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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.

Comments     Threshold

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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.

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