New Air iLife FaceTime and Lion as Apple goes back to the Mac

At its press event titled “Back to the Mac”, Apple debuted four new products: a new MacBook Air, iLife 11, FaceTime for the Mac and a preview of Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS X.

New MacBook Air

The new MacBook Air will be available as either an 11-inch or 13-inch model, weighing from just 2.3 pounds. The laptop uses the same solid-state storage technology as the iPad to deliver instant-on responsiveness, up to seven hours of battery life and up to 30 days of standby time. They are also the first MacBook Air models to feature solid-state hard drives across the range.

“MacBook Air is the first of a new generation of notebooks that leaves behind mechanical rotating storage in favour of solid state flash storage,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We’ve taken what we have learned with the iPad—solid state storage, instant-on, amazing battery standby time, miniaturisation and lightweight construction, to create the new MacBook Air. With its amazing responsiveness and mobility, it will change the way we think about notebooks.”

The extremely thin aluminium unibody enclosure measures just 0.11 inches at its thinnest point and 0.68-inches at its thickest, but still features a full-size keyboard and the glass Multi-Touch trackpad as found on Apple’s MacBook Pro, which responds to a variety of finger gestures. There is also a built-in FaceTime camera, mic and stereo speakers. Connectivity consists of a Mini DisplayPort capable of driving one of Apple’s 27-inch Cinema Displays, a projector or an HD TV; 802.11n Wi-Fi networking; Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and two USB ports. The 13-inch model also includes an SD card slot.

iLife ‘11

Apple also announced the latest iteration of its creative productivity suite, iLife ’11. This features updates to iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand, although there was no mention of either iWeb or iDVD.

iPhoto has been given a new look, with stunning full-screen modes for Faces, Places and Events. Sharing is also easier, with one-click options for e-mail and Facebook or full-screen slideshows. New books and embossed letterpress cards are also available and a bookshelf presentation for projects that echoes the design of Apple’s own iBookstore.

iMovie ’11 has a new feature for producing theatrical-style trailers from full-length videos, with 15 different genres presenting unique titles, graphics and a soundtrack. New visual effects include flash and hold, instant replay and jump cuts with a single click. People Finder analyses your videos and marks sections containing faces, so you can quickly find the perfect clips for your trailer or movie.

GarageBand ‘11 includes two new ways to fix or change the timing of your recordings: Flex Time lets you move, stretch or shorten individual notes while Groove Matching allows a user to select any track as the “Groove Track” and all other tracks will adapt to match its rhythmic feel. There are also seven new guitar amps and five new stompbox effects, presumably taken from Logic Pro, and 22 new Basic Lessons for piano and guitar. A new “How did I Play?” feature listens while you play along with these lessons, highlighting mistakes and tracking your progress. 

“iLife is widely regarded as the best suite of ‘Digital Life’ applications in the world, and iLife ’11 makes them even better,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iLife now makes it easier than ever to create books and letterpress cards, make amazing movie trailers from your personal videos and post them online, and make your band sound far better or teach yourself piano or guitar.”

FaceTime for the rest of us

Having launched FaceTime with the recent iPod Touch and iPhone 4 product releases, Apple has delivered the concept to its computer users. Currently in beta, FaceTime for Mac allows Mac users to video call iPhone 4 and camera-equipped iPod touch users, as well as other Macs.

A streamlining refinement of its long-standing iChat functionality, FaceTime for Mac automatically uses the Address Book contacts and works with the built-in camera and mic on Mac notebooks, iMac and Apple LED Cinema Displays.

 “FaceTime makes video calling to or from mobile devices easy for the first time,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We’ve sold more than 19 million FaceTime-ready iPhone 4 and iPod touch devices in the past four months and now those users can make FaceTime calls with tens of millions of Mac users.”

FaceTime for Mac requires Mac OS® X Snow Leopard and an Apple ID.

“Sneak peek” of Mac OS X Lion

Apple also used the event to preview the next major release of its Mac OS, codenamed Lion, which is due for full release in summer 2011.

Several new features of Lion were presented. The Mac App Store is a new way to discover, install and automatically update desktop apps, an idea inspired by the iPhone and iPad App Store. In light of the fact that the MacBook Air has no optical drive and that software downloads, updates and upgrades are becoming more commonplace than boxed products, this is a logical development for Apple. The Store will be available for the existing Mac OS X 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard) within the next three months and will be included as standard in Lion next summer.

Launchpad is billed as a new home for all of your Mac apps and is similar to the Home screen on the iPad. There will also be system-wide support for running apps in full-screen mode. Mission Control unifies Exposé, Dashboard, Spaces and any full-screen apps running in to one single overview of everything running on your Mac, allowing a user to instantly navigate to any item. 

“Lion brings many of the best ideas from iPad back to the Mac, plus some fresh new ones like Mission Control that Mac users will really like,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Lion has a ton of new features, and we hope the few we had time to preview today will give users a good idea of where we are headed.”

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