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Apple Lightens Up

SAN FRANCISCO -- A heavy fog descended here this morning, but Apple CEO Steve Jobs brought the Mac faithful a healthy dose of virtual sunshine at Macworld Expo.

With rumors flying in the weeks leading up to the event, none of Jobs' announcements during today's keynote address came as complete surprises. But the overflow crowd at the Moscone Convention Center nevertheless hung onto every word as he detailed and demoed Apple's next big launches.

Of his four announcements, the new MacBook Air notebook proved the star of the show. Jobs proclaimed it the thinnest notebook computer in the world.

The three-pound, $1,799 MacBook -- scheduled to ship in two weeks -- is indeed tiny. At 0.76 inches at its thickest point and a mere 0.16 inches at its skinniest, the design trumps Sony's TZ series, which ranges from 0.8 to 1.2 inches in thickness.

Additionally, Jobs said Apple avoided many of the compromises that he claimed Sony and other ultra-mobile computer vendors were forced to make, even with their thicker designs.

For example, unlike other ultra-portable notebooks, the MacBook Air sports a full keyboard, a roomy trackpad and a faster processor -- a custom-designed version of Intel's Core 2 Duo running at 1.6 GHz.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who joined Jobs on stage, said that at Apple's behest, his company started working a year ago on reducing the size of its standard Core 2 Duo for the MacBook Air.

"We didn't think it was possible when we started," said Otellini, who presented Jobs with one of the new coin-sized Core 2 Duo chips. Otellini said the new CPU is 60 percent smaller than the standard offering.

The MacBook Air also offers a bigger screen -- 13.3 inches -- where competitive systems feature 11- or 12-inch-wide screens, Jobs said. He added that the Air's battery life of five hours also beats the competition by several hours.

Light and thin as Air
Source: Apple

In addition to its svelte design, the MacBook Air incorporates features from the iPhone's touchscreen interface. The notebook's multi-touch gesture support lets users rotate and move photos and scroll through images with a finger, or zoom in or out on images with a two-fingered pinch.

Other standard features include 4MB L2 processor cache, 2GB of memory, 80GB hard drive, iSight Webcam, backlit keyboard, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity.

Apple also will offer an optional solid-state drive, he said.

But the Air lacks one component standard in most full-sized notebooks: an optical drive. The design choice hearkens back to year ago, when Jobs made made the controversial decision to cease including floppy drives on the iMac line.

With even more connectivity options available in the market today, the decision not to include an optical drive figures to be less controversial -- and it helps further lighten the system's weight.

"If you really want one, we have a compact Superdrive for $99 with USB connections," Jobs said. "But we don't think most users will miss having an optical drive."

To compensate for the loss, user can turn to wireless and other file transfer options, including a new feature Jobs introduced called Remote Disc.

The feature enables Air users to wirelessly connect to another Mac or PC on the network and access that system's optical drive. The idea is that a user can install software on his or her MacBook Air from a CD or DVD drive loaded on another computer.

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