Apple Unveils Stunning New MacBook Airs, Gives Lion Preview

So, Apple held its usual autumn press get-together just now, and after a few rather uninspiring ones (to me, at least), they finally managed to blow me away, with the new MacBook Air (especially the 11.6″ variant). They also gave a sneak peek at Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, which has… An App Store. An App Store Apple is going to open on Snow Leopard within 90 days.

MacBook Air

I was expecting to start with the Mac OS X 10.7 Lion news, but forget it, it’ll come later in this item. Let’s talk about the ‘one more thing’ first – because I’m absolutely, positively blown away by just how cool that thing is. Finally a laptop that truly feels like a portable device, with a beautiful design and some interesting hardware choices. People – after all these years, the 12″ iBook finally has a worthy successor.

The new MacBook Air comes in two variants: 13.3″ (1440×900) and 11.6″ (1366×768). It’s only got flash storage, so no hard drive; the flash is soldered onto the logic board, so no anachronistic flash chips stuffed in a 1.8″-3.5″ enclosure, and you can opt for 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB. It sports a Core 2 Duo 1.4Ghz processor (1.86Ghz is an option on the 13.3″ model), and they all come with 2GB of memory.

It’s instant-on, and has a running time of web browsing wirelessly of 5 hours (11.6″) or 7 hours (13.3″), and according to Apple, they’re using some fancy, more stringent test so it should be longer using the older tests (or, translated into English from Marketingese: the battery life is disappointing). The standby time has been dragged up to an impressive 30 days.

And they look… Absolutely stunning. There’s no way around it. It’s been a while since Macintosh machines have been able to impress me, but there’s something about the sharpness of this thing that really speaks to me. Prices start at USD 999 for the 11.6″/64GB model, which is a very aggressive price for a machine like this. They can chalk me up for the 11.6″ base model. Finally a worthy successor to my 12.1″ iBook!

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

So, what’s Lion all about? Well, unsurprisingly, it’s about how stuff from iOS is going to find its way back into Mac OS X. As such, we honest-to-god had some engineer from Apple – and I’m not making this stuff up – professing the virtues of… Full screen applications. Whether this finally fixes the issue of that weird maximise-oh-wait-it-isn’t-button I don’t know, but it’s a huge step forward for computing, and yet another example of how Apple is far ahead of the curve. Bravo, my jaw dropped to the floor.

Another new feature is the Mac App Store, which is exactly what the name implies: a revolution in application delivery Linux users have been enjoying since the dawn of time: centralised application delivery, updating, and removal. Great stuff to have, but obviously nothing revolutionary. The Mac App Store will open within 90 days (ahead of Lion’s launch).

Steve Jobs mentioned it will not be the only method of application delivery. My mind added: “…yet.” The clock is ticking, people.

There’s some interface tweaks as well, such as the merging of Spaces and Exposé, which really needs to be seen to be understood properly. There’s also going to be application home screens à la the iPad which you can activate through an icon in the dock, including familiar features like application folders and such.

Lion is going to have more, but this was all they were going to show us today. Its release is planned for summer 2011, so we’ll know more by then.

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