Apple drops price of MacBook Air, previews Mac OS X 'Lion'

Sub-$1,000 MacBook Air stole the show (see video, below), but Steve Jobs also previewed Mac OS X 10.7, Mac App Store, FaceTime for Mac

Apple today revamped its lightest laptop, the MacBook Air, slimming it down, ditching the hard drive for solid-state storage and introducing a smaller model that sports an 11.6-in. screen.

The company also highlighted a few features of "Lion," the next version of its Mac OS X operating system, which is slated to ship next year, and it touted a beta of its FaceTime videoconferencing software for the Mac and announced an upgrade to its iLife digital suite.

But the star of the show was clearly the "one more thing" that CEO Steve Jobs is famous for rolling out at the end of company events.

MacBook Air
Apple announced an even slimmer version of the MacBook Air.

"We wondered what would happen if a MacBook and an iPad hooked up," said Jobs as he introduced the redesigned Air from the company's Cupertino, Calif., campus. The launch event was webcast, only the second time that Apple has streamed one of its invitation-only presentations.

The appearance of a MacBook Air with a smaller screen was anticipated, with rumors and leaks aggressively circulating on the Web, especially on Apple enthusiast blogs, in the last two weeks.

"We think that this is the future of notebooks ... all notebooks will be like this some day," Jobs said, pointing to the new Air's light weight -- 2.9 pounds for the 13.3-in. model, 2.3 pounds for the 11.6-in. version -- its flash RAM storage and its extremely thin profile.

The largest MacBook Air, which features a 1.86-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of memory, 128GB of flash storage and a 13.3-in screen, lists for $1,299. The same notebook with 256GB of storage space runs $1,599.

What Jobs called the larger Air's "younger brother" sports a 1.4-GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB of memory, 64GB of storage and the smaller 11.6-in. screen. That sibling retails for $999, with a model boasting 128GB of flash storage space listing for $1,199.

The under-$1,000 price for the MacBook Air is "aggressive," said Jobs. The original Air debuted at $1,799 in early 2008.

Both models of the MacBook Air are available immediately on Apple's online store and at its retail outlets. On Wednesday, Apple's e-store showed a one-to-two-day delay for the new Air.

The screen size of the smaller MacBook Air, close to that of many Windows-based netbooks, gave some pundits room to wonder if Apple -- and Jobs in particular -- had reversed its anti-netbook stance of 2008 and 2009.

Nope, said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg.

"Netbooks are cheap PCs that revolve around price," he said. "[The 11.6-in. Air] happens to have a smaller screen, but it has a real processor, a real keyboard. I don't think of it as a cheaper computing device."

The sub-$1,000 price point for the entry-level MacBook Air, however, is impressive, Gartenberg said. "I think it will appeal to a lot of folks looking for a cheaper entry in the Air line."

The lowest-cost Air now competes head-to-head on price with Apple's MacBook, a 4.7-pound notebook powered by a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo processor that features a 13.3-in. screen and a 250GB platter-based hard drive.

"I see the new Airs as transitional devices that have the convenience, or some of the conveniences, of a tablet, but for people who absolutely need a keyboard and more computing power," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research.

The 13.3-in.and 11.6-in. models ditch hard drives in favor of flash storage built onto the motherboard.

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