with the iPad out.

        They either need to drop the Pro moniker on their laptops or put real “Pro” ports on them! I don’t need no stinkin’ SD card slot.