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OS X Lion Launchpad

The latest MacBook Airs feature OS X Lion, a Thunderbolt port, and backlit keyboards
Apple shifts its focus to its Mac platform

Apple yesterday announced another blowout quarter, raking in $28.57B in revenue and $7.31B in profit. The company also sold over 20 million iPhones, over 9 million iPads, and just shy of 4 million Macs. While Apple has spent the bulk of its resources grooming its iOS-based products and accompanying software, Apple is turning its attention to the Mac side of things today with the official release of OS X 10.7 Lion and new Mac computers.

I. OS X Lion roars onto the scene

Apple first gave us a glimpse of OS X Lion at its "Back to the Mac" event in October 2010, but today is the big day when customers can finally download the operating system. Apple's goal when revamping the OS was to take some of the lessons and design principals from the iPhone/iPad touch and iPad and bring the to the larger screens of Mac Pros, Mac Minis, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs. 

As a result, OS X Lion supports a number of features that are commonly found in iOS including: 

  • Multi-touch gestures
  • App Store
  • App Home screens
  • Full screen apps
  • Autosave
  • App resume when launched 

Other new features include Air Drop which quickly allows OS X Lion users to share files over Wi-Fi, improved Time Machine functionality (local snapshots of files, encrypted backups via USB 2.0/Firewire), Screen Sharing, and a revamped Mail app. Apple claims that there are over 250 new features in OS X Lion. For a full rundown on what you'll find in OS X Lion, you can check out our article here. 

As expected, Apple is furthering its push into digital distribution with the launch of OS Lion -- the operating system will be available as a download from the App Store. Using this method, customers will already need to have Snow Leopard installed (with App Store functionality installed/enabled) in order to perform the upgrade.

“Lion is the best version of OS X yet, and we’re thrilled that users around the world can download it starting today,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “Lion makes upgrading a Mac easier than ever before; just launch the Mac App Store, buy Lion with your iTunes account, and the download and install process will begin automatically.”

The OS X Lion upgrade costs $29.99 via the App Store. If you prefer to have physical media, you can purchase a USB thumb drive with OS X Lion on it for $69.

II. New MacBook Airs

Apple last did a full revamp of its MacBook Air in October. The MacBook Airs (available in 11" and 13" varieties) went to an all-SSD configuration, shaved off some weight/bulk, and the ultraportable went from a sales zero to sales hero.

However, the new MacBook Airs weren't without their faults. For one thing, Apple inexplicably ditched the backlit keyboard (what’s even more bizarre is the first generation MacBook Air design had a backlit keyboard).  Another head scratcher was the fact that Apple only provided base systems with 2GB of RAM -- customer has to use a $100 BTO option to get a more palatable 4GB of memory in their systems (11” and 13” models). And while the $999 price of entry is quite low for those used to purchasing new Mac systems, that price only got you 64GB of storage space on the 11" MacBook Air.

Apple is addressing a few, but not all of these issues with its 2011-spec MacBook Airs. The $999 11" MacBook Air still only comes with 2GB of memory and a 64GB SSD. However, the processor has now been bumped up to a 1.6GHz Core i5 processor instead of the decrepit Core 2 Duo process in the previous model. Also, NVIDIA graphics have been tossed aside for an Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU. Coughing up an extra $200 will get you 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. 

In addition, the new 13" MacBook Air gains a 1.7GHz Core i5 processor in its standard configuration ($1299). Base storage remains at 128GB, but 4GB of RAM is now standard. Stepping up to 256GB of storage space will cost you an extra $300 (head scratcher). Customers can order a 1.8GHz Core i7 processor ($100 extra) with configure-to-order options.

“Portable, affordable and powerful, MacBook Air is the ultimate everyday notebook,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “MacBook Air features our most advanced technology and is an ideal match for Lion, especially with its new Multi-Touch gestures, full-screen apps, Mission Control and Mac App Store.”

All of the new MacBook Airs will be getting backlit keyboards and a single Thunderbolt port. 

III. A new Mac mini has also arrived

Although it's not quite as high-profile as the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or even the iMac, Apple has taken the time to update its tiny Mac mini. The new Mac mini, which is just under 8" square and 1.4" thin, can now be configured with Core i5 or Core i7 processors. A  new AMD Radeon HD 6630M discrete GPU has been added to the mix for added performance.

In an interesting move, Apple has decided to remove the optical drive from the Mac mini, which follows the similar move for the MacBook Air family.

“Mac mini delivers the speed and expandability that makes it perfect for the desktop, living room or office,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “With faster processors, more powerful graphics and Thunderbolt in an incredibly compact, aluminum design, the new Mac mini is more versatile than ever.”

Pricing starts at $599 for the Mac mini.

IV. The $999 MacBook: "So long, farewell!"

As a final note. We can all have a moment of silence for the lowly, plasticy, and overpriced MacBook. Apple has dropped the entry-level notebook completely from its lineup, so that means that the $999 11.1" MacBook Air will now take its place.

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By quiksilvr on 7/20/2011 9:19:05 AM , Rating: 1
The fact that they fixed 2 out of the 3 horribly outdated computers (Air, Mini) and simply got rid of one of them (Macbook) to fit their model is a solid improvement.

Granted, I'll never buy Apple because Sony's Vaios crush them (as does the HP Envy), but I was happy to be proven wrong that they were neglecting their "lower" end models and Sandied up the Bridges.

I do agree that anything under 2GB is unacceptable in a non-Linux OS.

By JasonMick on 7/20/2011 9:36:41 AM , Rating: 5
The fact that they fixed 2 out of the 3 horribly outdated computers (Air, Mini) and simply got rid of one of them (Macbook) to fit their model is a solid improvement.

Granted, I'll never buy Apple because Sony's Vaios crush them (as does the HP Envy), but I was happy to be proven wrong that they were neglecting their "lower" end models and Sandied up the Bridges.

I do agree that anything under 2GB is unacceptable in a non-Linux OS

Well, aside from my underlying feelings on Apple's business tactics, if I was to pretend this was say, a Lenovo or Dell design, I'd have numerous complaints.

1. 2 GB of memory? WTF.
2. No USB 3.0 on a $1,000 laptop???? WTF pt. 2 (yes, I know it's got thunderbolt, but there's MANY more USB 3.0 devices...)
3. 64 GB? That leaves me 32 GB if I do Boot Camp and install an actually useful OS (Windows 7)? WTF pt. 3 (OS X is fine for fun and games, but when I need to do real work, in my experience it's clunky and painful.)
4. Intel HD 3000???? God d@mmit... how huge must their profit margins be. No discrete GPU on a $1,000 design? Okay, so some competitive designs do this too, but I think this is just unacceptable. Basically it rules out most mid-range gaming.

What does this have going for it?
1. It's light.
2. It's pretty.
3. It has a backlit keyboard.

So in the base model you're buying a pretty, lightweight $1,000 POS aluminum brick that lights up?

This nullifies most of my complaints, is cheaper, and weighs just slightly more:

I rest my case.

By quiksilvr on 7/20/2011 9:50:16 AM , Rating: 2
I agree that the Air still has a long way to go before competing with ultraportables. Hell, it has a frigging mountain to climb before reaching what is considered to be computing perfection: The Vaio Z.

But at least it's getting there, remember the first Air that came out? The price was ridiculous and had an iPod 4200 rpm hdd installed. It chugged and was mad OP. Now it has solid state, Sandy Bridge and cheaper. I think I even saw an SD slot.

I imagine as time goes on a shift from Macbook and Macbook Pro to Macbook Air and Macbook Pro. I honestly see Apple axing their 17" models and further down the road an Air alternative for their 15" model.

Do I think the Air's and most ultraportables are useless?

Do I see them improving and eventually reaching a point where they will be viable for everyone?

By JasonMick on 7/20/2011 9:59:24 AM , Rating: 2
Do I think the Air's and most ultraportables are useless?

Do I see them improving and eventually reaching a point where they will be viable for everyone?

I agree, the MBA has improved in some areas, though sadly has regressed in graphics (why, Apple?).

To be fair to Apple, Samsung's ultraportable is similarly useless (at least in my mind).

SAMSUNG Series 9 900X1B

USB 3.0 Yes, but slower CPU, same GPU, same anemic 2 GB, and $50 more.

Samsung's offering is an even more pricey POS brick, and yes it lights up...

I envision Apple and Samsung having some pretty disgruntled entry level buyers when they realize they can do hardly anything on their shiny new toy.

By quiksilvr on 7/20/2011 10:11:08 AM , Rating: 2
That's why Vaio Z is the only way to go if you want ultraportable perfection.

By MrTeal on 7/20/2011 10:18:25 AM , Rating: 3
And if you sweat hundred dollar bills when you go for a jog.

By quiksilvr on 7/20/2011 11:33:23 AM , Rating: 1
Perfection isn't cheap (aside from Kim Kardashian's booty).

By Solandri on 7/20/2011 2:21:50 PM , Rating: 2
I ended up paying a net $660 after tax for my Sony Z122GX. They refreshed it like every 3 months while the Z11-Z14 line was out, so you could get huge "closeout" discounts on a 4-month old model. And they had their $300 trade-in for a decrepit laptop program running at the same time.

That's my biggest gripe with comparing retail Mac prices to retail PC prices. Macs simply don't get discounted as much when they become outdated. I guess that follows from prioritizing form over function. Even if it doesn't work as well as the latest Mac, it still looks like one.

By Solandri on 7/20/2011 2:23:49 PM , Rating: 2
SAMSUNG Series 9 900X1B

USB 3.0 Yes, but slower CPU, same GPU, same anemic 2 GB, and $50 more.

Samsung's 2 GB is a standard SO-DIMM which (with a little disassembly) is user-replaceable. AFAIK the Macbook Air memory is still soldered onto the motherboard.

By TakinYourPoints on 7/20/2011 2:36:15 PM , Rating: 3
How has the MBA regressed in graphics? The prior MBA also had an integrated GPU with the NVIDIA 320M. The Sandy Bridge IGP is faster according to Anandtech's benchmarks.

I don't understand why you're complaining about integrated GPUs in an ultraslim when ALL ultraslims have the same restriction due to space and thermal concerns. The Lenovo X220 and Sony VAIO Z all have the same issues and all use the Sandy Bridge IGP.

If you want a dedicated GPU, get a bigger laptop, simple.

By Manch on 7/20/2011 9:59:15 AM , Rating: 3
(OS X is fine for fun and games,

That's the only part of your statement I disagree with. Intel graphics prevent fun and games!

Of course somebody on here will probably get bent out of shape and tell me I'm enjoying it wrong....

By corduroygt on 7/20/2011 11:15:01 AM , Rating: 2
The "games" part in OSX mostly refers to Angry Birds and Facebook games though, so the Intel is just fine.

By Manch on 7/20/2011 12:15:52 PM , Rating: 2
Great, I can play those on my phone, or my netbook both which cost me far less than a mac so meh...

By TakinYourPoints on 7/20/2011 2:55:16 PM , Rating: 2
I disagree with it too, mainly because my Mac is a work machine (Final Cut Studio, encoding, portfolio website dev, work email) while my PC with SLI and everything is basically a machine/hobby kit. Basically a big toy that the output from my Mac pays for. I like em both, so whatever.

By TakinYourPoints on 7/20/2011 2:59:42 PM , Rating: 2
Whoops, it should say "basically a gaming machine/hobby kit".

I also have it outputting to my 27" iMac as a display. Switching between sources works out nicely and is surprisingly cost effective given that a standalone 2560x1440 IPS 27" is $1000 from Apple, $1100 from Dell, and $1400 from NEC.

By Manch on 7/20/2011 3:18:42 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, not talking about an iMac, talking about their overpriced ultraportables.

By Manch on 7/20/2011 3:45:46 PM , Rating: 4
Then again , all of their machines are overpriced

By TakinYourPoints on 7/20/2011 4:05:52 PM , Rating: 2
A comparable Lenovo x220 or Samsung ultraslim is priced about in line with the MBA. My only issue is the x220's 16:9 display, but otherwise it is also a good machine. The same can be said for the VAIO Z which actually costs more, but you're getting a worse keyboard and trackpad than either the Lenovo or the MBA.

Ultraslims with SSDs and an emphasis on battery life are going to cost a certain amount either way. They may not be for you or me, but laptops of any kind are a balance between size, weight, performance, display/trackpad/keyboard quality, and price. Compromise on several of these things and the price reduces. Compromise on fewer of those things and the price increases. Do not compromise on small size and thermal and space constraints have an effect on the type of CPUs and GPUs you can put in there.

People have this conspiratorial tone about ultraslims being overpriced but there are actual legit reasons, and the fact that so many people want such light and slim notebooks with good performance (SSD + OS X = nearly instant cold boot) means that the market can actually bear that price. If you want a 8+ pound behemoth with a fast GPU and 90 minutes of battery life that costs about the same, then go for it, and there are a whole range of laptops in between.

Evaluating laptops isn't as one-dimensional as it is with desktops, given that form factor is such an important component.

By Manch on 7/20/2011 6:16:59 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not impressed much with those machines either. At their current price point I find them all underwhelming. I dont think it's too much to ask for a decent amount of ram, a slightly bigger hdd. Yeah I know, you can get them as options for an arm and a leg. They need to beef up the min specs a bit. I hate when they gouge the hell out of you for what amounts to very little cost to them. I understand the need to make a profit, but I'd be more inclined to pick one up if two simple upgrades didnt add to the price by a third. While I would love a ultra thin form factor since I travel a lot, until they can offer more, I'll bare the extra burden of an extra pound or two. Most people I know that actually buy these damn things end up buying extra hardware to stuff in their bags, which to me defeats the purpose.

I realize an ultra portables are not intended as a gaming machine but thanks for pointing out that laptops come in multiple designs, styles and performance. I never knew that before today! Wait whats that? Oh hell, my friend just told me ice cream comes in more than one flavor! GTFO!

By MrTeal on 7/20/2011 10:17:45 AM , Rating: 3
To be fair, that Acer has a slower processor, weighs 25% more, is all plastic and has a mechanical HDD compared to the base MBA. You can buy a lot of SSD space for the $300 price difference, but they're still very different laptops.

That being said, the base 11" is almost useless unless all you want is a shiny netbook. The $1200 upgraded version really should be the base model.

By AmbroseAthan on 7/20/2011 11:20:38 AM , Rating: 2
Even at 13" though, Acer have their new one TimelineX ($799 Newegg).

At a $400 price difference, it would be easy to toss in an SSD at that cost difference and still be under. That $400 is a tough cost difference to swallow for the casing, slightly slimmer nature, and Mac OS.

By AmbroseAthan on 7/20/2011 11:22:33 AM , Rating: 2
By saarek on 7/20/2011 11:37:58 AM , Rating: 3
My Goodness, I can't believe how much you've ignored concerning the MacBook Air!

This is not your average notebook, it is an ultra portable.

It does not matter whether you buy a Sony, Dell or whatever ultra portable they are all more expensive than your average notebook and for good reason.

That this machine does not suit your personal needs is clear, it would not be a good machine for you.

But for those of us who actually have use of such a design it's a life saver, seriously mate, you have no idea.

By Solandri on 7/20/2011 2:50:05 PM , Rating: 2
It does not matter whether you buy a Sony, Dell or whatever ultra portable they are all more expensive than your average notebook and for good reason.

The thing is, when Sony, Lenovo, Toshiba, Dell etc. do ultra portable, they do it with much fewer compromises than the MBA. They all include a plethora of features missing from the Air. Taking my Sony Z as an example, switching to the MBA means you give up:

- LAN port*
- discrete video card
- brighter higher res screen with better colors
- optical drive
- expresscard slot
- HDMI output
- full sized video out (instead of mini-displayport requiring an adapter)
- extra USB plug
- user-upgradeable standard memory modules
- swappable battery

The only advantages the MBA has are it's marginally thinner, and is all-aluminum shell (as opposed to half-aluminum). The weight, battery life, SSD are pretty much the same, as was the street price when it was available. Essentially, by getting an MBA you're deciding that the thinness, extra aluminum, and the Apple logo are more important than the big list above.

* Contrary to Apple's reasoning, a gigabit LAN port is becoming more important, not less. It used to be that LAN throughput was limited by your HDD speed, so it rarely topped 40-50 MB/s, with transfers of a bunch of files from a laptop usually being around 20-30 MB/s. That's not too big an advantage over 802.11n wireless' real-world 7-10 MB/s. But with SSDs becoming ubiquitous, gigabit LAN is now more likely to hit 80-125 MB/s, which utterly destroys wireless networking speeds.

By Aikouka on 7/20/2011 11:53:27 AM , Rating: 2
Jason, I don't really understand some of your points of contention mentioned here and in the article. You bring up the 64GB of storage, but you do realize that it is flash NAND, right? That's the same stuff that goes into SSDs, and we all know that SSDs aren't super expensive, but they're still somewhat of a "luxury item" when it comes to computers. Personally, I've been on the hunt for a laptop with two drive bays so I can still have a mechanical drive for storage (right now I use an external 500GB WD Elements SE drive). But anyway... to purchase a 64GB SSD, it would cost between $125-150 depending on brand and model. Of course that's not necessarily 100% indicative of Apple's cost since it's most likely soldered onto the motherboard, but it gives you an idea.

I'm a bit confused as to how you consider $300 to be a head scratcher when upgrading from 128GB to 256GB. It comes to the same point as above... have you seen SSD prices? Going from a 120GB OCZ Vertex 3 ($250) to a 240GB OCZ Vertex 3 ($500) will cost you nearly the same price that Apple is charging. In other words, it's not nearly as bad as how much OEMs charge for more memory. I'm actually surprised not to see a snarky remark on the $200 upgrade to the 11" Air as that one includes the usually OEM overpriced memory upgrade.

By Aikouka on 7/20/2011 11:55:20 AM , Rating: 2
Ah, one correction... I completely missed that Brandon wrote this article. I usually assume Jason writes most articles, because it seems that he does! :P My apologies for assuming.

By AssBall on 7/20/2011 12:21:20 PM , Rating: 1
To be fair, the Vertex 3's are top of the line premium SSDs. There are cheaper per/GB brands.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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