Rumours of a new MacBook Air, possibly with an 11.6-inch display and smaller footprint have been flying for several months now, a lot of smoke here for there to be no fire behind it.
If a new model Air is indeed in the offing, it would mark the MacBook Air's first major makeover since the sleek and diminutive machine was introduced in January, 2008, although the Air has received a couple of upgrades and refreshes, the most recent over a year ago in June 2009,
when it received a speed bump to 1.86 GHz and 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics, and a price reduction to $1,499 for the base model with a 120 GB hard drive, and $1,799 for the 2.13 GHz high-end model with a 120 GB solid-state
drive, the current spec. offered at the Apple Store.
It seems logical that Apple could have decided that maarketing three different 13-inch laptops (the others being the white MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro) amounts to confusing overlap, and that a downsize would help differentiate the Air from its fuller-featured and more powerful, but thicker and heavier, stablemates. However Apple would presumably
want to avoid appearing to embrace the netbook concept, which Steve Jobs and other senior Apple spokespersons have famously scorned, and a product category are successfully challenging with the hot-selling iPad.
Wherever Apple positions a new MacBook Air, it will risk some cannibalization of other models, whether of high-end iPads should an 11.6-inch Air be priced at, say, US$799 or $849, or of the MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro if they go for a higher than $1,000 price tag. The
current MacBook Air is absurdly over-priced for what you get, with the base 13-inch MacBook Pro offering much greater value for significantly less money if you can live with its roughly 30 percent greater weight and thicker form factor. Or for example, you can buy both a white, 2.4
GHz MacBook and a base model iPad together for the same money as one base-model MacBook Air. However at c.US$800, an 11.6-inch MacBook Air would be hard to resist.
Core i3 Power?
Intel's Core i-series CULV CPU would seem ideally suited to deployment in this sort of computer, which raises the question of what sort of graphics support it a Core i3 MacBook Air would have. The current Air's NVIDIA GeForce 9600M integrated graphics processor unit is
yesterday's news, but it's noteworthy that Apple chose to stick with Core 2 Duo silicon for the 13-inch MacBook and most recent (June 2010) 13-inch MacBook Pro refresh so they could use NVIDIA’s new and much faster 320M integrated GPU. However, with an ultraportable machine like an 11.6-inch MacBook Air graphics performance is a lower priority.
Intel’s new lCULV Core i3 CPU, offered in clock speeds ranging from 1.20 GHz to 2.40 GHz and equipped with its own, in-house HD Graphics GPU and Hyper-Threading technology that enables each processor core to address two tasks at the same time, would arguably a more sensible alternative than cramming in a last-generation Core 2 Duo — provided
that would even be possible presuming a new Air's even more radically thin body.