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Apple, Dell luxury laptops: Once cool, now old

Luxury ultrathin laptops from Apple and Dell languish at Apple and Dell online stores.

Luxury ultrathin laptops from Apple and Dell were once ultra-hip. Now they quietly age at Apple and Dell online stores.

Both the aluminum-clad Apple MacBook Air and Dell Adamo were introduced with the kind of fanfare rarely seen for laptops. Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air at Macworld in January 2008 as the piece de resistance of the conference. (See video below.) And, in a rare cameo appearance, Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini took the stage with Jobs to underscore the significance of the Air.

Dell's 0.65-inch thin Adamo was introduced at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show with an equal dose of theater.

That's ancient history now. Apple hasn't upgraded the MacBook Air in tech eons (that's more than a year in actual time) and Dell's Adamo teeters on the edge of existence on the company's Web site: the original Adamo is now down to one $999 model. (Note: it's no longer offered in "pearl" and the high-end 2.1GHz model is not available.) The Adamo XPS has become little more than a curiosity piece on the floor of select Best Buy stores (I saw one at Best Buy in Silicon Valley recently with a buyer-proof price of over $1,900) as it staves off rumors of its demise.

So, what happened? To state the obvious, they were too expensive for most people. To be more precise, they offered an unattractive paradox. While more expensive than almost any laptop, they also had fewer features: no optical drive, few ports, and lower-performance silicon.

Other products have gotten in the way, too. There's been some speculation that the iPad will replace the Air. And let's not forget Netbooks. Those ultra-small, ultra-cheap laptops have made luxury laptops seem more expensive than ever. Then there's ultrathins: low-cost, slim notebooks, like Dell's Vostro V13, which incorporates some of the key design elements of the Adamo.

That said, I think the MacBook Air and Dell Adamo are iconic designs that will last long beyond their tepid contemporaneous popularity. Like other design icons, such as the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray and the 1962 Studebaker Avanti, they're stunning exceptions to a field of otherwise bland designs. And to a few consumers (like myself) who value portability and aesthetics, they're the ideal laptop.

MacBook Air (left) and Dell Adamo.
MacBook Air (left) and Dell Adamo. CNET Reviews

Both companies seem unconcerned about the fate of these trend-setting laptops. Apple has remained silent about the Air, and Dell, when contacted, said that the higher-end Adamo model no longer appears on Dell's Web site because of the unavailability of the built-in AT&T 3G card, while confirming that the pearl Adamo has been discontinued.