People who thought Apple CEO Steve Jobs couldn't top last year's iPhone for innovation might have judged the company too soon. At Macworld Tuesday, Jobs may have done it again, introducing the world's thinnest laptop, the MacBook Air.
The MacBook Air has the potential to reshape the laptop industry. The laptop fits inside a standard office manila envelope, which is how Jobs presented it as the showstopper of this year's conference of all things Apple.
The MacBook Air weighs 3 pounds. Shaped like an elegant wedge, it is just 0.16 inches at its thinnest end and .76 inches at its thickest. Aside from its airy thinness, there is nothing miniature about the laptop. The screen is 13.3 inches wide with an LED backlit display, while the keyboard is full-size and is also backlit.
Its trackpad is generous in size, multifunctional and practical. It's instantly responsive to quick-touch commands. Users can rotate photos, page rapidly through a photo slideshow, rearrange items on the desktop with ease and precision and creativity. The computer can also zoom in and out with a gentle "pinching" motion on the screen.
The Intel processor Core 2 Duo chip that the laptop uses is 60 percent smaller than other chips and, according to Jobs, works very fast.
"We didn't think it was possible to create this," Intel CEO Paul Otellini told the audience. "It's the width of a dime and thickness of a nickel."
The wireless MacBook Air also has five hours of battery life, versus 1.5 hours for many laptops, without using a giant, heavy extended battery.
The whole machine is simple and seamless, so beautiful in its design it could go in the Museum of Modern Art. At $1,799, the laptop will start shipping in two weeks.
The laptop is environmentally-friendly.
"It's the first display that's mercury-free and uses arsenic-free glass," Jobs said. "Its circuit boards are BFR-free and PVC-free also. Its aluminum case is fully recyclable."
Fans Travel Far and Wide to Macworld
People come from all over the country and the world to attend Macworld, forming patient lines at 6 a.m. in the chilly dark dawn and heavy fog; doors don't open until 7:30 a.m.
NDTV, a 24/7 English-language news channel in India, was the only Indian media outlet invited to attend the show.
"This year, we are the only ones here. Next year, you'll see 10 from India," said Rajiv Makhni, an anchor and editor for a popular tech program called "Gadget Guru." "The appetite for Mac products is huge."
"The global phenomenon of Mac usage is starting to mature," he said. "Earlier, it was a niche market. But there are more hacked iPhones in India than in Hong Kong. And Hong Kong always has the most technology in Asia."
Hiroko Clemens, a Southern California journalist who works for the Tokyo-based Eizo Shinbun, also attended.
"Mac is like a religion. Only one company that is making computers could hold this huge an event," Clemens said. Macs are popular in Japan because "families are shooting HD family video. It can easily be edited on a Mac."
At the keynote, Jobs leapt onto the stage like a high school athlete, with his usual energy, humor and sense of wonder. During his speech, he was relaxed and playful. He clearly loves the technology his company has developed and loves unveiling it.
His explanations were simple; anyone can understand them. His delight ("Isn't this cool?" he said at one point) was reminiscent of a kid at his own birthday party who just got a new bike.
Movie Rentals, Time Capsule, iPod Touch Features
Apple also introduced the long-rumored iTunes movie rental service. The company forged partnerships with 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Universal, Sony, Paramount and Disney.
"We have every major studio," Jobs said.
Customers can rent films 30 days after their DVD release and view them for 24 hours as often as they wish instantly on their computers. The movies can be rented from $2.99 to $4.99.
The movie rental can be watched on a TV as well as on a Mac, PC or iPhone. Jobs also announced that customers can view podcasts -- both audio and visual -- on their TVs.
Jobs also announced Time Capsule, a product that can back up all computer files and save them to the hard drive reliably. The two versions cost $299 for 500 GB or $499 for 1 TB.
"We want people backing up their content," Jobs said.
Jobs also announced that the new iPod Touch will now have several new functions, similar to those of the iPhone: maps, Web clips, SMS and captioned lyrics while listening to a song. People with older models can buy the upgrade for $20.
Jobs' presentation ended with Randy Newman singing some witty and irreverent verses from a piano onstage. The songwriter and composer has often worked at Pixar for Jobs.
"I always root against corporations 'cause that's the way I am," Newman said. "But not this one."