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Friday, September 24, 2010, 04:00 am PT (07:00 am ET)

Apple readying production of smaller, lighter 11.6-inch MacBook Airs?

Apple is destined to revamp its super-slim, but soft-selling MacBook Air as early as this fall, wrapping the new model around an LED-backlit display that's nearly two inches smaller than the model available today, according to sources in Taiwan.

Since introducing the 13.3-inch MacBook Air as the "world's thinnest notebook" nearly three years, Apple has watched sales of the ultra-portable trickle off to levels believed to be immaterial to its bottom line. As such, the product line has received little attention from the company, undergoing just two minor revisions in a 29-month span — the latter of which took place well over a year ago.

At just 0.76 inches at its thickest point, the MacBook Air is undoubtedly slim enough for its target audience of business travelers and those consistently on the go. However, sales of the device suggest that its 13.3-inch footprint and 3 pound carrying weight may be a bit more than that class of customers would prefer — especially given the resounding success of Apple's more compact and lighter 9.7-inch iPad.

In an effort to make the design of the Air more appealing and further differentiate the notebook from the company's mainstream 13.3-inch MacBook, Apple in 2008 reportedly began experimenting with a partial carbon fiber enclosure (1, 2) that would shave upwards of a 100 grams off its weight.

With plans for such a design failing to materialize over the last two years, it's believed that Apple returned to the drawing board at some point and began crafting a makeover that would deliver both size and weight reductions, further pushing the envelop of ultra-portable notebook computing.

The first evidence to this end arrived earlier this year when an analyst citing sources in Apple's Taiwanese component supply chain revealed that the company was placing orders for parts to fit a slimmer and lighter MacBook Air based around an 11.6-inch LED-lit display and Intel Core i-series ultra-low voltage processor.

On Friday, a report put out by Taiwanese rumor site DigiTimes appears to further corroborate such claims, alleging that Apple's primary notebook manufacturer Quanta has landed orders to produce the first 400,000-500,000 11.6-inch "MacBooks" for delivery to the Mac maker before the end of the 2010 calendar year.

No further details were available from the report. Apple last updated the 13.3-inch MacBook Air back in June of 2009 when it dropped the entry-level price to $1,499 from $1,799 for a model with a 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. A $1,799 offering based around a 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 128GB solid state drive was also introduced.