Apple is sitting on at least one refresh of its Mac notebook line, waiting for the new version of its operating system to be released in July.
That's according to sources quoted by AppleInsider, which says that new MacBook Air models featuring Intel Sandy Bridge processors and the Thunderbolt expansion port have been ready for some time, but Apple doesn't want to release them featuring the old Mac OS X 10.6 operating system. This was released in June 2009.
The Macrumors.com Buyer's Guide, which tracks the intervals by which Apple refreshes its hardware, supports this view. It shows all portable Mac products are reaching the end of their typical sales cycle, with the exception of the MacBook Pro, which was updated earlier this year. The Mac Mini is also due an update.
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is due in July and is more than a simple operating system upgrade. It hooks users into iCloud, Apple's new storage service, which offers benefits including seamlessly storing music and personal files online. iCloud represents a major new direction for Apple, which sees it as a way of tying together its various desktop and mobile platforms, as well as providing an additional method for delivering media to users.
In other words, Apple wants to ensure users embrace iCloud by putting it directly under their noses, and don't want to rely on them to manually activate the service, or upgrade to it.
In the past Apple overcame the issue of hardware releases not chiming with OS X release dates by bundling CPU Drop-In discs with new Macs. The computer came an older version of the OS preinstalled, while the disc allowed the user to manually upgrade to the latest release at their leisure.
However, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will only be available for download via the Mac App Store, installed on all Macs running the current Mac OS release. OS X Lion will not be available on DVD in any way, shape or form -- making it unavailable via traditional retail channels too.
Theoretically it should still be possible for Apple to bundle a voucher code that would allow users to upgrade for free via the App Store. However, Apple is traditionally resistant to registration keys of the kind that blight the life of Windows users. Mac OS X retail releases have never used them, for example, and retail releases of the iWork productivity suite have dropped the need for registration keys completely. The Mac App Store also avoids the needs for registration by using digital rights management to tie the software to a user's computer.