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Tech Report – The new MacBook Air

Apple yesterday unveiled two new versions of its MacBook Air laptop.

The original MacBook Air was introduced in January 2008 but it has not sold as well as Apple would have liked. Although praised for its thin and lightweight design, it has struggled to find a home between sturdier workhorses – including its big brother, the MacBook – and the much cheaper netbooks which flooded the market over the last two years.

Now, Apple senses that an opportunity for a new hybrid category might be opening up: something between a laptop and a tablet computer. In fact, Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted as much when he introduced the new MacBook Air at yesterday’s press event: “We asked ourselves what would happen if a MacBook and an iPad hooked up,” he said.

The new MacBook Air comes in two screen sizes, 11.6-inches and 13.3-inches. They weigh 2.3 pounds and 2.9 pounds respectively. (For comparison purposes, the iPad weighs 1.5 pounds and the regular MacBook weighs 4.7 pounds.) There is no optical or hard drive. Instead, like the iPad, the MacBook Air uses Flash storage. This not only makes it lighter and faster but it “wakes up” in an instant, with none of the usual power-up delays.

Flash storage is not the only feature borrowed from the iPad. The new MacBook Air comes with a built-in, all-glass multi-touch trackpad. You can drag, swipe, pinch, and tap – all the gestures that have become integral to using the iPad, the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Interestingly, Apple decided against adding touch capabilities to the screens of its new computers, with Jobs suggesting that, unlike the iPad, using touch on a vertical screen was “ergonomically terrible.”

Another area where the MacBook Air excels is in battery life. The Apple engineers have used the absence of a hard drive to add a much larger battery, which provides up to 5 hours of continuous use on the 11-inch model and up to 7 hours on the 13-inch version.

But the best news of all is the price. The new MacBook Air starts at $999, which is $500 less than the starting price of the original. The MacBook Air is available immediately in Apple stores and online.

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