|NPR.org, January 15, 2008 · It's not an iPhone, but Apple's new ultra-portable computer may spark a flurry of purchases by people ready to update their laptops.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the model Tuesday at the Macworld Expo conference in San Francisco, the same event that brought the announcement of the iPhone last year.
Also on the way from Apple are two new services: the ability to rent downloadable feature films via Apple TV, and Time Capsule, a backup system that provides automatic safety versions of any of the company's computers running on a wireless network.
The company's popular iPhone also got a freshened suite of software, most notably a new messaging system and improved mapping ability. Jobs' presentation included a slideshow that showed Apple with nearly 20 percent of the U.S. smartphone market.
The new laptop, named the MacBook Air, has a 13" LED-backlit screen and is available with either a 64GB solid-state flash drive or a standard 80GB hard drive. The company is betting that the added speed and low power consumption of flash may be enough to offset its comparatively light storage.
The MacBook Air is very thin, tapering down from just over three-fourths of an inch down to 0.16 of an inch.
Those features match up fairly well with the rampant speculation that Mac aficionados have put on the Web since the rumors of a new compact laptop first surfaced.
Another part of its appeal may rest on its lack of cables. It is built to connect to other, larger Mac computers via a dock similar to that used for the iPod.
In the days leading up to the Macworld Expo, Apple hinted at the use of wireless connectivity by posting large black banners around the convention site that read, "2008. There's something in the air."
That message could be seen to describe Apple's approach to bringing multimedia into the homes of its customers. The enhancements to the Apple TV box, for instance, take home computers out of the equation, allowing anyone with the system to rent movies — or even buy music — via a screen on their television.
Much of the video content is available in HD, a possible selling point for consumers with widescreen TVs. They will also be able to view HD video podcasts.
Jobs said that rentals are $2.99 for library titles and $3.99 for new releases, with high definition versions costing $1 more.
The changes to the Apple TV software will also come to existing owners of the system free of charge when the company releases the new version, in as soon as two weeks, Jobs said. New Apple TV systems will retail for $229.
"With the new Apple TV and iTunes Movie Rentals, movie lovers can rent DVD-quality or stunning HD movies from their couch with just a click of a button," Jobs said. "No more driving to the video store or waiting for DVDs to arrive in the mail."
The enigmatic Jobs, known for his fervent desire to keep Macworld software and hardware announcements secret until the keynote address, took the stage shortly after noon Tuesday to release the new products.
In the moments before the announcement, Apple's online store was taken offline, presumably to go through the final stages of putting the new releases up for sale.