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Apple sold 1.2M MacBook Airs over holidays, new models with Ivy Bridge loom

Apple is said to have sold 1.2 million of its thin-and-light MacBook Air over the holiday buying season, as competing PC makers hope to steal some of Apple's thunder by unveiling their own "Ultrabooks" at this week's Consumer Electronics Show.

Apple's 1.2 million MacBook Airs reportedly sold in the December quarter was 200,000 more than Apple achieved in the September quarter, according to DigiTimes. That made Apple the only vendor that managed to maintain its total notebook shipments from the third quarter to the fourth of calendar 2011.

While Apple's performance over the holidays was strong, companies like Asus and Lenovo were hit hard by a hard drive shortage caused by devastating floods in Thailand. Asustek Computer was the hardest hit, with notebook shipments dropping 12.4 percent, while the industry average was said to be between 5 percent and 7 percent.

Another strong performance for the MacBook Air comes as Apple is expected to refresh the ultraportable notebook line in the coming months with Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge processors. DigiTimes reiterated on Monday Apple's plans to refresh the MacBook Air lineup once Ivy Bridge chips debut.

Competing PC makers hope to replicate some of Apple's MacBook Air success with their own notebooks based on the "Ultrabook" specification from Intel. New Ultrabooks will also sport Ivy Bridge processors, but companies like Lenovo, Acer and Toshiba reportedly plan to price comparable models $50 to $100 below Apple's MacBook Air pricing.

Ultrabooks will be a major part of this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., which Apple is not attending. Acer has already unveiled the new Aspire S5 Ultrabook at its CES press conference, touting it as "the world's thinnest Ultrabook," set to launch in the second quarter of 2012.

The Aspire S5 will weigh in under 3 pounds, and is 15mm thick at its widest point, compared to 17mm for the MacBook Air. It will also feature a 13.3-inch screen, matching Apple's high-end model but not competing with the entry-level 11.6-inch MacBook Air.

Analyst Brian Marshall with ISI Group reacted to Acer's unveiling of the new Aspire S5 in a note to investors on Monday, stating he believes Apple's MacBook Air will maintain its market share lead. But he said new Windows Ultrabook models unveiled at CES could challenge Apple going forward.

"While details on pricing and specifications/configurations are still light, we believe the Aspire S5's ultra-thin and light form factor make it a solid entry in the Ultrabook category, especially if priced between ~$1,000-1300 as some media outlets are suggesting," Marshall wrote.