Today in Apple history: MacBook Air becomes ‘world’s thinnest notebook’

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A plain manila envelope became a key stage prop for selling the MacBook Air.
A plain manila envelope became a key prop for selling the MacBook Air.
Photo: Apple

January 15: Today in Apple history: MacBook Air becomes 'world's thinnest notebook' January 15, 2008: Steve Jobs shows off the first MacBook Air at the Macworld conference, calling the revolutionary computer the “world’s thinnest notebook.”

The 13.3-inch laptop measures only 0.76 inches at its thickest point and 0.16 inches at its tapered thinnest. It also boasts a unibody aluminum design: An Apple engineering breakthrough allows the crafting of a complicated computer case from a single block of finely machined metal.

In a brilliant piece of showmanship, Jobs pulls the super-slim laptop out of a standard interoffice envelope during his keynote. (You can watch his introduction of the MacBook Air below).

MacBook Air: World’s thinnest laptop?

Whether the MacBook Air genuinely was the thinnest laptop of its age was open to argument. The 2003 Sharp Actius MM10 Muramasas, for instance, measured thinner in some places than the MacBook Air, but thicker at its minimum point.

One thing nobody could argue with: With one fell swoop, Apple changed the game with the MacBook Air’s design.

For an illustration, compare the 3-pound MacBook Air with the much bulkier 4.4-pound PowerBook 2400c laptop hailed as Apple’s lightest laptop just a decade earlier. The MacBook Air was just an extraordinary piece of engineering.

Unibody aluminum design becomes Apple’s go-to

The unibody manufacturing process essentially reversed the way Apple built its laptops. Instead of layering multiple sheets of metal, the process let Apple start out with a solid block of aluminum. Material was removed from the slab until only a single finished piece remained — a literal “unibody.”

The design proved so successful that it migrated to the MacBook, and then on to the larger iMac. The days of Apple’s use of plastic as a primary material (with the exception of the later iPhone 5c) had come to an end.

For Apple, the future was aluminum.

MacBook Air: Size over specs

Apple designed the MacBook Air to appeal to less power-focused customers. With only one USB port and no built-in optical drive, the ultraportable laptop was intended for people who wanted minimum weight and maximum screen size.

Jobs pitched the product as a truly wireless machine. Lacking Ethernet and FireWire, the MacBook Air appealed to those whose mobile status meant heavier reliance on Wi-Fi than on wired connectivity.

The featherweight laptop boasted a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 RAM and an 80GB hard drive. It also came with an iSight camera and microphone, an LED-backlit display that adapted to the brightness of the room, and the same full-size keyboard found in other MacBooks. Prices started at $1,799.

Do you remember the first-generation MacBook Air? Let us know in the comments below.