Evidence builds for smaller 11.6-inch Apple MacBook Air unveiling next week

Following on the heels of a report from last week on a potentially smaller 11.6-inch MacBook Pro, Apple is set to unveil the computer at its “Back to the Mac” event on October 20, multiple sources tell AppleInsider.

The sources say that the first models of the smaller MacBook Air have been coming down Apple’s manufacturing lines in Taiwan for at least a week, which should make them readily available soon after they’re announced next week.

There aren’t many more details available yet, but one source mentioned that Apple is forgoing the option of a traditional hard-disk drive or solid state (SSD) drive. Instead, the company may offer something that’s called an “SSD Card” that “lacks a traditional drive enclosure and more closely resembles a stick of RAM”, AppleInsider writes.  The site believes that the component may be an Apple-specific SSD drive built to integrate with Macs similar to how flash memory is used in iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

Such a move to standardize the SSD technology would allow Apple to get the flash memory cheaper than normal and would ultimately allow it drive down the price of the Air. It could allow for faster boot times and the ability to quickly wake up from sleep mode — perhaps almost as quickly as iPads and iPhones. It would also help Apple achieve a thinner design than previous models.

As I’ve written previously, there’s there’s no reason Apple wouldn’t want to release a smaller and more affordable MacBook Air. Apple doesn’t provide sales data for the computer, but word on its sales has been negative for some time. It’s certainly nowhere near as successful as Apple’s more iconic MacBook and MacBook Pro lines.

A smaller and cheaper Air could be very tempting to many consumers, and it would be a way for Apple to take advantage of the newer low-voltage processors that many laptop makers are using today. Low-voltage CPUs generally allow for netbook-like battery life — with the added benefit of much more horsepower. Apple could also stand to offer an Air cheaper than the current low-end model at $1,499.