How the MacBook Air remade the notebook world

Apple Talk: Ultrabook builders have learned a lesson that Apple has long preached

The MacBook Air was significant because it wasn't just about being very thin - it was also about omitting legacy features to improve the user experience

The MacBook Air was significant because it wasn't just about being very thin - it was also about omitting legacy features to improve the user experiencePhoto: Apple

You may see Intel's Ultrabook concept as marketing guff, but the idea of laptops that put the user experience first is a triumph for Apple's ethos, says Seb Janecek.

Apple's presence looms large at the Consumer Electronics Show even though it never actually attends. In 2011, the CES show was dominated by a range of tablets of various shapes, sizes and hues - coming less than a year after the iPad was launched. So far, they've largely failed to make an impact on iPad sales.

This year it was the turn of the Ultrabook, an Intel-patented buzzword for a notebook that looks an awful lot like a MacBook Air. And that's a good thing.

The term Ultrabook is widely derided as meaningless marketing guff. Rather like the time Google came up with the term superphone to differentiate its 2010 Nexus One phone from its more humble smartphone competition. Which makes you wonder what the future has instore for the tablet market? A megapad, perhaps?

The MacBook Air and the resulting wave of Ultrabooks represent a triumph for Apple's ethos of putting the user at the centre of its products.

Thinner and sleeker notebooks

The long-time trend in notebooks has been to make them thinner and sleeker without sacrificing power but the MacBook Air was a significant leap forward. It wasn't just about being very thin. It was also about what it left out - the legacy features that Apple felt it should sacrifice to improve the user experience.

As with the original iMac, Apple led the industry in moving the game along. With the Bondi blue iMac, Apple eliminated the ubiquitous floppy drive. With the MacBook Air the omnipresent optical drive vanished, although a separate plugin CD-DVD drive is available for diehards.

The large-capacity hard drive was also retired. By opting for smaller capacity SSD storage, Apple could make the MacBook Air even slimmer and pack in extra batteries for good measure. The result was a fast notebook with excellent battery life that Steve Jobs famously slid out of a manila envelope on stage in 2008.

After a couple of speed bumps the product went for a long while without an upgrade - from June 2009 until October 2010. I wondered whether the game was up for the device in the same year that the iPad began its ascendancy.

Like the G4 Cube before it, was the MacBook Air doomed to be...

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