Apple unveils 'world's thinnest notebook'

Capping off his Macworld 2008 keynote, Apple CEO Steve Jobs put the rumors to rest by announcing the "world's thinnest notebook" called the MacBook Air.

Jobs began by noting the specs of Sony's Vaio TZ, which weighs 3 pounds and has an 11- or 12-inch screen with smaller keyboard and what he called a "slower processor." The Vaio is also 0.8 to 1.2 inches thick.

In comparison, the 3-pound MacBook Air is 0.16 to 0.76 inches thick with a tapered design. The thickest part of the Air is smaller than the thinnest part of the Vaio. It has a full-size keyboard and 13.3-inch 1280x800 widescreen display. It utilizes a magnetic latch for closing and has an iSight camera like Apple's existing notebooks.

The screen is LED backlit like the MacBook Pro, along with a keyboard with light sensor. "This is the best notebook keyboard we've ever shipped," said Jobs. "And it's full-sized. And it's backlit."

New in the Air is what Apple calls a "multi-touch" trackpad, that works much like the touch interface on the iPhone. Users can move a window by double-tapping and moving, and zoom in by pinching their fingers. "We've also built in multi-touch gesture support. We've taken that even further, you'll actually be able to turn on all sorts of new gestures," Jobs said.

The MacBook Air will feature an 80GB 1.8-inch hard drive standard, with an optional 64GB solid-state hard drive as an upgrade. The processor will be an Intel Core2Duo running at 1.6GHz standard, with an optional upgrade to 1.8GHz.

The SSD option is a $999 USD upgrade, bringing the total price to $3098 USD with the 1.8GHz CPU.

Jobs said Intel shrunk the CPU by 60% for the MacBook Air, inviting Intel CEO Paul Otellini on stage. "The processor is as thick as a nickle and as wide as a dime," Otellini explained.

The MacBook Air has a 45-watt MagSafe adapter, 1 USB 2.0 port, Micro-DVI for connecting to an external monitor and audio out. For wireless connectivity, 802.11n Wi-Fi is built in, along with Bluetooth 2.1/EDR.

Because of its size, the Air will not feature an optical drive, however an external Apple Superdrive that connects via USB will cost $99 USD. Users can also mount CDs or DVDs remotely from another Mac or PC on the network.

Jobs added that the MacBook Air will have 5 hours of battery life. With 2GB of RAM, the ultra-thin laptop will run $1799 USD for the base configuration. Pre-orders will be taken by Apple starting today, with shipping expected in two weeks.

Environmental factors were also taken into consideration with the Air. The display is completely lead free and Apple's first to be mercury and arsenic-free, the internals are BRF free, and the retail packaging is 56% less than that of the MacBook.

"The most controversial feature is not the lack of an optical drive but the fact that the battery is sealed in the computer," remarked JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg. "For most folks, this will not be an issue based on the battery life and needs but no doubt, it's a change, that like the iPhone, users will need to get used to. This isn't the first time we've seen Apple do this."

"When the iMac was first released, a lot of folks were alarmed at the lack of serial and parallel ports, no floppy drive and everything being USB based. That soon became the model of the industry. Most users don't travel with extra batteries or even replace them over the life of their machines. Apple will do replacements directly under warranty as well as offer replacement service for users who do need to get their battery replaced," Gartenberg added. "Overall, it's really a non-issue."

MacBook Air

MacBook Air

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