Apple has made good on the rumors with the announcement of not one, but two new lightweight notebook computers. The new MacBook Air "netbooks" are the result of a technological union between Apple's MacBook notebook computers and the iPad. And they're priced to appeal to people who can afford to buy both.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the pricing of the two MacBook Air netbooks—one with an 11.6-inch screen starting at $999, and one with a 13.3 inch display for $1299, was "really aggressive". I'm not sure what he meant by "aggressive" in this case—perhaps it was in reference to the profit that Apple will make off these systems.
Certainly, the new MacBooks are works of engineering art. Almost impossibly small and light, both the 13 inch and 11 inch models weigh less than 3 pounds. At its thickest point, the 13-inch MacBook Air is only .68 inches thick. Both have excellent battery life while connected to a WiFi network and in use—up to 7 hours for the 13-inch MacBook and 5 for the 11-inch.
The size and battery life are the result of some radical engineering that is ripped right out of the iPad's design. First of all, there's no hard disk, optical storage, or even a standard solid-state disk (SSD). Both flavors of the MacBook Air use "flash" memory, like the iPad, and it's connected directly to the system board of the computer.
That means there's no upgrading the system once you've bought it without swapping out what amounts to the entire computer. The 11-inch MacBook Air comes in two configurations: a 64 gigabyte version, and a 128-gigabyte version. The 13-inch MacBook Air starts at 128 gigabytes, and has a 256-gigabyte version as well.
There are some significant advantages to using flash memory for all the storage on the computer. First of all, the computer turns on instantly when powered up—everything stays in memory, and the operating system doesn't have to reload when you start it. And of course there's the dramatic power savings of not having any moving parts.
Then there's the rest of the guts of the computer, Both MacBooks have NVidea graphics co-processors and high-definition displays, so they're well-matched for streaming movies and working with images. There's an Intel Core Duo processor—on par with most desktop and notebook processors—and not a slower netbook-friendly processor like Intel's Atom. So the MacBook Air can handle whatever work you can get onto it throught its two USB ports and the high-speed 802.11 N wireless connection.
People who've laid their hands on the new computers praised their apparent sturdiness and the feel of their keyboards. Clearly, these are objects of techno-lust like just about everything Apple has produced. The question is, is all of that worth the pricetag for what is essentially an iPad with a keyboard, when netbooks with similar processors—and more storage options, USB and other ports—for a fraction of the price? Even as a veteran Mac owner, I have my doubts.