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Apple’s next MacBook Air will be the new flagship Mac

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Apple’s (s aapl) refresh of the MacBook Air last fall did much to improve the fortunes of the company’s ultra-slim notebook. With its next iteration, it could be getting ready to step into the spotlight as the quintessential Mac computer. That update is on the way soon, according to a new report, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see it arrive right alongside the operating system that seems tailor-made for it: OS X Lion.

AppleInsider claims Apple has placed an order for nearly 400,000 new MacBook Airs based on Intel’s (s intc) Sandy Bridge processor architecture, and that production will begin in June, according to an analyst report. The reports claim that just over half of those will be 11.6-inch models, since those are slightly more popular with consumers than their 13-inch counterparts. Both models have reportedly been successful sellers for Apple, in stark contrast to the original Air, which was seen by most as too expensive and too far ahead of the curve in terms of its hardware features.

If interest in and reviews of the new MacBook Air are any indication, we’ve caught up to the curve. But Apple has also done right by Air in terms of finding an attractive price point: The entry-level 11.6-inch model starts at just $999, on par with Apple’s other cheapest notebook, the MacBook.

The MacBook represents Apple’s past; it’s a well-designed traditional notebook that provides users looking for an alternative to Windows (s msft) laptops with a solid, high-quality, OS X-based alternative. But the MacBook Air represents Apple’s future. It’s a slim, lightweight device with a futuristic design aesthetic, but more importantly, it’s a perfect partner for OS X Lion and iCloud, and like Apple said at its WWDC keynote (as enStratus CTO George Reese suggested to me it should), iCloud is the new center of the Apple universe.

When the updated MacBook Air arrives, it will most likely bring better Core i-series processors that should help it gain even more ground on more powerful Mac notebook offerings, since the current versions use Intel Core 2 Duo chips, which are two generations behind. It will also almost certainly introduce Thunderbolt ports to the Air. Thunderbolt will be a great addition to the Air, since once third-party storage device makers start putting out more compatible drives, it will help alleviate any concerns users might have about onboard storage limitations. Apple might also boost the base storage capacities this time around, as it has already quietly made improvements to the Air’s SSD drives that boost read/write speeds.

The MacBook Air has more in common with the iPad than any other of Apple’s Mac computers, and that’s why it’s such a perfect partner for the iOS-inspired OS X Lion update. I said yesterday that Lion isn’t going to play nice with older Macs, and won’t really shine to its fullest potential on computers with spinning hard disks. In fact, you could say that Lion is designed for the Air, and I think that’s exactly how Apple sees it, too.

In two years time, if not less, when you think “Mac,” you’ll think about the MacBook Air first and foremost. And that’s by design, as Apple continues to have outsized influence in the changing definition of personal computing.

22 Responses to “Apple’s next MacBook Air will be the new flagship Mac”

  1. james braselton

    hi there you are right i also saw on the internet 8 gb ram and for your coment on the 13.3 inch macbook air stock drive is 128 gb ssd the optional 256 gb ssd the 11.6 inch macbook air has the 64 gb ssd all macbook airs have ssd standard not optional me 13.3 inch macbook air 1 tb ram and 144 pb ssd may be a long ways off at least no hard drives yeah no hdd

  2. The one thing that would tempt me to upgrade my current-gen Air (by far the best computer I’ve ever owned): 3G connectivity.

    (…or at least some way of having location-agnostic secure online access when I’m away from trusted networks.)

  3. If this is the future how will Apple provide the high screen resolution needed for people on the go. A 11 or 13inch screen is not good enough.

  4. Nobody special

    Backlit keyboard or no deal. If the screen gets shinier, ditto. Give us tools we can work with please. This is not about watching movies in the dark.

  5. I am with you on most of this. Actually I am surprised that we still have a Macbook as an option. I would not be surprised at all if this Macbook was the last we ever saw. I am also curious to see how Apple will differentiate the Pro (especially 13 inch) line once the optical drives are gone. (Maybe they’ll just get rid of it.)

    The ULV and LV Sandy Bridge CPUs have the power I’ve been craving. I had a 3rd generation MBA that I gave my mom. Got a 1st generation to hold me over until a new one comes out. I am not that impressed with the iCloud as I was hoping to move a lot of my stuff in the cloud and live on a 64GB SSD. That won’t happen obviously. Then again, it is not even an option now on the 13 inch I am looking at. So maybe this is a non-issue.

    I am REALLY-REALLY hoping that we get the keyboard backlighting back. Additionally I am hoping that 4GB of RAM will be stock and 8GB will be the option.

    As for one of the commenters before me, I don’t think Sandy Bridge will be the equivalent of the Core Duo. Is there an architectural reason you think this? The 32/64 bit thing was a biggie. I don’t see anything that would parallel that with Sandy/Ivy Brdige (maybe Direct X versions.)

  6. I am going to have to disagree a bit with you on this post and yesterday’s post. Lion is awesome; agreed. However, I disagree with you in that when “people think Apple they will think MBA”. The cheapest MBA has the following specs:
    1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
    2GB memory
    64GB flash storage

    Right now a netbook PC is on par with this. Sure, SSDs are the future, but it will be a LONG time until they become very popular. Sure, MBAs work great for people on the road, who mainly check email, write reports, and edit spreadsheets. But there is a vast population who use MacBooks and MacBook Pro’s as their main computing device, and so MBPs with better specs are a better choice, such as for engineering applications, photo-editing, video-editing, etc. It would be stupid of Apple’s part to just focus on iOS devices and the MBA. They need to keep updating the iMac and the MBP.

    • I would disagree with your assessment and agree with the author’s. Follow the MBPro’s and the MBAir’s development trajectory and you’re seeing a number of progressions:

      – MBPro’s form factors are moving to what the MBAir current has
      – MBAir’s tech specs are converging on what the MBPro has
      – SSDs will replace long-in-the-tooth HDs faster than you think

      My sense (going on a year now) is that as MBPros and MBAirs converge (as they are) there will increasingly be little that distinguishes one product line from the other to the point where the distinction is meaningless.

      What will drive this faster, in my estimation, is that we’re increasingly seeing where these more advanced spec’d MBAirs can handle the use-cases and tasks that the MBPro does such that a MBPro’s power is less and less relevant to the majority of users (outside of industrial production, much like how the iMacs handle more user’s needs that they really don’t need the Mac Pro).

      Based on that I’d have to agree with the author of the article.

  7. Some four years ago, I made sure to get a MacBook with a Core 2 Duo chip. The Core Duo, I suspected, was a transition chip, doomed to a limited life. That proved to be right. Apple is still selling Core 2 Duos in the MBA, so it’ll be supported for a long time. Lion isn’t going to support the Core Duo. I suspect the same will be true of Sandy Bridge chips that’ll be in the next MBA. They’re a bridge to the Ivy Bridge chips that’ll come out next year. They won’t be around for long, nor with Apple’s support for them.

    That’s why I’m nursing another year of life out of my MacBook, that and the fact that Thunderbolt is about year from being practical and USB 3.0 may not be in this next MBA.

  8. I’m in love with my MBA….and if Apple gets new ones out in July, I’ll have to find a buyer for mine so I can get a new one lol! It’s the best laptop ever made…so far :)

  9. lastSKYsamurai

    @dmm219 yup, I pay AU $100 a month for 15/15gb on adsl… If I could get adsl2 or cheap enough Wireless Broardband where I live I would… So where does this cloud leave a guy like me? Practically nowhere…

  10. Ian Kemmish

    Every time you describe Macs as “high quality”, you give Apple even less incentive to fix the problems with the quality of their production engineering. You’re doing yourself a disservice, and more importantly you’re doing me and all the other customers a disservice too. No company that wasn’t fawned over could survive a twenty year history of sockets that fall off, hinges that break, capacitors that explode, mice that die after only a few months, batteries that can’t be replaced and can’t even be cleaned, cases and displays that crack…..

    If you don’t mention and keep on mentioning these things, matters will never improve.

    • I’ve owned a macbook since 2008 and still use the same one today. I’ve never had such issues. My family uses the iMac, magic trackpad and iPad 2. We’ve never had any problems at all. On the other hand, we have owned 4 Toshiba laptops. None of them surpassed 1 year in usability. Apple doesn’t need to improve anything, perhaps you should care for your products better.

  11. dmm219

    Has anybody taken the time to stop and really think through iCloud? How happy are you going to be when your paying $100 a month on overage fees to ISPs to keep everything in the cloud?

    This is a far riskier bet for apple than the fanboys admit…broadband is already getting prohibitively expensive for many…I, for one, am not willing to pay my ISP extra to play around in the iCloud…Delta changes help…be not enough…

    • From what I’ve seen, they have given user fairly granular control of the service. From WiFi only syncing to limiting syncing on certain devices. Data will increase some, but from the sounds of things the threat of overages is being exaggerated.

    • Darkkewlz

      Where do you live that you have to pay overage to an ISP? iCloud isn’t meant for you, and your Ethiopian Neighbors.

      No one would Sync iCloud over cellular, you use WiFi, Cellular would be too slow anyway.

      • Capped Your Usage

        Psst. Apparently you are ignorant. Many countries, you know those first world ones you seem to think don’t, are putting or have already put nasty caps data. It is a matter of time before the ISPs in USA lowers their caps to the ones in the EU and Canada. Try running Netflix and stream/download video/data in those ones all month long. Then you can have fun opening your bill.

        You must be a “typical fat American” that thinks you can have “all you can eat” in everything you do for cheap. You’ll learn when all the cell phone companies and ISPs get all the caps they want in place. They are slowly bringing them down and charging more. Like gasoline, you’ll pay what the rest of the world (the first world, right?) pays soon enough.