The first models, which are certain to take the form of an 11.6-inch notebook, have been rolling off Apple's Taiwanese manufacturing lines for at least a week now, placing their availability on or shortly after their introduction next Wednesday at the company's "Back to the Mac" special event, according to a person with a proven track record of pinpoint accuracy.
Though further details from that source were not reported, a second person believed to be familiar with the product says the most significant change outside of the smaller form factor -- the current MacBook Air is based around a 13.3-inch display -- will come in the form of enhanced disk storage components.
According to this person, the new models will do away with existing options for a*conventional hard-disk drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SSD) in favor something described as an "SSD Card" that lacks a traditional drive enclosure and more closely resembles a stick of RAM, yet is not easily user-replaceable.
If accurate, AppleInsider believes the component may be a proprietary SSD drive alternative designed by Apple to be integrated in Macs in a similar manner to the way flash memory is embedded in iPods, iPhones and iPads. This approach would be less expensive than a standard package intended to fit the shape of conventional HD devices, allowing the company to drive down costs and pass the savings on to the consumer.
Standardizing the new Air around flash storage could also see the notebook sport incredibly fast boot times and "instant-on" capabilities when waking up from sleep, similar to iPhones and iPads. Although the existing Air is offered with a SSD drive, the base model includes a HDD, impeding Apple's ability to offer such technology across its inaugural design of the notebook.
Externally, all indications point to the new Air sporting an enclosure that largely resembles that of the existing 13.3-inch model, but scaled down to fit the new 11.6-inch screen. However, a third person who claims to have caught a glimpse of one of the prototypes says the edges appear more defined than curved and that the side profile of the unit is slightly more wedge-shaped.
Introduced as the "world's thinnest notebook" back in January of 2008 -- a project AppleInsider was first to report on a full year in advance (1, 2, 3) -- the 13.3-inch MacBook Air drew "Oohs and Ahhs" out of the gate. Almost immediately, however, it struggled to gain traction in the market and sell in high volumes to its target audience of business travelers and students, who found its 13.3-inch footprint and $1800 price point somewhat prohibitive.
With the advent of an 11.6-inch MacBook Air, it would appear that Apple plans to address both those concerns while blurring the lines between its Mac and iOS devices -- essentially delivering its most responsive notebook ever in a form factor similar to the brisk selling iPad, yet with a full keyboard and more attractive entry-level price point.
Earlier this month, AppleInsider reported that supplies of the two existing 13.3-inch MacBook Airs had dried up throughout the company's indirect sales channels, suggesting that a complete overhaul to the line was imminent.
It was the first time that AppleInsider has witnessed this abnormal trend in regards to the Air since it began tracking availability of Apple's Mac line on a daily basis over two years ago.