Apple's Mac OS X 'Lion,' MacBook Air Push Big Mobile Play

Apple's launch of Mac OS X "Lion" and elimination of the white MacBook in favor of the MacBook Air as the entry-level laptop are all part of the company's mobile strategy.

White MacBook, we hardly knew ye.

Now you're dead, kaput, eliminated from Apple's Website with nary a warm "sayonara" or even a note. Those wanting an entry-level laptop from the company will need to satisfy themselves with the MacBook Air, which retails for the same $999 base price.

Combined with the July 20 launch of Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion," it seems clearer than ever that Apple is rushing headlong to embrace CEO Steve Jobs' philosophy of a "post-PC" era in which handheld devices like smartphones and tablets have eclipsed PCs as peoples' primary computing device. Lion takes many of its design cues from Apple's work with its iOS mobile operating system, and the MacBook Air-now positioned as the company's most accessible laptop offering-is just as much a mobile product as a traditional laptop.

"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," Jobs wrote in October 2010, after Lion and the revamped MacBook Air were first unveiled. As for the design philosophy behind the latter, he added: "We asked ourselves, what would happen if a MacBook and an iPad hooked up?"

Indeed, the design philosophy behind the iPad-including a focus on miniaturization, long battery life and solid-state drive storage-influenced the MacBook Air in overt ways. The line between mobile device and PCs becomes even blurrier when the MacBook Air comes loaded with Lion, which offers some mobile-centric tweaks such as an application store, support for full-screen applications, and an AirDrop feature that wirelessly shoots files to other users.

Of course, questions remain about what sort of effect this mobile philosophy will ultimately have on Apple's bottom line. During the company's July 19 earnings call, COO Tim Cook suggested that the iPad is eating into the customer base for traditional PCs. "Some customers chose to purchase an iPad instead of a new Mac during the quarter," he told media and analysts. "But even more customers chose to buy an iPad over a Windows PC. ... There's a lot more of the PC Windows business to cannibalize than the Mac."

That led to analysts questioning whether iPad sales-still going strong-represent something of an existential threat to Macs in the longer term.

"The iPad has successfully integrated the functionality of a slimmed-down notebook into a media-player form factor," Gleacher & Co. analyst Brian Marshall wrote in a July 20 research note, "and has effectively rendered a significant portion of the Mac (and potentially the iPhone) product family obsolete. This presents a serious problem as iPhones and Macs generated 64 [percent] of Apple's total revenue in [calendar year] 2010."

Whether or not this iPad cannibalization actually happens, Apple's increased focus on mobility is clearly having an effect on the company's product lines. The white MacBook is almost certainly only the beginning.

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