The MacBook Air may be pretty flat, but its sales figures are anything but, it seems.
New research suggests that Apple's ultra-thin notebook is a runaway hit, now comprising more than a quarter of the computer giant's notebook sales -- 28 percent in October. That's a steep increase from just 8 percent in the last quarter.
The research comes from NPD Group and Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty, who specializes in Apple. In June she predicted, based on visits to component companies in Taiwan, that a new iPhone would come out in the late third quarter.
The research obtained exclusively by AppleInsider highlights the popularity of this summer's upgrade in the MacBook Air, particularly instant start-up and the addition of the Thunderbolt port for connection to Firewire or Gigabit Ethernet area networks.
Technology consultant Rob Enderle of Enderle Group sees the age of optical drives for CDs and DVDs fading fast.
"The new Ultrabooks don't have CD drives and they have little use in today's download/app store centric market," Enderle said. "I think what we are seeing is the approaching end of the optical disk in PCs. Ultrabooks are the showcase product going into next year and have broad OEM support."
Ultrabooks are an emerging class of thin (less than 0.8 inch), lightweight, portable laptops, using Intel Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and Haswell processors, made much thinner by the absence of a drive or any moving parts inside, replaced by flash-based solid-state drives. Ultrabooks include the 11-inch and 13-inch display MacBook Air, as well as the Asus Zenbook, Lenovo's IdeaPad and Toshiba's Portege.
"I'm not sure any vendor is pulling the plug [on optical drives] yet," Enderle said. "They are just putting more emphasis initially into Ultrabooks and thinner form factors that don't use the drives. Windows 8 favors downloads and app stores, so Windows 8 products likely won't often have optical drives."
The first MacBook Air was introduced in January 2008, at the MacWorld Conference and Expo, with only a 13.3 inch display. It was upgraded in October 2010 with the flash storage drive instead of a traditional hard drive, and with a smaller, cheaper 11.6-inch model.
In introducing the upgrade, then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the company tried to incorporate technology from its successful tablet computer introduced earlier in the year, saying "We asked ourselves, what would happen if a MacBook and an iPad hooked up? Well, this is the result: We think it's the future of notebooks."
In addition to the Thunderbolt port instead of a Mini Display port, the MacBook Air introduced in July also has a backlit keyboard and either a dual-core Intel Core i5 or i7 processor.
In Apple's most recent earnings, Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said record sales of almost 17 million Mac computers in the fiscal year were "fueled by the very strong growth in MacBook Air, as well as the continued strong performance of MacBook Pro," according to ZDNet.