Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Apple unveils the superslim MacBook Air


The new laptop from Apple is the slimmest in the world, but potential customers will need a thick wallet


Impressively thin but expensive - that would be the quick take on Apple's new laptop, Jonathan Richards writes.

The MacBook Air is an ultra-sleek notebook computer designed, like many other Apple products, to appeal to people who like devices with superior functionality and, importantly, who have healthy incomes.

It is extremely thin - at the narrowest point it tapers to just 4mm (0.16 inches), about the width of a pencil - and when waved about its aluminium finish gives it an almost blade-like quality. At its thickest point - 22mm (0.86 inches) - it is still thinner than the thinnest section of its nearest competitor - the Sony Vaio TZ, Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive, took great pleasure in pointing out.

In his demo, Mr Jobs pulled it out of an A4-sized enveloped, much to the collective amazement - and then delight - of the crowd.

It has an impressive 13.3in screen, and while the display itself is not touch-sensitive, Apple has incorporated several of the 'touch' controls that it introduced on the iPhone in the mouse pad at the bottom of the keyboard.

A pinching gesture allows you to zoom in and out of a web page or document, while placing two fingers on the pad and twisting them lets you rotate what you are looking at - a picture, say.

Unusually, there is no built-in CD drive. Apple is betting the uses of such drives - for instance burning discs and loading software - will become less relevant as more and more services can be performed wirelessly or delivered over the internet. An external drive can be bought for £65.

All this comes at a price, though. The Air - which ships in two weeks globally - will cost £1,199, several hundred pounds more than the cheapest MacBook, but about on par with the more advanced MacBook Pro.

Another downside is that the battery cannot be removed, meaning that business users on flights, say, will be limited to its 5-hour life.

Also of note in Mr Jobs's keynote were updates to several existing Apple products.

A free upgrade to the iPhone's software means that owners will now be able to find out their current location, a feature that will radically improve the device by allowing people to search for restaurants or shops, say, in their vicinity.

The feature uses nearby mobile phone masts and wi-fi networks to locate the device's position via a process called triangulation, unlike GPS, which relies on satellites.

Apple TV - a device which enables people to watch videos in their iTunes library on their TV - has also had an overhaul. It will now be a stand-alone unit - not connected to the computer - meaning that an owner will effectively be able to access iTunes directly from their TV.

A web-based interface, which looks a bit like the existing iTunes store only less busy, appears directly on the owner's TV screen, and lets anyone - Apple and PC users alike - buy content from iTunes, to watch either on the TV or their iPod.

Combined with the new iTunes movie rental feature, which will enable iPod owners to rent new release films from all the major studios for $3.99 (£2), this will give a jolt to all the existing video-on-demand providers, including the television networks and specialists like Lovefilm.com.

The new Apple TV will cost $229 (£117), but for the time being is only available in the US.

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