Today I have my first hands-on with the brand new MacBook Air (MBA) that Apple released last Wednesday, October 20 (US PDT). Until I touch it myself I did not appreciate how thin this latest revision of the MBA is. As we all know from Apple's specifications the thickest part of the MBA is 0.68 inch and tapering to 0.11 inch at its thinest part. The 11-inch weights in at 2.3 lbs (1.06 kg) and the 13-inch weights in at a 2.9 lbs (1.32 kg).

The main differences between the 11-inch and the 13-inch aside from prices, obvious screen size and physical dimensions are:

Features 11-inch 13-inch
The Intel Core 2 Duo CPU Speed either 1.4GHz or 1.6GHz either 1.86GHz or 2.13GHz
L2 Cache 3MB 6MB
Internal storage (SSD) either 64GB or 128GB either 128GB or 256GB
Apple estimated battery life 5 hours 7 hours
Expansion Slot None SD Card Slot

The CPU differences is not that significant except when comparing the lowest configuration 11-inch to the highest configuration 13-inch. Even then user will not notice the differences unless they are running applications that stress the CPU.

A significant difference between the two MBA sizes is their L2 cache sizes. The 13-inch MBA models have twice as much L2 cache compared to the 11-inch models. L2 cache is what the CPU use to remember instructions while the CPU communicates with the relatively slower RAM. The more L2 cache the faster the CPU is able to perform its tasks.

Unless you do not intend to store much data (files: documents, photos, music or movies) internally on the MBA while you're on the go, you should buy the largest storage possible. This is because Apple did not use a SSD inside the new MBA due to space considerations. Instead they used Flash memory chips soldered onto a custom build daughter card to the motherboard. Therefore aftermarket upgrades to the MBA internal storage will most likely not be available. Plus there is a sticker on the card indicating any tempering will result in voiding the AppleCare warrantee.

Battery life is something to consider but unless you do not charge the MBA every night you the 5 hours and 7 hours difference should not be a factor for choosing the 13-inch over the 11-inch. Of course the safety of extra battery life is always nice to have.

The option of directly plug a SD Memory Card into the MBA like the latest MacBook Pro models is always convenient. Aside from not wasting a USB port to plug in a memory card reader there is no memory card reader to loose or carry around.

The 13-inch models screen sizes are 28% larger by area than the 11-inch but only a bit over 1 inch wider and taller. For some, this extra 28% of screen real estate may be the decision factor to make one choose the 13-inch over the 11-inch.

Although the new MBA is very thin it is constructed very well. Its unibody construction gives it the same Apple quality feel as any other Macs. Since it is also made out of the aluminum like all other Apple notebooks a case will be required to prevent scratches. At the moment no manufacture has made a case custom designed for the new MBA.

The MacBook Air line has never been ideal as one's only primary computer, but in the past it features had not differentiate it from the other Macintosh as a good secondary portable computer. With its new design it serves well sitting in the Apple product line between the iPad and the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The new MBA is catered for the individual who needs a very light portable Macintosh where the tasks s/he like to perform are not achievable on the iPad. For people who need only to surf the Internet, process emails and make minor edits to documents, the iPad may be a better choice. With iPad apps continue to mature and advance the MBA's target audiences may grow smaller and smaller in the next year.

It is very likely Apple will discontinue the MacBook or transition it to be only sold to Educational customers.

On Wednesday, October 20, 10:00 (US PDT) Apple hosted their "Back to the Mac" event in Cupertino, California, USA. During the event they introduced the new iLife '11 with the same suite of 5 applications: iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, iWeb, iDVD. They also gave a sneak peek of the next Mac OS X version 10.7 (aka "Lion") and FaceTime for Mac. The "one more thing" as this announcement was the brand new MacBook Air (late 2010).

iPhoto '11

Most features are the same here. Steve Jobs highlighted the following features:

  • New full screen modes
  • Facebook enhancements
  • Emailing Photos
  • New slideshows
  • Big leap in books
  • Letterpress cards

Apple greatly enhanced the user experience of creating photo books. With the addition of Letterpress cards this will challenge the needs to purchase physical cards any more.

iMovie '11

Apple added some very impressive features to this version. Jobs highlighted the following:

  • All new audio editing
  • One step effects
  • People Finder
  • News and sports themes
  • Movie trailers

Of the five applications in the suite iMovie '11 enhancements seem to be most impressive to me. Apple added audio graph to every clip view, including the Project view. The new audio editing feature is of professional quality, with very simply interface for adding special effects to audio.

Apple added iPhoto Faces facial recognition technology to iMovie, giving the new Movie Trailers feature the ability to isolate clips of a given individual simply selecting their name.

Speaking of Movie Trailer, this is a new feature that makes creating quick trailer to a movie very simply. Not sure how practical it is for home movies. I guess in the case of home movies these are not trailers but the actual movie you will want to share with family and friends. Because we all know how boring watching someone else's home movie can be.

This Movie Trailer feature comes with a storyboard to guide the user through the creation of the trailer, but there is no mention of how easy it is to customize those storyboards aside from changing the text in each.

GarageBand '11

Most of the features here are the same. Jobs highlighted the following for GarageBand '11:

  • Flex Time
  • Groove Matching
  • More guitar amps & effects
  • New piano & guitar lessons
  • "How Did I Play?"

The Flex Time and Groove Matching appear to be great enhancements for musician, but since I'm not a musician I cannot comment fairly on it. That applies to the other highlighted features also.

iWeb '11

There are not much that was changed. Apple added the ability to add widgets to web pages. They supply nine of them:

  • Adding photos from MobileMe Gallery
  • Embed YouTube videos
  • Google Map
  • Google AdSense integration
  • Take photos using the iSight camera
  • Capturing movies with the iSight camera
  • Add a countdown clock
  • Create a RSS feed
  • Include HTML code snippet

I kind of hoping that Apple releases an application to create interactive iBooks, and enhance audio content for iTunes Store. May be next version.

As always iLife '11 will be shipped free of charge along with each new Mac and the upgrade price is USD49.00 (HKD448.00) for Single User and USD79.99 (HKD688.00) for the Family Pack.

FaceTime on Mac

Finally FaceTime will be available on the Mac. Although in beta right at the moment, users will be able to FaceTime with iPhone 4's and iPod Touch 4G when it is released. If you have a Mac or one of the new compatible iOS device you can download the beta to try.

Mac OS 10.7 (aka "Lion")

Nothing much can be said since it was just a sneak peek at the OS. As Steve Jobs explains, iOS is based on OS X and now it is time for OS X user interface to be redefined base on lessons learnt from iOS. Details of what to expect can be best seen in Apple's video. It is expect to release in the Summer 2011.

One new addition to OS 10.7 that we get end of this year is the new Mac App Store. This new store will be similar to the App Store that existed for the iOS devices. Apple will offer the same deal to developers and developers will have to apply to have their apps included in the App Store.

The idea of the Mac App Store is great and has been discussed since the appearance of the App Store for iOS devices, but how well will developers receive this new method of distributing their apps? Given the troubles many have encountered with the current App Store approval process. I'm sure the smaller software developers will welcome the idea, but the adoption of the Mac App Store but large software developers like many of Apple's competitors: Adobe, Microsoft and Google, will be a sign of approval for this approach.

What happens for software that are not distributed through the App Store? Are they placed in a sandbox on the user's Mac? We will not know until Apple begins to release more information regarding the Mac App Store.

For Macintosh users the Mac App Store will be a huge step towards a ease of mind. The user no longer have to rely on the software to check for updates, or manually search for these potential updates themselves. Not sure if this approach will eliminate malwares, given the number of hacks that existed in apps that got pass Apple's App Store screeners.

For the latter, does Apple have some new method up its sleeves? I just hope that Apple can do a better job than the iOS App Store approval process.

With the Mac App Store Apple will finally closes off the last hole for their products, they will be able to maintain total control of the user experience for their products. For long time Mac users this should not be a surprise, it has always been Steve Jobs [Apple's] gaol from the start. Some may call this a "wall-garden" and some may call this a "peace of mind".

MacBook Air (Late 2010)

This is Apple's thinnest and smallest Mac they've ever made. The thickest part is only a mere 0.68 inch and it tappers to an incredible 0.11 inch.

All MacBook Air models will come with the following:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB on-chip shared L2 cache
  • 2GB of RAM on board and an maximum of 4GB
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M with 256MB shared memory
  • 2 USB 2.0 ports
  • headphone jack
  • a built-in microphone
  • Airport Extreme WiFi (802.11n that is 802.11a/b/g compatible)
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR

The battery life on these new MacBook Air is very impressive. A conservative estimate with wireless web surfing during testing gives a battery life of 7 hours on the 13-inch, 5 hours on the 11-inch and a staggering 30 days standby time for both.

Screen Size CPU Speed Solid State Drive Price (USD) Price (HKD)
11.6 inch 1.4 GHz 64 GB $999.00 $7588.00
11.6 inch 1.4 GHz 128 GB $1199.00 $9088.00
13.3 inch 1.86 GHz 128 GB $1299.00 $9888.00
13.3 inch 1.86 GHz 256 GB $1599.00 $12,488.00

In the past because the MacBook Air does have a built-in optical drive, it was difficult to reinstall the OS. With the release of the new models Apple has decided to ship a Software Reinstall (USB flash) Drive with each MacBook Air.

From the gallery of images on Apple.com for the new MacBook Air, they review what appears to be a SD card slot on the right side of the MacBook Air, like those available on MacBook Pro since mid-2009. Strangely there is no mention of such a slot in the Tech Specs on the site.

[Updated: October 21, 2010, 10:00] The apparent difference is that the 11-inch models do not come with a SD Card Expansion Slot where as the 13-inch models do. This can be clearly seen on Apple's MacBook Air comparison page for the new models.

You can watch the full keynote on Apple's Events web site.