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 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 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 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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