Apple MacBook Air: Encore please

There's a whole host of ultra-thin laptops poised to challenge the gorgeous MacBook Air, on price if nothing else. So then--what's next from Apple?

The Apple MacBook Air has remained almost unchanged for a year and a half--a testament to the staying power of its design. So, how will Apple respond to the wave of inexpensive, ultra-thin lookalikes hitting the market over the next six months?

The Air is still a stunning design but its novelty and high-price will come under assault as lookalikes flood the market
The Air is still a stunning design but its novelty and high price will come under assault as lookalikes flood the market Apple

The Air was a sensation when it debuted in January of 2008. Not that it sold by the boatloads, but the stunning form factor set off an industrial-design frenzy. Ergo, the Dell Adamo and the raft of "ultra-thin" laptops in the hopper as a result of Intel's push to get its "ULV" (ultra-low-voltage) chips in as many glamorous but affordable designs as possible.

The just-announced ultra-thin Acer Aspire Timeline is the writing on the wall. No, it's not the equivalent of a MacBook Air or Dell Adamo but it's close enough to give prospective buyers even more reason to balk at the $1,800-plus price tags attached to those two gorgeous designs.

And other designs are already out there like the 0.78 inch-thick MSI X340 X-Slim, which is, more or less, a photocopy of the Air. And even Lenovo is tempting fate with the 3.5-pound 13.3-inch IdeaPad U350, which will start at $649 and make the $1,900 ThinkPad X301--and the Air--look very expensive.

So, what does an Acer Aspire Timeline get you for $899? Let's take a quick look:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor SU9400 (1.40GHz, 10 watts)
  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit TFT LCD
  • Mobile Intel GS45 Express chipset
  • 4GB of DDR3 memory
  • 6-cell lithium ion battery
  • 500GB SATA hard drive
  • 3.5 pounds
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit

Many of those specifications are a stone's throw away from the Air (and Adamo)--or match it.

So, what will Apple's MBA encore be? Thinner? Lighter? Faster? 3G capable? Dare I say, cheaper? Or a new industrial design that will send all the ultra-thin wannabes back to the drawing board? I'm waiting.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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