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MacBook Air's importance to Apple on the rise

The ultra-lightweight notebook now accounts for 28 percent of Apple's notebook shipments, up from 8 percent earlier this year.

Apple's MacBook Air is a retail winner.
Apple's MacBook Air is a retail winner. CBS Interactive

Apple's MacBook Air has become a sales juggernaut, new research from NPD and Morgan Stanley has found.

According to data compiled by the companies and obtained by AppleInsider, the MacBook Air accounted for 28 percent of all Apple notebook shipments to the U.S. in October, up from just 8 percent in May and June.

The catalyst for the MacBook Air's growth was the July update, which most notably brought Thunderbolt support to the ultrathin notebook. During that month, 22 percent of all notebooks Apple shipped to the United States were MacBook Airs.

For months now, Apple's lightweight computer has been touted by analysts as a key component in the company's financials. In April, J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz said he believes that the MacBook Air could eventually deliver $2.2 billion in annual revenue to Apple if its sales continue to improve.

Just last month, another analyst, Ashok Kumar of Rodman & Renshaw, said he believes that the MacBook Air is so appealing to consumers, it might be "cannibalizing the iPad."

Given that success, Apple might want to capitalize on the Air's thin and lightweight design by bringing it to other notebooks. DigiTimes reported yesterday, citing partners in Apple's upstream supply chain, that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company is preparing to launch an ultrathin MacBook Pro in March. However, the sources did say the new computer might actually be an updated MacBook Air and not a MacBook Pro.

Regardless, it appears that the MacBook Air is one device Apple is unwilling to let go. That's more than we can say for the company's high-end Mac Pro, which late last month was the subject of a cancellation rumor.

So far, Apple has not confirmed that report.