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Apple's MacBook Air has 'fortuitous timing' in face of hard drive shortage

A global shortage of traditional, spinning hard disk drives has coincidentally come at a time when Apple's flash-based solid-state MacBook Air is one of the company's most popular products.

The success of the redesigned MacBook Air has come with "fortuitous timing" in the face of the hard drive shortage, analyst Rob Cihra with Evercore said in a note issued to investors on Monday. He believes Apple is largely insulated from the ongoing component constraints, caused by flooding in Thailand that has affected hard drive makers Western Digital and Seagate.

Apple's MacBook Air features only NAND flash for storage, relying on solid-state hard drives rather than traditional spinning hard disk drives. NAND memory has been unaffected by the floods in Thailand, which have put more than 600,000 people out of work.

Cihra thinks the ongoing hard-drive shortage will create an influx of MacBook Air copycat Windows-based machines with solid-state drives in 2012. In particular, he sees PC makers gravitating toward Intel's struggling Ultrabook design specification, which aims to capitalize on the popularity of Apple's thin-and-light MacBook Air.

But Cihra expects Apple to counter with a refresh of its MacBook Air lineup in the first half of 2012. He also believes that the company's cash hoard will allow it to leverage "some unique NAND engineering/supply vs. vanilla (solid-state drives)."

Recent rumors have suggested Apple will add a 15-inch model to its MacBook Air lineup in early 2012. The company is reportedly looking to expand the lineup as the ultraportable notebooks now represent 28 percent of Apple's notebook shipments.

As for Macs featuring traditional hard drives, Cihra also thinks Apple is in a strong position there as well. He believes Apple was the quickest hardware maker to react with hard-drive suppliers, putting it in an advantageous position in the supply chain.

His take comes just a few days after AppleInsider was first to report that build-to-order iMacs with 2-terabyte hard drives have an estimated shipping time of 5 to 7 weeks. The apparent shortage of high-capacity drives for Apple's all-in-one desktop could be the first sign of the company being hit by a lingering global hard drive shortage.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook expressed concern about the hard drive shortage during his company's quarterly earnings conference call in October. While he was "certain" there would be an industry-wide shortage of disk drives, Cook said he was "not sure" at the time how the situation would affect Apple.