Update: Apple airs out 'world's thinnest subnotebook'

Jobs also touts movie rental downloads, new AppleTV and wireless backup hardware

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

The new laptop, which is priced starting at $1,799 and will ship in two weeks, was the final, and flashiest, of the new products and upgrades that Jobs touted in a 90-minute keynote at Macworld, which opened yesterday in San Francisco. He also talked up a new wireless backup device called the Time Capsule, spelled out changes to the iPhone that will be delivered later today via a firmware update, and announced the relaunching of Apple TV, which now features a lower price and movie downloads via iTunes.

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

None of the announcements could have come as a shock to Apple fans who had followed the rumor 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 new laptop, small enough for Jobs to pull from a manila envelope, takes the tape at just 0.16-in. at its thinnest on the keyboard-side edge, and no more than 0.76-in. at the hinge. It weighs about three pounds.

MacBook Air

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

Even Jobs recognized the big-ticket price of the flash drive. "They're pricy, but they're fast," he told the Macworld crowd.

The subnotebook sports several features new to Apple's portable line, including a multi-touch trackpad that relies on the same gestures as the iPhone, and one feature notable for its absence. "What you're not going to find is an optical drive," Jobs said. "You can buy this accessory, it's USB powered, it costs just $99, it's very compact. But you know what? We don't think most users will miss the optical drive, or will need the optical drive."

Instead, MacBook Air users will be able to "borrow" the optical drive of a nearby PC or Mac via a wired or wireless network to install software from a CD or DVD, or rip tunes from an audio CD. The feature, dubbed Remote Disc, is software that comes on the MacBook Air and also installs on the secondary PC or Mac.

Apple's online store, which began taking pre-orders for the MacBook Air within minutes of the Jobs leaving the stage at Macworld, appeared overwhelmed. Computerworld was not able to access the ordering pages for the notebook even after repeated attempts in the hour after the presentation ended.

"I think they've got a real winner here," said Gottheil. "$1,800 is a very compelling price, and it looks like a good deal."

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