MWSF: Apple Announces MacBook Air
12:19 PM | Jason Sims | 10 comments
Steve Jobs took the stage this morning to kick off Macworld Expo San Francisco 2008. The company announced the highly-anticipated MacBook Air, an ultra thin notebook as well as iTunes Movie Rentals, Time Capsule, iPhone updates, and much more.
First up: Time Capsule, an AirPort Extreme base station with a built-in hard drive, which supports wireless Time Machine backups for all of your Macs. Time Machine supported wireless backups when Leopard was in beta, but the feature was disabled when Leopard shipped in late October. Presumably the new Time Capsule will require a forthcoming Mac OS X software update. We don't know yet whether it will be possible to back up to existing AirPort Extreme base stations with an attached USB drive, but we don't see why not. The new Time Capsule just wraps it all up in one convenient package, and is available in 500 GB ($299) or 1 TB ($499) versions.
In the iPhone department, a free software update -- available today -- delivers several new and improved features to enhance the already-impressive capabilities of the world's coolest phone. The Maps application can now determine your current location with the press of a button. It's not GPS, but it's pretty cool; it uses signals from cell phone towers (and/or wifi hotspots) to triangulate your position, and you can get directions to any destination from your current position.
A new "web clips" feature lets you create a button on your iPhone home screen for your favorite websites and web applications. You can add up to nine additional "pages" of buttons to your home screen, and the buttons can now be rearranged freely, and even placed into the "dock" at the bottom. Also in the iPhone update is the ability to send SMS messages to multiple recipients, navigate chapters and select alternate language and subtitles in videos, and view lyrics when listening to music.
Another new software update brings several of the iPhone applications over to the iPod Touch, including Mail, Maps, Stocks, Notes and Weather. Although the iPod Touch does not have a cellular transceiver, the Maps application is still able to determine your location when you are within range of any of the supported wifi hotspots. The addition of Mail alone makes the iPod Touch a much more useful device, and should tide over the millions of people who are still waiting to get an iPhone in countries outside of the US, as there were unfortunately no announcements of iPhone availability elsewhere at this year's keynote.
For some reason, the iPod Touch update is the only new software update that's not free. The new software features are included on all new iPod Touch units, but existing owners will have to pay $20 for the new features.
Next up: iTunes Movie Rentals. A new iTunes update -- available today -- includes the ability to rent movies from the iTunes Store. When you rent a movie, you have 30 days to start watching it, and 24 hours from the time you first play it. You can watch it as many times as you like within that 24 hour period. Movies can be played on your Mac or PC, on an AppleTV, or on any current-generation iPod or iPhone (apparently this means that the first generation of video iPods have been cut out of the loop on this one). When you rent a movie, a small amount of data is pre-cached, and within about 30 seconds, you can start watching the movie, streaming over your Internet connection. Movie rentals cost $2.99 for "library" titles (existing movies), and $3.99 for new releases -- which become available 30 days after the DVD goes on sale. Steve says there will be over 1000 movies available by the end of February. But again, unfortunately, iTunes Movie Rentals are available only in the US; the rest of the world will have to wait until later this year.
To complement the new iTunes Movie Rental service, Jobs unveiled the new and improved AppleTV. The user interface has been redesigned, and now allows the AppleTV to be used without syncing to a computer. You can rent movies, buy TV shows and music directly from your TV. Also included are video and audio podcasts, photos from .Mac and Flickr (in addition to photos on your Mac or PC computers), and YouTube. The hardware is the same -- and a free software update will deliver the new features to all existing AppleTV owners -- but the price has dropped from $299 to $229.
Last, but not least, Jobs produced a manila envelope, opened it, and pulled out the new MacBook Air -- the world's thinnest notebook. It's stunning. It weighs in at only 3 pounds, and is an amazing 0.76" thin at its thickest edge -- and an unbelievable 0.16" thin at the other end. It features a widescreen 13.3", LED-backlit display, and a full-size, backlit keyboard with Apple's ambient light sensor. The large trackpad supports several new multi-touch gestures; in addition to the two-finger scroll and right-click capabilities of current MacBooks, you can also use two or three fingers to zoom, rotate, and go to the next or previous photo, webpage, etc. It also includes a built-in iSight camera, a tiny MagSafe power port, and USB2, micro-DVI and headphone jacks.
802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR are built-in. There's no modem or ethernet jack -- the MacBook Air was designed to be 100% wireless -- and there's no optical drive either. So how do you install software on it? Well, if you really want an optical drive, you can get a portable SuperDrive that is connected and powered by USB. But the MacBook Air also features a new "Remote Disc" feature, which lets it use the optical drive of any Mac or PC with the supporting software installed.
At the heart of the MacBook Air is a new, tiny version of Intel's popular Core 2 Duo processor, running at 1.6 GHz (with a 1.8 GHz option), with 2 GB memory standard, and a 1.8" 80 GB hard drive (the same one featured in the current iPod Classic). An interesting -- but very expensive -- option is a 64 GB SSD (solid state drive) instead of the hard drive, which requires significantly less power than a hard drive, has no moving parts, and allows the computer to start up significantly faster. Eventually solid state drives will replace hard drives as the portable storage medium of choice. For now, it is at least available as an option, and a sign of things to come.
The MacBook Air is truly a work of engineering art. At $1799, it is not for everyone, but for Mac users who want the ultimate portable machine, the future has arrived.
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