Pulling the story of Apple's new laptop out of thin 'Air'

Bloggers, rumor-mongers and Web sleuths pieced together the story before Macworld

As an avid Apple fanboy -- er, enthusiast -- administrator and blogger, I'm as interested in the company's upcoming products as anyone. So for the six months before this week's Macworld Expo, I had been following, and in some cases reporting on, the rumors of a new laptop from Apple Inc.

Unlike past years, when rumors abounded with little confirmation, the Macintosh rumor community this time put together pieces of the mysterious laptop puzzle from clues left around the Web -- and may have even tricked Apple into showing its cards a bit early. As a result, before Apple CEO Steve Jobs even took the stage on Tuesday, anyone in the know had heard about something called a MacBook Air -- and Wired even had a pretty close to real mock-up online.

Here's how a combination of Mac fans and intelligent sleuthing pulled the wraps off of Apple's latest creation before Jobs did.

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Jan. 1 -- Around the start of the new year, rumor sites started hearing that there was going to be a MacBook Air product at Macworld, and that it was the "worst kept secret at Apple" (something that's hard to believe, given Jobs' penchant for secrecy). Rumor sites receive hundreds of "tips," most of which usually turn out to be false; it is extremely difficult to ascertain which ones are real. This one was pooh-poohed.

Jan. 11 -- AppleInsider and Ars Technica posted pictures of Macworld posters being hoisted ahead of the Expo, most of them featuring the phrase: "2008: There's Something in the Air." The timing of this is important because it set in motion a series of events that might not have been possible if the posters had been kept secret and revealed only on the day of the event.

Later that same day, Macrumors.com -- seeing the obvious correlation between those posters and earlier rumors, posted a prediction that a new device coming at Macworld would be called MacBook Air. The site also did something else that would prove fairly decisive later on in ferreting out the truth.

MacBook Air

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

Jan. 12 -- 9to5mac.com then reported that a reader found some Adium logs that pointed to a computer called MacBookAir. (Full disclosure alert: I write for 9to5mac.com more than occasionally.) This computer had hit the Adium server only once -- but that was all it took to log the name. 9to5mac.com checked Google's cache to find out that the entry had been made on or before Jan. 9, two days before the Macworld Expo banners were revealed. Although such logs can be faked, the faker would have had to know that the show would be labeled "2008: There's Something in the Air" -- something only an Apple insider would likely have known. Macrumors passed on that same news on its own site.

Analysts were even weighing in with predictions of a new lightweight laptop.

Jan. 14 -- Jobs' big keynote was still a day away. MacDailyNews found some very solid domain name registration information. For some reason, Apple has been registering a variety of domains with one thing in common: macbookair.net, macbookair.org, macbookair.biz and macbookair.us. Now that certainly looks like a trend. Why would they do this?

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