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Ultra-portable Apple notebook to splash down at Macworld Expo

Exclusive — Unlike last year, the annual Macworld Expo and Conference that rolls around in January will actually serve as a launch pad for some new Macs, including a chic and ultra-compact notebook design long under development by Apple Inc.

The 13-inch portable, which AppleInsider first detailed back in February, will mark the Cupertino-based Mac maker's re-entry into the sub-notebook market — arriving in a form-factor that's approximately 50 percent lighter and strikingly slimmer than the company's current 15-inch professional MacBook Pro offering.

In achieving this smaller notebook footprint, Apple has reportedly adopted design cues that fall in line with the minimalist nature of its chief executive, including a bold move to omit a traditional optical disc drive from the aluminum-clad systems.

The thickness of today's optical disc drive components are one of the primary factors limiting the ability of PC manufacturers to slim down their next-generation notebook designs. Although Apple had originally made attempts to build in a drive through unconventional means, it's reported that the plan faced both obstacles and opposition, and upon last check appeared to have been scrapped.

At the same time, the new sub-notebook will mark the advent of features not yet available with Apple's existing portable offerings, such as onboard NAND flash. The system will represent the first Mac to utilize the solid-state memory in order to improve power efficiency and facilitate near instantaneous boot times, among other advantages.

Also helping with power efficiency will be the adoption of a new breed of 13-inch LCD display panels, which, like those used in the current iteration of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, feature LED backlights rather than cold cathode fluorescent backlights (CCFLs).

While pricer than CCFLs, LED-backlit panels offer increased color saturation and are more efficient at distributing light evenly across the entire display surface. They also consume less power, run cooler, and last longer than CCFL-backlit displays. When combined with on-board NAND flash drives — which contain no moving parts and therefore also draw less power — the technology is expected to translate into significant improvements in battery performance as employed in the new notebook design.

While there has been some uncertainty as to when Apple would be ready to unveil the next-generation portable, people familiar with the matter now tell AppleInsider that the company is gearing up for a grand introduction during January's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, which runs January 15th through the 18th.

Since AppleInsider first reported on development of the new sub-notebook back in February, several prominent Wall Street analysts have taken steps to quantify the effect such a product would have on Apple's bottom line, including Morgan Stanely analyst Katy Huberty.

In a detailed research report last month, she explained that a launch early next year could help the company achieve her current "Bull Case" scenario, which would include per-share earnings of $7.00 for the 2008 calendar year.

"We continue to believe our bull case scenario of $7 earnings-per-share and a $225 stock is increasingly likely given operating leverage and the upcoming launch of an ultramobile Mac," Huberty told clients.

Other analysts who've weighed in with their thoughts on the matter include American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu and Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.