June 30, 2012, 7:15 AM — Believe it or not, it's been nearly four and a half years since Apple released the original --MacBook Air. At the time, it was revolutionary in terms of its size and weight, but it also was slow, had little storage, had only a single USB port for expansion, and was very expensive--it started at $1799, and if you wanted solid-state storage, the price increased dramatically (by $999!). As Jason Snell wrote at the time, "laptop design has always been about compromise," and the original Air required some painful compromises.l--
But that Air also gave us a glimpse at the future of Mac laptops: incredibly thin, blissfully light, and surprisingly sturdy, with reliable, fast, flash storage--attributes that have made their way into Apple's Pro laptop line with the new MacBook Pro with Retina display ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ). It's safe to say that before long, all of Apple's laptops will be direct descendants of the Air.
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The Air itself has also evolved: The second iteration gained some speed, better video capabilities, and more storage. The third generation got faster and cheaper. In 2010, Apple gave the Air its biggest update by adding a second USB port, improving performance, standardizing on flash storage, lowering prices, and--in the biggest move of all--releasing a road-warrior-dream 11-inch model priced at just $999. The company turbocharged the Air last year by upgrading to Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and adding a Thunderbolt port.
In a few short years, the Air has gone from an expensive technology demonstration to a successful product firmly established as the heart of Apple's laptop line. This year's models improve the appeal of the Air by increasing performance, enhancing expansion capabilities, and lowering prices. In fact, the new models might just be making the MacBook Pro line a little nervous.
Familiar on the outside