Apple walking on air with world's thinnest laptop

The US computer company Apple has announced it is to launch "the world's thinnest" laptop.

US technology company Apple has announced it is to launch "the world's thinnest laptop", a computer so small it can slide into an envelope.

The MacBook Air has a full-size keyboard but at 4mm at its narrowest it will be only half the width of some of its sleekest rivals.

The computer will be entirely wireless, have a camera for video-conferencing and cost £1,199 when it goes on sale in two weeks' time.

"To fit an entire Mac in this thing was an amazing feat of engineering. And we didn't compromise on performance," chief executive Steve Jobs told the MacWorld conference in San Francisco.

He revealed Apple is also launching a film rental service for the first time. Films will be downloadable and playable on computers and TV screens 30 days after their release on DVD. They will become unplayable within 24 hours after being viewed. Previously, the company's iTunes website has only sold movies.

Jobs hailed the MacBook Air, which follows the Silicon Valley company's innovative iPod music player and iPhone, as a marvel of technology.

Software, movies and music are downloaded from the internet rather than loaded by a CD because the machine does not have a disc drive, though an add-on drive will be available for £65.

The machine will have a battery life of five hours, which compares favourably with current laptop battery times of one and a half hours.

Intel, he said, had shrunk its leading microchip by 60 per cent for the aluminium machine, which will have a 2 GB memory and 80GB hard drive. The gadget weighs 3lb, the same as other laptops. Its backlit screen instantly comes to life.

"We've built the world's thinnest notebook - without sacrificing a full-size keyboard or a full-size 13-inch display," Jobs said.

"When you first see MacBook Air, it's hard to believe it's a high-performance notebook with a full-size keyboard and display - but it is."

Revealing the secretive company's progress in 2007, Jobs said: " On iTunes we've sold 125 million TV shows, and we've sold 7 million movies – it's more than everyone else put together, but it didn't meet our expectations."

In a move likely to put further pressure on DVD rental shops, Jobs, dressed in his trademark black polo neck and blue jeans, said that the company was reinventing its Apple TV device that streams films to television screens.

"We've all tried to figure out how to get movies over the internet and onto the TV – but we've all missed, no one has succeeded yet," he said.

"We tried with Apple TV, but it's not what people wanted. So we're back with Apple TV take two – no computer is required. You can rent movies directly on your widescreen TV and you can rent them at DVD quality or you can rent then at high-definition quality."

Eleven of Hollywod's top studios including Disney, Sony, Warner Bros, Miramax and MGM have agreed to rent their films.

At first one thousand titles will be available to begin with, including the Disney animation Ratatouille, the swords and sandals epic 300 and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

They will be watchable at any point over a 30-day rental period – but only for 24 hours. Films will cost around £1.50 for a library title and £2 for a new release. The service is being launched straightaway in the US and will come to the UK by the end of the year.

Jobs - whose address was relayed to journalists via live satellite link at BBC's Wood Lane complex - said: "Most of us watch a movie only once... Renting is a good way to look at movies."

Jobs said new software updates would allow iPhone users to instantly locate their whereabouts on a Google street map.

In a nod to environmental criticism of Apple's products, he said the new laptop would have a recyclable aluminium case, a screen without mercury and a circuit board free of bromide and PVC.

The new packaging for the MacBook Air will be 56 per cent smaller than the company's existing best-selling "notebook" model the MacBook.