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Rumor: Petite Macbook to Rival iPad

Apple is prepping a petite Macbook Air that could be the best mobile computing alternative yet. Sorry iPad. This could be the case if rumors pan out to be true from reports that have surfaced claiming Apple is developing a smaller, thinner Macbook Air.

With all of the attention on the iPad, then iOS4, followed by the launch of the iPhone 4, and the backlash over the iPhone 4 issues, it seems easy to forget that Apple also makes Mac desktop and laptop computers. Some analysts have even suggested that the iPad tablet is actually cannibalizing Mac sales.

A smaller Macbook Air could rival the iPad in size and weight, while providing more horsepower and versatility.
iPad aside, though, the reception of the current Macbook Air has been tepid. It is an awesome piece of engineering, but the $1500 price tag makes the ultrathin portable more of a status symbol than a mobile computer. For $500 less users can get a standard Macbook with double the memory, double the hard drive, double the battery life, and a faster processor.

The new Macbook Air sounds compelling enough--but just how compelling will ultimately depend on the cost. With an 11.6-inch display, and a form factor that is even thinner than the current Macbook Air, the computer could rival the iPad in size and weight--putting them on semi-equal footing as mobile computing platforms.

While the Macbook Air may not compare favorably with the standard Macbook, the current model has a dual-core processor running twice as fast as the iPad's A4, four times the RAM and double the internal hard drive storage of the 64Gb iPad, a real physical keyboard with backlit keys, a built in webcam, and it is capable of running Adobe Flash content on the Web. It is also capable of running standard desktop applications like Microsoft Office.

The iPad, on the other hand, has significantly longer battery life, a multitouch display and touchscreen interface, and a price tag about one half to one third of the cost of the current Macbook Air depending on the iPad model. While the iPad does not run standard desktop software, users can rely on apps they are familiar with from the iPhone. For productivity software, Apple provides the iWork suite for iPad, including Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, and cloud solutions like Google Docs and Office Web Apps provide some limited Web-based functionality.

The iPad provides a more instant-on experience compared to booting up the Macbook Air. However, the Macbook Air is capable of multitasking, while the iPad will only have a limited form of multitasking once iOS4 is available for it sometime later this year. The touchscreen display is a better method of input in many cases while on the go, but mobile users that need to type lengthy docs will appreciate having a real keyboard.

The rumored Macbook Air, reportedly running on an Intel Core i-series ultra low voltage processor, may have longer battery life than the current Macbook Air--closer to the battery life of the iPad. If Apple also brings the Macbook Air price down to the sub-$1000 range, it would be hard to argue that the iPad is a better mobile computing tool.

The bottom line answer to the question of which is a better mobile computing platform is "it depends". If you only need a light, portable device to check e-mail and do some Web surfing, the iPad is an ideal mobile computing tool. If you need more computing horsepower, more local storage space, more peripheral options, and/or more application flexibility, the Macbook Air offers a better alternative.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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