MACWORLD - Apple airs out 'world's thinnest subnotebook'

New $AUD2499 MacBook Air will ship in two weeks

Apple's CEO Steve Jobs took centre stage at the Macworld Conference and Expo Tuesday to introduce what he called "the world's thinnest notebook," dubbed the MacBook Air.

The new laptop, which is priced starting at $US1799 ($AUD2499) and will ship in two weeks, was the final, and flashiest, of the product roll-outs and upgrades that Jobs touted in a 90-minute keynote at Macworld, which opened Monday in San Francisco. But he also talked up a new wireless backup device, the Time Capsule; spelled out changes to the iPhone that will be delivered later Tuesday via a firmware update; and re-launched Apple TV by dropping its price and offering movie downloads via iTunes.

None of the announcements could have come as a shock to Apple fans who had followed the rumour and gossip mill during the past few weeks, and as several analysts noted last Friday, the MacBook Air was the biggest of the bunch.

The subnotebook, small enough for Jobs to pull from a manila envelope, takes the tape at just 0.16-inch at its thinnest on the keyboard-side edge, and no more than 0.76-inch at the hinge. It weighs about three pounds, and has a new multi-touch trackpad.

On the specification front, the Air uses a 13.3-inch display that, like the MacBook Pro 15-inch models, is backlit by LEDs rather than a fluorescent light. The standard processor is a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo packing a 4MB shared L2 cache, and it comes with 2GB of memory. An 80GB hard drive -- a 1.8-inch model, the same size used in Apple's iPod classic line of music players -- rounds out the base system.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is only 0.75 inches thick at the hinge.

Options, however, can push the price of the MacBook Air to nearly double that. By configuring the notebook with a faster 1.83GHz processor and swapping out the traditional platter-based hard drive for a 64GB SSD (Solid State Drive) that uses flash memory to store files and applications, the price tag jumps.

Apple's online store, which began taking pre-orders for the Air within minutes of the end of Jobs' spiel, appeared overwhelmed. Computerworld was not able to access the ordering pages for the notebook even after repeated attempts.

"There were no surprises today," an analyst with Technology Business Research, Ezra Gottheil, said. "But it was execution, execution, execution. Apple's listening to its customers and then executing.

"I think they've got a real winner here."

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Gregg Keizer

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