Apple demotes Air with new fanless 12-in. Retina MacBook as its lightest, thinnest computer

Prices new 'Broadwell'-powered notebook at $1,299 to $1,599

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Apple today significantly revamped its laptop line, unveiling a new MacBook that is lighter and thinner than its direct descendant, the MacBook Air, and boasts a 12-in. high-resolution display long dubbed "Retina" by the company.

"Can you even see it? Can you even feel it?" trumpeted CEO Tim Cook when he held up the new notebook during an introductory event in San Francisco.

It was the first time since April 2014 that Apple refreshed its light-weight notebook line, and followed months of speculation that the Cupertino, Calif. company was working up a Retina-equipped, 12-in. addition or replacement for the MacBook Air.

But instead of sticking with the "Air" moniker for the new notebook, Apple cleaned off a label that had gone dusty if not musty.

"This is the lightest Mac we have ever made," said Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing. Schiller claimed that the laptop is 24% thinner than the MacBook Air, and took the tape at just 13.1 millimeters at its thickest edge.

The name caught the eyes of some analysts.

"This wasn't the MacBook Air, but instead leaped past the Air," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "They kept [the MacBook Air] around, just as they do older iPhones, but the MacBook is now in the same position as the newest iPhone. That makes me wonder if the Air will go away over time."

Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, also predicted a contraction of Apple's line-up. "All [notebooks] need to be more mobile, so something like the Air doesn't need to be branched out anymore," she said of the differentiation the Cupertino, Calif. company's made for the line since its introduction more than eight years ago. "And it's to Apple's benefit not to have so many 'families' of Macs."

Schiller also stepped through a host of changes -- supporting Cook's contention that the MacBook was the result of Apple's goal to "reinvent the notebook" -- including a redesigned keyboard and trackpad, a smaller logic board, and a fan-less design.

The MacBook relies on an Intel Core M processor, one from the chip maker's 14-nanometer "Broadwell" architecture, and features just one port, a multi-use jack based on the USB-C standard that supports USB, DisplayPort, HDMI and VGA, and also serves as the power connection.

The 12-in. Retina screen offers 2304-x-1440-pixel resolution.

The MacBook will run for 9 hours between charges while browsing the Web, said Schiller, 10 hours while listening to music. The MacBook weighs in at 2 lbs., tipping the scale at 15% less than the the lightest, smallest 11-in. MacBook Air.

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"This is all about Apple taking it to the next level," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "HP and Dell have amped up their game, so Apple's taken another step to put some distance between them and its rivals. Just like when Apple created the Air, it took others three or four years to compete. Apple wants to do the same here."

Apple will start selling the MacBook on April 10, a Friday, the same day it begins to take pre-orders for the Apple Watch.

Prices begin at $1,299 for the entry-level configuration, which features a 1.1GHz dual-core CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of flash-based storage. The upper-end model, which runs $1,599, doubles the storage space to 512GB and boosts the processor to 1.2GHz.

"Those are very good prices," said Milanesi, considering the specifications. "Apple is clearly trying to make it a non-a niche product."

"It's still priced at Apple levels, but it's a great example of how they move stuff forward," said Dawson.

Apple also made minor tweaks to its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro notebooks, bumping up the processors in all models and shifting to faster flash storage memory. The MacBook Pro also received the same new trackpad featured in the MacBook.

MacBook Air and MacBook Pro prices did not change. The new models are available at Apple's online and retail stores today.

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