That's a question Apple has been trying to figure out ever since. The company's answer today? The new MacBook Air "the future" of laptops, according to Steve Jobs. "We think all notebooks are going to be like this one day."
So, what does the future look like? Well, it comes in two flavors — with a 13.3-inch display or an 11.6-inch one — and apparently it only uses flash memory. That's right: no standard hard drive, just as the original Air before it shed the optical drive. This allows the battery to last longer, and also makes the Air lighter and thinner, though it comes at the expense of big-volume hard drive capacities. It'll give it more of an iPad feel as the Air will have the ability to instantly turn on just like the tablet — something netbooks have going for them, too.
Something else the Air borrows from netbooks? A long battery life. Apple is boasting 30 days of standby power, and a lengthy five hours of continuous life for the smaller Air and seven hours for the larger. That standby power figure is interesting in the sense that it means when you come back to the Air, even without plugging it in, you shouldn't find it drained of battery life.
It's pretty darn thin, too, as mentioned. At its thickest, the Air is 0.68 inches thick, and tapers down into a 0.11-inch point. The 13-inch model weighs only 2.9 pounds, whereas the 11-inch model takes that down to 2.3 pounds. Those are netbook weights, but you can tell Apple didn't want the Air to feel like a netbook, despite all the similarities.
To that end, the 13-inch Air has a higher resolution screen than the 15-inch MacBook Pro (time to refresh those next, eh, Apple?), and its got a dedicated mobile Nvidia GeForce processor that won't have you playing all the latest games, but should keep the Air from chugging. Perhaps most importantly to Apple's gesture-and-touch filled future, the Air features both a full-sized keyboard as well as a full-sized glass trackpad, just like the other MacBooks out there. And, of course, you'll be able to use FaceTime now. There are also some interesting evolutions of Apple's design: gone is the small, round power button next to the keyboard, and instead the power button is now a key itself.
Starting today, you can pick up either Air you please, with the 11.6-inch model starting at an record low price for the Air line at $999. That gets you 64GB of flash memory, which can be doubled for $200. The 13.3-inch model sells at the same level as the previous iteration of the Air at $1299 for the base 128GB unit, or $1599 if you want a roomier 256GB flash drive.
13.3 inch MacBook for $1299 with 128GB of flash memory, or go for the smaller 11.6-inch model which starts at $999 with 64GB of storage. Both of the models can have their storage capacities doubled for a little more money.
There's no doubt that Apple has turned the Air into something far more interesting than the gimmick it first came off as. Only time will tell how far Apple pursues this marriage of its mobile and laptop philosophies: Jobs, after all, cheekily described the Air as what would happen if "an iPad and a MacBook hooked up," and it does seem a bit like an iPad with a keyboard. When that App Store for Macs hits, too, the line will only be more blurry.
We're still gathering our thoughts — watch for those in a bit — but how about you? Do you need a MacBook Air now?