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Apple (s aapl) is gearing up to launch a 15-inch ultrathin MacBook in 2012, according to a new report by DigiTimes. The supplier-connected publication says that parts for the device are now being made at component-maker factories, intended for a March 2012 product release. It’s still just a rumor, but if Apple wasn’t actively working on a slim 15-incher for imminent release, I’d be amazed.
According to the DigiTimes report, it isn’t clear whether the device being produced will be classified as a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, but it will sport a thinner design, with the aim of making a lighter, more portable notebook computer. Intel (s intc) has dubbed this category the “Ultrabook,” and a number of Windows-based (s msft) PC manufacturers either have or intend to join the fray, based largely on Apple’s success with its current MacBook Air offerings.
The Air has been a strong seller since its introduction, according to estimates from industry analyst groups like NPD, and has helped buoy Mac sales to record heights in recent quarters. Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer also cited “very strong growth” of MacBook Air sales during the company’s last earnings call as a driver behind the 74-percent share of Mac revenue accounted for by Apple notebooks.
Meanwhile, the general ultrabook PC market isn’t exactly going gangbusters. According to a tweet from industry-watcher Steve Paine, it looks like all the competition combined can’t compete with the MacBook Air, which is probably due in part to aggressive pricing from Apple. Apple has a significant advantage in the ultraportable space as a result, and can likely afford to diversify its line in order to take advantage of that momentum.
A 15-inch MacBook Air would probably have more limited mass-market appeal compared to more travel-friendly 13- and 11-inch models, but it should appeal to MacBook Pro users who’ve just been waiting for a larger screen to pick up a lighter, more portable machine. Also, a 15-inch will definitely attract some consumers who appreciate more screen real estate, and a larger chassis could lead to another upward bump in battery life, like the two-hour improvement between the 11- and 13-inch Airs.
Apple making a thin and light 15-inch notebook isn’t yet guaranteed, since no official announcement has been made, but given that the ultraportable category is a space where Apple is at least three or four years ahead of the competition, and increasingly a key part of its Mac division, it seems likely we’ll see one sometime soon.