Apple Shows Off iPad-Inspired OS X Lion and an Ultra-sleek New MacBook Air

MacBook Air

Apple

At today's event in Cupertino, Apple took a further step towards their idea of the future of computing: They're bringing ideas, in both hardware and software, from the iOS line (iPhone and iPad) and integrating them into the Mac. Oh, and they also announced a ludicrously thin and lustworthy new MacBook Air.

As you'd expect, glossed over much of the intricacies of their newly-announced forthcoming OS, which is pegged for a summer 2011 release. But luckily, both Lion (and to some extent the latest version iLife) can be summed up with ideas, rather than features. The main thrust of these two new releases is what we saw with the release of the iPad, and even the newest Apple TV: Apple's future will begin to blur the distinction between the mobile iOS and and the desktop OS X.

In the case of iLife and Lion, that'll mean more multitouch gestures and the addition of FaceTime chat (pretty much like an Apple-only Skype for Macs and iOS devices), but also a shift in their general design philosophies, with more full-screen app experiences and an always-on, always-saving workspace.

Apple is also launching a version of their tremendously successful App Store for the Mac platform. It'll look pretty much like it does on iOS, and comes with a few advantages (and disadvantages) over the usual system of finding software: A central repository is nice, along with universal updating, but it also means Apple will extend its significant (and controversial) control to the wide world of Mac desktop software. Of course, some Linux distros like Ubuntu have been doing this for years, but it's a pretty new idea for a major commercial OS.

Luckily, though, the Mac App Store won't be the only show in town: Steve Jobs noted that "It won't be the only place to discover apps, but we think it'll be the best place." The Mac App Store will launch on Snow Leopard, the current version of OS X, "within 90 days," but will start looking over submissions in November.

You'll be able to call up apps with what's called the LaunchPad: It's basically an iPad homescreen on your Mac, letting you swipe through apps with a gesture and group apps into folders. And Launchpad is just one part of the new Mission Control interface, which groups previous interface ideas (Expose, Spaces, Dashboard) along with LaunchPad into one page-based idea. You've got your desktop on one screen, but swipe to the left and you'll see your Dashboard. Swipe to the right and you'll see one of the new fancy full-screen apps, like those in iLife '11. It's a very direct blend of iOS and Mac OS.

Now that Mac's software is more iOS-like, it only makes sense that the hardware should be as well, right? As expected, Apple announced the new MacBook Air today, a minute slice of unibody aluminum with some impressive internals. It'll be available in two sizes: There's the original 13.3-inch size and a new 11.6-incher. Both will have Intel Core 2 Duo processors and Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics chips--not top of the line, but fast enough, considering the size. And, unlike the last Air, there isn't even an option for a hard drive this time: It's flash-only in Air-land. The larger Air will offer a 128GB or 256GB of storage, while the smaller model has 64GB or 128GB. Both have either 2GB or 4GB of memory. They've also both got an SD slot and an additional USB port (bringing the total up to...well, two), plus a FaceTime camera.

The best thing about these new MacBooks is what they gain from being pared down: Huge standby battery life (7 and 5 hours of active use, for the larger and smaller model, respectively, is farily hum-drum, but 30 days of standby time is nice), instant-on functionality, and an absolutely miniscule size. The laptops range from a super-thin 0.68 inches to a ridiculous and probably dangerous 0.11 inches at their thinnest.

Actually, scratch that: The most impressive part of these machines is their price. The 11.6-incher start from only $999, and the 13.3-incher start from $1300, a significant price cut from previous MacBook Air models. Those are both available today at Apple's site.