Source: Smaller MacBook Air on Apple's agenda

CNET hears that Apple's skinny notebook will get a refresh at a planned press event Wednesday.

The MacBook Air will be introduced in a smaller size and with a lower price next week, according to our source. CNET

Apple is expected to introduce a new, smaller MacBook Air at a press conference next week.

Everything about the new Air will be smaller, including the price. The exact final price isn't known right now, but it will be "significantly lower" than the current $1,499 starting price, said a source familiar with the event's agenda. We're confident in our information, but the final details of Apple's announcement could change.

In terms of size, the new Air is described as "smaller and sleeker," but exact dimensions were not known. The current rumor of an 11.6-inch screen may be correct or very close. We do know Apple will introduce the Air at a screen size below 13.3 inches, but likely above the 9.7-inches of the iPad.

That may make sense, as laptops with 11.6-inch screens have become more common in recent months, starting with $399 single-core premium Netbooks, and expanding into dual-core ultraportable laptops such as the Dell Inspiron M101z , which can cost upwards of $500.

According to the source, the new Air will sport an older version of Intel's Core processor, and the spec sheet will list Nvidia's MCP89 chipset. Interestingly, the current $999 13-inch MacBook uses an older Intel Core 2 Duo CPU with the same MCP89 chipset, rather than the newer Core i5/i7 chips found in the MacBook Pro models. Apple will also show that the new MacBook Air has a longer battery life. Unconfirmed is whether the Air will have "instant-on" capabilities similar to the experience of using the iPad, and a touch screen.

Even though it's not the hottest product category for Apple right now in terms of buzz, there are a lot of Macs being sold these days. Two days ago IDC announced that Apple had grabbed a 10.6 percent share of the U.S. PC market during the third quarter, the highest for the company in recent memory. With that momentum, Apple will want to signal it has no intention of drawing sales away from its laptop lineup with its iPad--especially because the average selling price of its laptop lineup is over $1,000 and the average selling price for an iPad hovers somewhere around $600.

Despite the new market being born out of the touch-screen iPad , Apple will want to stress that the iPad and super-light and portable MacBook Air are different use cases and refreshing the Air--and perhaps other Macs--on Wednesday allows Apple to flesh out for us where it really sees the Air fitting in to its lineup.

When it was initially introduced, besides its unusually sleek design for a laptop, Apple stressed the thinness and the lightness of the device. The initial price, at $1,799, reflected that. But this was before the lighter, more portable, and lower-priced iPad, and before a slew of Air copycats, some of which have managed to make PC versions that are priced much lower .

 

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