Apple's MacBook Air just kills the competition

By Jonny Evans

MacBook Air sales appear to be off the hook, and it looks like Apple's [AAPL] set to clean-up in the notebook market. It's almost too easy: competitors just don't seem to 'get' it.

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Apple owns it

Sure, Intel is attempting to kick-start the PC industry into wider adoption of the format with a $300 million fund, but Apple owns the place right now. Just look at MacBook Air casings manufacturer, Catcher Technology, which recently confirmed it expects to be operating at full capacity until the end of the year -- making cases for Apple.

Indeed, Apple has booked solid all the lathes capable of carving a laptop body out of a single block of metal, driving others to seek out different chassis materials.

Surely no one can tell me Apple's competitors couldn't see this coming? Sony, Dell and others previously attempted to introduce thin and light but full-featured notebooks, but they didn't sell: they were too expensive, had lousy battery life, or were too thick or too slow.

Apple kept working toward its ultranotebook vision even while others leapfrogged directly into the failed hope that netbooks proved to be. Do people still buy netbooks?

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[ABOVE: Apple's gentle touch: see how much of the company's Mac business is mobile these days...]

Calling the shots

Battery life and performance are two key elements to Apple's success in this sector. The move to use flash memory and to abandon the optical drive has given the 'Air's a fantastic battery life. It is also now known that Apple put heavy pressure on Intel to deliver chips with low power requirements.

In its most recent upgrade Apple increased the RAM on three of the four Air models from 2GB to 4GB, and exchanged the older Intel Core 2 Duo processors for faster Sandy Bridge-based processors.

It gets even more interesting when you consider recent Macworld tests which showed that when it comes to performance the new 13-in. MacBook Airs compete with the  entry-level Core i5 MacBook Pro. "The growth in Mac portable sales was driven by strong sales of MacBook Pro, as well as MacBook Air," said Apple CFO, Peter Oppenheimer last month.

More recent rumors have claimed Apple intends fielding its MacBook Air line-up across its pro portables in future, too -- perhaps even offering a 15-inch model, and that's even before you begin to think about the iPad Pro.

With Apple consuming gianormous piles of essential components including screens, body parts, memory, flash storage and more, it wields huge influence across the industry.

Floors and walls

Apple COO Tim Cook had a lot to say about Cupertino's magic sauce earlier this year in January, when he said:

"I think....part of the magic of Apple is that there's not high walls between these product groups. They like each other, talk to each other, they're of the same DNA, they want to build the best products in the world. And so if one has a great idea, there's not a "not invented here" in the other group. And so one of the key learnings from the iPad was that people love instant on, they really love that. And so the MacBook Air incorporated that, and that's just one simple example.

"..There are tons of examples throughout all of our products, where something started on one and went to a different one. And it's not always in the same direction either. It could start on the phone, and then flow forward, it could start on the iPad and flow, and so on and so forth. And so just the part of the way we run the company.

"And I think Steve said it great when he said, "If the Mac company were a separate company, and the iPad company were a separate company, what would the Mac company build to compete with the iPad? And I think the answer is the MacBook Air." And I think that's a phenomenal insight, and I think a great way to look at it. And it's not that the groups are competing, they are sharing and coming up with these incredible products that people really want."

Keeping it interesting

Like any great relationship, Apple's communication with consumers depends both on consent and keeping it interesting. Its legendary focus on research, development and innovation makes it the consumer electronics equivalent of the archetypal self-sufficient and self-realized person. Once hooked on what that person's up to, many just can't wait to see what the firm's secretive r&d inner sanctum comes up with next.

That's a big difference when you consider it. Other firms act like lovesick suitors, earnestly attempting to woo their audiences with products they hope will match their focus group and survey discovered needs. That's not how Apple rolls, the firm simply invites customers to share the next experience.

With MacBook Air sales already dwarfing those of competitors in the ultranotebook sector, it should be no surprise if we later see the introduction of iCloud services driving the advantage even further forward. And this will open even more possibilities for Apple's post-PC computing vision.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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