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Apple Goes "Back to the Mac" with New MacBook Air, Future Lion OS

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Cupertino keeps it simple with a less glitzy showcase of current and upcoming releases.

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We have to be reminded that it isn't always about the Verizon (VZ) iPhone. We have to remember it can't be "iTunes in the Cloud" every time. Sometimes, we'll have to forego Adobe Flash (ADBE) on the iPad, 64GB iPhones, and holographic iPod Touches.

Occasionally, we need a return to what originally made Apple (AAPL) a household name: its computers.

Today, Cupertino hosted a somewhat subdued event as it briefly shifted focus from its flagship mobile devices and took some time to showcase its new features with MacBooks and desktop software. Steve Jobs and company debuted iLife 11, improved FaceTime compatibility, gave a sneak peek to next year's OS dubbed Lion, and unveiled a brand new MacBook Air.

First up, after COO Tim Cook sifted through some numbers from Monday's earnings call, marketing boss Phil Schiller demonstrated iPhoto 11. The next version will be gaining new fullscreen, enhanced compatibility with Facebook, new slideshows, and letterpress effects. The improvements are mostly cosmetic, but the flashy features definitely caught the eye.

Apple's head of video software, Randy Ubillos, showed off the flashy editing capabilities of iMovie 11. Although iMovie won't go toe-to-toe with an Avid or Final Cut Pro system any time soon, for consumer-edited features or a quick sketch to throw on YouTube (GOOG), Apple is introducing some nifty features. In the middle of an edit, Ubillos demoed effects like Instant Replay, Ken Burns zooms, storyboard guides, personal studio logos, facial recognition, and movie trailer assembly -- many of which are condensed to one click.

Marketing manager Xander Soren rounded out the iLife demo with the new GarageBand. Soren played a project featuring a cacophony of instruments played out of sync. But with Groove Matching, users are able to designate one track as a guide and automatically sync the other tracks along with the correct beat. He also administered Flex-Time to one guitar track and extended a riff that ended too soon, without sacrificing pitch or quality.

Granting a wish to millions of iPhone 4 users, Jobs demoed the new MacBook-compatible FaceTime, which finally allows video conferencing between laptop and smartphone users. The software can shift from profile to landscape with a stylish flip.

In what he referred to as the "entrée for today," Jobs previewed next summer's Lion, which marks Apple's eighth major OS release. Lion sports features like fullscreen mode, multitouch gestures, an App Store -- also available on Snow Leopard in 90 days -- and auto-saving, auto-resuming apps. Exposé is revamped into the '80s-tastic name Mission Control where Dashboard, Spaces, and fullscreen apps are consolidated into one screen. Along with multitouch, it takes a cue from the iPad and iPhone touchscreens and ought to make app switching a little easier.

And fortunately for a very reserved live event, there was "one more thing," but the item wouldn't galvanize the entire public.

Jobs unveiled the new MacBook Air, available today. Calling it "the future of notebooks," Jobs noted the razor-thin Air is 0.68 inches at its thickest, 0.11 inches at its thinnest, and weighs a mere 2.9 pounds -- the weight of two iPads. And like the iPad, the new Air loses a hard disk drive and opts for solid-state storage. Jobs explained this allows for instant-on power -- making it twice as fast, much more reliable, and far lighter. Battery life is extended to seven hours on wireless Web and an astounding 30 days in standby time. It comes in two models, 13.3 and 11.6 inches, and both feature a unibody aluminum structure.

Some nice, practical treats at the Apple event today. Again, no groundbreaking announcements, no Research In Motion (RIMM) slams, no Microsoft (MSFT) taunts, no AT&T (T) regrets. Just solid announcements and sneak peeks from an overly scrutinized company.

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