According to a report by Appleinsider’s Kasper Jade, Apple is poised to restore a feature and address one of the most widespread complaints about the second-generation MacBook Air. All three iterations of the original MacBook Air had keyboard backlighting, but for some reason many of us Apple laptop watchers found inexplicable, given the existing engineering and relatively modest cost of backlighting, the feature was excised from the otherwise pretty comprehensively improved Airs released last October.
Jade reports that “people familiar with the matter” tell him the backlit keyboards are back in with the next-revision 11.6- and 13.3-inch Apple notebooks, along with ultra high-speed Thunderbolt I/O ports, an upgrade to Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture, and possibly high-speed 400MBps flash memory.
The rumor mills speculated that we were to see the new MacBook Airs on Thursday or Friday of this week, along with an OS X 10.7 Lion release, but Jade has the week of July 21 penciled-in as the most likely release date due to some last minute issues that need addressed, and that some 400,000 new MacBook Airs are ready to enter the distribution pipeline once the Lion roars in public.
Kasper Jade also cites Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore projecting that refreshed, Lion-equipped MacBook Airs will goose Air sales by some 50%—to 1.5 million units per quarter—which would mean the second-generation form factor MacBook Air will in less than a year have taken that model from a slow-selling niche player to accounting for nearly half of all the notebooks Apple ships in a single quarter, further gelling its status as the shape of of things to come across the entire Mac laptop array of models.
A return of the backlit keyboard will certainly add a bit more icing on the MacBook Air cake, especially for the non touch typing brigade, which includes this writer. I liked the keyboard backlighting on my old 17″ PowerBook a lot, and miss it with my current late 2008 model unibody MacBook. I even have a backlit iRocks freestanding keyboard (discontinued, alas) that I use at my office desktop workstation. I don’t stare at the keys as I type, but find I’m lost without being able to take quick visual reference glances to vector finger positioning.