January 27, 2012

Apple Enables Lion Internet Recovery On Mid-2010 13-Inch MacBook Pro

Apple Enables Lion Internet Recovery On Mid-2010 13-Inch MacBook Pro

Apple has issued an EFI firmware update to its mid-2010 13-inch MacBook Pro which enables Lion Recovery over an Internet connection, allowing users to reinstall the latest OS X operating system onto their machine without the need for physical recovery media.

The version 2.5 firmware update is available to download now via Software Update on your Mac, weighing in at just 2.9 MB.

Lion Internet Recovery is a feature that made its debut alongside the Lion operating system on the new MacBook Air and Mac mini last July, and it allows users to connect to the Internet to download the Lion operating system for reinstallation. The feature later arrived on early-2011 MacBook Pro and iMac.

You may never need to use it, as Lion automatically creates a recovery partition when you install it. However, if you are unfortunate enough to experience problems with this, the Internet recovery option gives you something to fall back on, so it’s certainly worth installing.

[via MacRumors]

Killian BellKillian Bell is a freelance writer based in the U.K. He has an interest in all things tech and also writes for TechnoBuffalo. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell, or through his website.

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Cult of Mac

Thunderbolt Finally Coming To Ultrabooks As MacBook Air Prepares For USB 3.0

Thunderbolt Finally Coming To Ultrabooks As MacBook Air Prepares For USB 3.0

Apple first announced its incredible new Thunderbolt interface technology way back in February of 2011. Combining PCI Express and DisplayPort technology into a serial data interface, Thunderbolt allows for up to 20Gbit/s transfer rates, as well as the ability to daisy chain multiple devices, all in a tiny form factor that can fit even in the MacBook Air’s slim housing.

As usual, with Thunderbolt, Apple was at least a year ahead of the rest of the industry… and that’s not hyperbole. Only now are Acer, Asus and Lenovo getting ready to put Thunderbolt in their ultrabook offerings.

According to industry sources speaking to the maybe-occasionally-reliable Digitimes, the three computer makers are all now at work making ultrabooks using Intel’s Ivy Bridge platform, allowing them to bring Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 to their next line of slim ultraportables.

What’s most of interest to Apple fans here won’t be the competition finally catching up, but the fact that this same Ivy Bridge platform is what Apple will build the next MacBook Air around, which means that the next Air (and Apple’s other laptops) will finally adopt USB 3.0 as a matter of course. Of course, who needs USB 3.0 when Thunderbolt’s around anyway?

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is news editor here at Cult of Mac, and has also written about a lot of things for a lot of different places, including Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, AMC, Geek and the Consumerist. He lives in Cambridge with his charming inamorata and a tiny budgerigar punningly christened after Nabokov’s most famous pervert. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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Cult of Mac

Pad & Quill’s cases: Classy covers for iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air

Pad & Quill has been making book-bound iPad and iPhone cases for a couple of years. By book-bound, I mean that the cases made using traditional book-binding materials and techniques. Like DODOcase, the cases have evolved a bit over the years to meet the requirements of new devices; unlike DODOcase, Pad & Quill has created a complete line of cases to protect many of your Apple mobile devices. In this review, I’ll take a look at Pad & Quill’s Little Black Book for iPhone, the Contega and Octavo iPad cases, and the new Cartella case for the MacBook Air.

Little Black Book for iPhone 4/4S

Let’s start with the smallest member of the Pad & Quill family, the Little Black Book case for iPhone 4/4S (US$ 44.99). A number of small book-type and wallet cases have been announced for the iPhone 4S in the last few months, but of those I’ve reviewed, I feel that the LBB is the best made product out there.

Like all of the Pad & Quill cases, the device sits nestled in a CNC-machined wood frame with small pads in the corners that make sure that your iPhone isn’t going to plop out. Unlike the DODOcase products (which don’t include an iPhone case), you don’t have to send off for additional pads — Pad & Quill includes extra material for cutting your own pads.

The case also has the standard Moleskine-like elastic cord for securing the cover when you’re on the move, as well as a unique feature — a red ribbon “bookmark” that is used to help pop out the iPhone when you want it in your hand.

You probably want to use that lovely 8 MP camera on the iPhone 4S, so the Little Black Book includes a port for the camera to look out of. That’s not the case with the Twelve South BookBook ($ 59.99) or Hex Code Wallet ($ 49.95), where you need to remove the iPhone from the case to take a picture.

Using the Little Black Book as a wallet really means that you’re only going to be carrying a minimal amount of stuff, like a driver’s license and a credit card or two. These items slide into a little “envelope” in the front inside cover of the LBB.

The Little Black Book is well-built, less expensive than its competitors, and just plain cool. Now let’s take a look at its bigger brothers.

Octavo iPad 2 Case

The Octavo iPad 2 case ($ 59.99) is extremely similar to the DODOcase, even priced the same as the San Francisco treat. However, like the Little Black Book it has the “bookmark” to make removing the iPad from the case fast and easy, adds a hole for the iPad 2 rear camera, and includes a folder on the inside front cover of the case for important papers.

Doing a side-by-side comparison with the DODOcase, I have to say that I think the Pad & Quill Octavo shows much more expertise in construction. While the DODOcase is basically wide open on the top and bottom, the Octavo provides more protection by just providing openings where needed. For the top microphone of the iPad, there’s a sound-conducting channel. For the speakers on the bottom, there’s a nicely-machined slot that directs sounds to the front. The wood frame extends more into the back of the Octavo, giving the case a bit more stiffness.

I’ve placed some comparison photos in the gallery that show the DODOcase and Octavo side by side. I think the pictures tell the story of just how well-made the Pad & Quill cases are.

Contega iPad 2 Case

Pad & Quill’s Contega iPad 2 case ($ 89.99) is a hybrid of a standard iPad folio case with a built-in stand and the Octavo. Think of the Octavo with a cover that folds into a handy landscape-mode stand, and you’ve got the Contega.

Since the front cover is used for helping prop up the stand, there’s no folder pocket as there is on the Octavo. Still, I’d much rather have the convenience of the stand than a folder pocket that I’d stuff with old receipts and product brochures. As with the other cases, the Contega features Italian bonded leather on the exterior and that nicely-machined wood frame on the inside.

Check out the gallery for images of the Contega in all of its stand-up glory.

Cartella MacBook Air case

The Pad & Quill line wouldn’t be complete without the Cartella ($ 79.99 for the 11″ model, $ 89.99 for the 13″), their MacBook Air case. Pad & Quill sent an 11″ model for testing with my 11″ MacBook Air, and once again the design is excellent. The bottom of the MacBook Air is placed into the Cartella’s wood frame with the trackpad pointing “out”. The back of the wood frame is carefully sculpted to allow the hinged display to have free movement and there are cutouts on either side for the various ports.

Twelve South also sells a book-like MacBook Air case — the BookBook ($ 79.99). It has one feature that is missing from the Cartella case, that being a pair of elastic bands that hold the cover onto the display on the MacBook Air. The BookBook uses a zipper to close up the case; I felt that the Cartella’s elastic band made it much easier to open and close the case.

Conclusion

If you have a hankering for a book-like cover for your iPhone, iPod touch, iPad (either first-generation or iPad 2), or MacBook Air, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the Pad & Quill line. The quality of these cases is outstanding, the prices are reasonable, and if being made in the good ol’ USA means something to you, they’re a product of the grand state of Minnesota.

All of the Pad & Quill cases used in the review will be part of the giveaways at the TUAW Meetup at Macworld | iWorld 2012 next Thursday night, so be sure to drop by if you’re in San Francisco to have a chance at winning one of these classy protectors.



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

The MacBook Air turns four years old today

Four years ago today, Apple introduced the MacBook Air, then the world’s thinnest notebook. It was Steve Jobs’s last Macworld appearance and the next to last Macworld keynote for Apple.

The presentation is a classic Steve Jobs performance. The keynote has his usual smooth delivery, a genuine enthusiasm for the product, and a healthy dose of showmanship. Watch the clip below and tell me you don’t get goose bumps when you watch Jobs pull the first generation Air out of a manila envelope. He does a fantastic job of presenting the deficiencies in competitor’s products (small keyboard, small display, underpowered) and how the MacBook Air is a step up.

The first MacBook Air was a piece of engineering excellence. It was smaller but more powerful than its competitors. It started off with an 80 GB 1.8-inch HDD drive (optional SSD), a compact motherboard with a custom 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and GMA X3100 graphics processor. It also had a 13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy display, 2 GB of DDR2 SDRAM, full backlit keyboard, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, USB port, and Micro-DVI port. It was thin, measuring only 12.8 in (325 mm) wide × 8.94 in (227 mm) deep × 0.16 in (4 mm) to 0.76 in (19 mm) high. You can see how much smaller it is than the MacBook Pro in our first hands-on video straight from the floor of Macworld 2008.

The first model had an optional external optical drive, but Jobs insisted customers would not miss their DVD because the world was moving to wireless. It seemed radical back then, but, with Mac OS X Lion, the Mac App Store and iCloud, we now see Jobs’s vision of the future. The MacBook Air received positive reviews when it launched, but the early hardware was plagued with overheating and, for some, wireless connectivity problems. At US$ 1,799, it was also pricey compared to its Windows counterparts.

An updated version of the hardware was released at the end of 2008 and included a larger hard drive (and SSD option), a faster, non-custom Intel Core 2 Duo processor, new NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics, and a Mini Display port. It was a small refresh that slightly improved performance.

In 2009, Apple overhauled the MacBook Pro line and refreshed the MacBook Air again. This 2009 MacBook Air was the recipient of a higher capacity battery and a slightly faster CPU. The entry price was also dropped to $ 1499 for the HDD version and a very reasonable $ 1799 for the 128 GB SSD model.

In late 2010, Apple completely redesigned the 13-.3-inch MacBook Air with SSD storage across the line and improved battery performance. Apple also introduced the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, a version with most of the power of the 13.3-inch in a smaller form factor. The 11-inch competed directly with netbooks (remember those?) and was an instant hit for those who wanted a small notebook that’ll work on the go. Pricing was very competitive with the 11.6-inch starting at $ 999 and the 13.3-inch at $ 1299.

Similar to previous models, the 2010 MacBook Air was not as powerful as its MacBook Pro cousins. Customers liked the small size of the Air, but not the slower processing power and frequent beach balls. Apple also removed the backlit keyboard from the Air, which caused a stir among customers who sorely missed that feature.

This changed in mid-2011 when Apple introduced the current MacBook Air models. The current generation Air models have Core i5 or Core i7 processors, SSD storage, and an Intel HD 3000 graphics processor. Though the Air got a significant boost, pricing remained the same, with the 11.6-inch starting at $ 999 and the 13.3-inch starting at $ 1299.

The latest model also includes Thunderbolt, Bluetooth 4.0 and a backlit keyboard. It ships with Lion, the Mac App Store and iCloud support, making the MacBook Air the ultimate wireless notebook that Steve Jobs promoted in that 2008 Macworld keynote. Benchmarks also show the lastest MacBook Air is no longer a slow performer. It’s an excellent choice for customers who want both speed and portability.

This ideal combination of size and power propelled the MacBook Air to the top of Apple’s Mac line. Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said during the Q4 2011 earning call that “the increase in Mac sales was fueled by the very strong growth in MacBook Air, as well as the continued strong performance of MacBook Pro.” He also noted that “the portables represented 74 percent of the total Mac mix.” Sales estimates from analysts suggest the 2011 MacBook Air now grabs 28% of Apple’s notebook sales, up from 8% in early 2011.

If you own one (or more) of these MacBook Air models, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. We’d love to hear how you are using the MacBook Air in your daily life.

MacBook Air Introduction, Part 1

MacBook Air Introduction, Part 2



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

CES: MSI unveils external Thunderbolt GPU, Henge Docks gain MacBook Air support

By AppleInsider Staff

Published: 03:29 PM EST (12:29 PM PST)
New Mac-centric products are aplenty at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, including a Thunderbolt-connected external graphics processor from MSI, and a vertical docking station for the MacBook Air from Henge Docks.

MSI GUS II

MSI is showing off at CES this week a new external graphics solution that can connect to a Mac through a high-speed Thunderbolt port. The MSI GUS II, highlighted by AnandTech, relies on the high bandwidth capacity of the 10Gbps Thunderbolt port found on the latest Mac models, including the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

“The external chassis features a Thunderbolt interface and an internal PCIe slot,” Anand Lai Shimpi noted. “Despite running on a MacBook Pro there is currently no OS X support for the solution, but it does work under Windows. Presumably if there’s OS X support for the GPU inside the enclosure it would work under OS X as well.”

No timeframe for launch or price for the external GPU were given, but the product could be a solution for users who want more graphics processing power for their MacBook when it’s in use at home. The GPU featured in the MSI GUS II must be powered by PCIe alone, as there are no auxiliary power connectors inside the device.

Thunderbolt-based external drives have also been prevalent at CES this year. Seagate plans to ship by the middle of this month adapters that will allow existing Seagate GoFlex drives to fit into a Thunderbolt slot, while Western Digital plans to release new Thunderbolt drives by the middle of 2012.

Another Thunderbolt accessory highlighted on Thursday is Belkin’s Thunderbolt Express Dock, which will allow users to plug in multiple USB devices through one docking station. The product is expected to launch this September for $ 299.

Henge Docks for MacBook Air

Henge Docks revealed on Tuesday that it has made available for preorder two new vertical docking stations for Apple’s thin-and-light MacBook Air. The docks aim to make it simple for users to place their notebook in the station and use it in a desktop setup or with a home theater system.

“The Vertical Docking Stations for the MacBook Air line are Henge Docks’ first to feature fully integrated ports, right out of the box with no additional setup,” the company said. “Integrated ports combined with a sturdy, rubberized cradle for a precision fit means a smooth, accurate docking experience allowing users to quickly connect and disconnect their peripherals in one easy motion. Henge Docks’ unique vertical orientation saves desk space while showcasing the svelte profile of the MacBook Air.”

The Henge Docks design does not require any hardware, software or settings changes to a computer. Every current MacBook is compatible with the system.

The new MacBook Air docks come in sizes of 11 inches and 13 inches, and feature Mini DisplayPort and USB pass-through. The 11-inch MacBook Air dock will retail for $ 55, while the 13-inch model is $ 60.

“We are excited to add the MacBook Air Dock to Henge Docks’ line of docking station solutions,” said Matthew Vroom, CEO. “The MacBook Air is a fantastic machine and we feel that our new docking station takes the Air to the next level by eliminating the cable clutter that plagues today’s workspaces.”

AppleInsider

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – Hundreds of tech journalists are huddled in the Galileo Showroom at the Venetian Casino this morning to hear the latest from Intel, and surprise surprise, Intel wants to talk about ultrabooks… the ultra-slim laptop form factor that the whole PC making industry is hoping will save them from being eaten at both ends by the iPad and MacBook Air.

Unfortunately, after all is said and done, most of what Intel had to offer to PC makers were a grab bag of gimmicks.

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

From the get-go, Intel seemed a little too desperate to make the pitch that ultrabooks could be more than just inferior MacBook Air clones. The press conference started out with an inexplicable five minute dance routine meant to be a metaphor of the “evolution of computing” in which an Intel engineer pulled off a chronological series of popular dance moves ranging from Chubby Checker’s Twist, the YMCA Dance, Ice Ice Baby, and finally Can’t Touch This. It came off as amusing and bizarre, but an uncharacteristic and slightly embarrassing display coming from a chipmaker known for letting its silicon speak for itself.

But that’s the whole point. As Intel’s VP Mooley Eden said over and over again, consumers don’t care about specs anymore. They care about the experience. “How will this make my life better?” is a rhetorical question exhibitors are constantly asking aloud this CES with a certain breathless wonder, as if this was the first year it had ever occurred to them to be designing products with a real human being’s actual experience in mind. Congratulations, guys: you’ve finally caught up conceptually to Apple thirty years ago.

So what should the experience of an ultrabook be, according to Intel? Instead of mere processing power and speed, Intel strongly pushed a number of novel new ways to interact with your ultrabook. Unfortunately, most of these were just gimmicks, obvious attempts to graft tablet functionality onto laptops.

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

Touchscreen Ultrabooks: Eden strongly pushed the idea that consumers wanted touchscreen ultrabooks, despite the famous “Gorilla Arm” problem. To prove his point, he even cited a slide featuring quotes from several possibly imaginary people around the world, all of whom are craving touchscreen ultrabooks.

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

Accelerometer Controlled: Another bizarre insistence of Eden’s was that accelerometer controls were a great way to control an ultrabook game. Eden even demonstrated tilting an ultrabook to play a game in which you steered a paper airplane.

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

Kinect-Like Gestures: Taking a page from the Microsoft Kinect, Intel showed off ways in which ultrabook web cams can be used to recognize gestures. Cooley cited Google Earth as a perfect use case for such technology, where a user can reach out and twist the Earth by just grabbing it.

Voice Control: Obviously inspired by Siri, Intel has teamed up with Nuance to bring Dragon voice recognition technology to Ultrabooks as a standard. Intel cited the fact that Dragon voice recognition was living in each ultrabook and not in the cloud as an advantage of their implementation over the likes of Siri, but in reality, it’s probably the opposite.

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

NFC Capabilities: Intel showed off how you could pay for an item online using your ultrabook just by tapping your credit card against the body of the device, which would then spur the ultrabook to automatically fill in all the billing and shipping information associated with the card. In addition, Intel’s security measures guarantee that if someone steals your credit card, they can’t use it on a different ultrabook: each card is tied to a specific device.

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

With the exception of NFC and gestures, all of Intel’s innovations have one thing in common: they basically all try to make laptops more tablet-like. That’s telling. Intel still does not have a viable chip that can compete with ARM in the low-power tablet market, and tablets are are cannibalizing Intel’s laptop business left, right and center. Until Intel has a chip that can compete with ARM, they need to try to move the goal posts and sell laptops as tablets, a strategy evidenced by the multiple hybrid ultrabook/tablet concepts the chipmaker showed off today (most notably the Nikiski).

At the end of the day, there’s no doubt that Intel is strongly committed to ultrabooks. They have to be: the MacBook Air has spurred incredible demand for thin, ultra-portable laptops with instant-on capabilities and great battery life. It’s pretty much the only segment of the PC market that isn’t looking at collapse, that people are actually excited in. But to us, Intel’s attempts to get PC makers to clone the MacBook Air and the iPad at the same time look desperate. With the whole industry betting on what Apple is going to do next, it seems absolutely bizarre to put your money down on some of the very concepts that Apple has straight out said just don’t work.

If this is the best ultrabook makers can come up with, the MacBook Air has nothing to worry about. With 75+ ultrabooks launching this year, expect a lot of silliness ahead.

Intel’s Gimmicky Ultrabook Presser Shows Exactly How Dumb Most MacBook Air Clones Will Be [CES 2012]

Cult of Mac

Intel’s Bizarre Nikiski Ultrabook Is A MacBook Air Clone That Wants To Be Half An iPad [CES 2012]

Intel’s Bizarre Nikiski Ultrabook Is A MacBook Air Clone That Wants To Be Half An iPad [CES 2012]

Intel’s Bizarre Nikiski Ultrabook Is A MacBook Air Clone That Wants To Be Half An iPad [CES 2012]LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — Intel talked a lot at their press conference today about ways PC makers could take the ultabook form factor and distinguish it from the juggernaut that is the MacBook Air, but perhaps the most interesting concept of just what a MacBook Air killing ultrabook would look like was the Nikiski, a hybrid ultrabook that looks like it just leaped straight from a sci-fi concept design.

The Nikiski looks just like an ultrabook, but with a weird, transparent trackpad as long as the keyboard. This transparent trackpad only responds to finger touches, not resting your palms against it, and while it looks weird, it has a purpose: you can see the display through the transparent trackpad even when the Nikiski is closed.

Why would you want that? The idea is to give the Nikiski some tablet-like abolities when closed, thanks to integration with Windows 8. Because the trackpad of the Nikiski responds to touch on both sides, when the laptop is closed, a swipe will open Windows 8”s tablet, Metro UI, allowing you to check your email, the weather, stocks, even browse while in closed, low-power mode.

Right now, Nikiski’s just a concept, but Intel expects to work with partners this year to make it a reality. Our verdict? The Nikiski’s neat, but it’s a total gimmick, and Intel knows it. Steve Jobs would have called it a “tweener,” and he’d be right. The Nikiski is a MacBook Air that wants to be half an iPad.

Intel’s Bizarre Nikiski Ultrabook Is A MacBook Air Clone That Wants To Be Half An iPad [CES 2012]

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is news editor here at Cult of Mac, and has also written about a lot of things for a lot of different places, including Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, AMC, Geek and the Consumerist. He lives in Cambridge with his charming inamorata and a tiny budgerigar punningly christened after Nabokov’s most famous pervert. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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Cult of Mac

Apple sold 1.2M MacBook Airs over holidays, new models with Ivy Bridge loom

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Apple is said to have sold 1.2 million of its thin-and-light MacBook Air over the holiday buying season, as competing PC makers hope to steal some of Apple’s thunder by unveiling their own “Ultrabooks” at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show.





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AppleInsider

Deadlines nears for claims over frayed MacBook MagSafe connectors

Apple’s MagSafe power cables are great. They quick release from their port and protect your notebook from clumsy adults and over zealous children who get tangled in your power cord. The first generation of these cords, however, had a defect that caused the wires to fray and posed a fire hazard to customers who were using them. The problem was widespread enough that customers with these early cables filed a class action lawsuit that Apple settled in November 2011.

Under the terms of the settlement, customers are eligible to receive a cash payment that covers some or all of the cost of a replacement cable. Those affected by this lawsuit have until March 21, 2012 to file a claim for this replacement cost. You can read about the terms of the settlement and a FAQ at a website dedicated to this case.

[Via ZDNet]



TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

CES 2012 Preview: Why A Thousand Ultrabooks Will Try To Kill The MacBook Air (And Why They Don’t Have A Prayer)

CES 2012 Preview: Why A Thousand Ultrabooks Will Try To Kill The MacBook Air (And Why They Don’t Have A Prayer)

In late 2010, after years of abstaining from entering the netbook market, Apple finally succeeded in transforming the MacBook Air from a disappointing promise of laptops to come to a machine that revolutionized ultraportables the same way the iPhone revolutionized smartphones and the iPad revolutionzed tablets. Not only was the MacBook Air as thin as a samurai sword and about as small as a 12-inch netbook, it had the performance of a beefier laptop thanks to the inclusion of a proper CPU, dedicated GPU and ubiquitous flash storage… all at a sub-$ 1000 price point.

Overnight, the MacBook Air finished what the iPad had started and almost completely killed off netbook demand once and for all. Now all of the gadget makers who had previously been counting on netbook sales to boost their bottom lines are trying to catch up with Apple… but as usual, they’re about a year late.

What does this mean for CES 2012? Expect to see ultrabooks, ultrabooks and more ultrabooks.

What Is An Ultrabook?

Intel and competing laptop makers are trying to position ultrabooks as a category of ultra-mobile laptops for an ultra-mobile age, but in essence, they are MacBook Air clones: thin, small, blade-like laptops with great battery life that eschew optical drives for solid state storage. They have fast, instant-on performance thanks to marrying ultra-fast SSDs with sophisticated, low-voltage Intel laptop processors, and usually start at prices of around $ 999.

The ultrabook standard is one designed by Intel to help laptop makers compete with the MacBook Air. Right now, Intel defines the ultrabook spec as any laptop that is:

• Thin – less than 20 mm (0.8 inch) thickness[6]
• Lightweight – less than 1.4 kg (3.1 pounds)[7]
• Long battery life – 5 to 8+ hours[8]
• Mainstream pricing – around $ 1,000 USD [9]
• No optical drive
• May use flash-based SSDs[10]
• Use CULV (17 W TDP) Intel Sandy Bridge mobile processors
• Core i5-2467M (1.6 GHz)
• Core i5-2557M (1.7 GHz)
• Core i7-2637M (1.7 GHz)
• Core i7-2677M (1.8 GHz)
• Use Intel’s graphics sub-system HD 3000 (12 EUs)

Why Ultrabooks?

Why are laptop manufacturers expected to announce so many ultrabooks at CES this year? Well, let’s look at the numbers.

First of all, the MacBook Air isn’t just a success, it’s turning into a juggernaut. Although Apple doesn’t release specific figures on how many MacBook Airs it is selling, we do know it is selling dramatically. In June 2011, MacBook Air sales accounted for 8% of all Mac laptop sales. By October, the MacBook Air accounted for 28% of laptop sales… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Apple sold 5.2 million Macs from October to December 2011. That means that Apple has sold at least 1.1 million MacBook Airs in the last quarter alone.

Those are just enormous numbers… numbers the rest of the industry desperately want to match, because they are being squeezed by Apple on both sides. On one hand, gadget makers still can’t make a dent against the iPad, which is cannibalizing their laptop sales on end of the market; on the other hand, more and more customers are eschewing buying traditional laptops, netbooks or ultrabooks in favor of the MacBook Air.

Intel also wants PC makers to embrace the ultrabook. Intel is losing more and more laptop sales to the iPad and other tablets, and it’s looking to be another year or two before Intel has a mobile SoC that can compete in battery-life with ARM. In other words, because people are buying fewer laptops in favor of tablets, PC makers are buying fewer CPUs from Intel. It’s in Intel’s best interest, then, to encourage PC makers to make clones of the one laptop out there with actual momentum and buzz around it: the MacBook Air.

In fact, Intel may actually be subsidizing PC makers to make ultrabooks. Although the chipmaker denies it, other reports have claimed that Intel has set up a $ 500M subsidy fund to help PC makers match the MacBook Air’s prices. Why? Because Apple’s incredible control over their supply chain, their strategic lock-down of resources and their next-gen manufacturing techniques all allow them to build computers that are cheaper and made of higher-quality components than the competition.

What Sort Of Ultrabooks Should We Expect?

The previous generation of Ultrabooks all availed themselves of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors, and we’ll see a fair number of ultrabooks at CES that still conform to those specs. However, what will be really interesting is getting our first glimpse at the upcoming Ivy Bridge ultrabooks.

Utilizing Intel’s newest CULV mobile processors, Ivy Bridge ultrabooks should boast 30% better graphic performance and a 20% CPU performance over Sandy Bridge. It will also bring USB 3.0 support to ultrabooks, as well as support for the new PCI Express 3.0 standard.

Why Should Mac Fans Care?

It’s simple. The 2012 Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks we see at CES will basically be our first look at the next spec upgrade to the MacBook Air. In addition, rumors increasingly peg the MacBook Pro line to become more Air-like by dropping their optical drives and adopting dual SSD/HDD combinations. In an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition, it’s likely we’ll see a few ultrabooks that try the same trick.

In other words, even if you don’t have any intention on buying a Windows-based Ultrabook, CES 2012 is going to be our first look at the future of not just the MacBook Air, but possibly the MacBook Pro as well. Just take the best ultrabook on the showfloor and imagine Apple taking those exact specs and making it better and you’ve got the right idea.

Just don’t expect any of CES’s ultrabooks to take the crown from the Air: not only is the MacBook Air still the best ultraportable laptop out there, it’s at least a year ahead of the competition.

Cult of Mac