Apple bids farewell to the MacBook

MacBook Air 11.6 inch
We knew Apple(s aapl) was introducing something today, but what we didn’t know was that it was going to be saying goodbye as well.

In addition to Apple officially making OS X 10.7 available for download, it unleashed a fresh set of MacBook Airs, updating both the 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch model. Now they include a Thunderbolt port, Intel (s intc) Core i5 or Core i7 chips, backlit keyboard, and faster 1333 MHz memory in up to 4GB. And slapping a $999 price tag on there makes for a very attractive, and yes, very thin package.

The knock on the Air before today was that it had outdated chips. Now you can’t say that, and there’s no longer any good reason to buy the old entry-level MacBook (that white plastic one), which also started at $999. Apple clearly agrees: If you head over to the company Web site to shop around for a laptop, the MacBook is nowhere to be found. The lineup goes right from Air to MacBook Pro. (The exception is if you’re in the education field. Apple will make the basic MacBook available to that group only.)

When the Air was first introduced in 2008, many considered its niftiest feature to be its capability of fitting inside an inter-office mail envelope. In other words, it was seen mostly as a pretty feat of engineering, but impractical for most people — no optical drive? How would that ever work?

Flash forward to the present, and this is the laptop Apple is going to be pushing most new buyers toward. The big hint about that is the fact that they’ve decided to use the new Air as the first laptops to come standard with Lion. The Air, once a novelty, is now the standard Apple laptop.