∞ Apple execs discuss Lion, MacBook Air, Mac mini, Thunderbolt display

It’s been a busy day for Apple. The company released its next generation operating system, OS X Lion, and new a MacBook Air, Mac mini and Thunderbolt display. I had some time to sit down with Apple executives to talk about the releases.

[ad#Google Adsense 300×250 in story]Perhaps the biggest release of the day is OS X Lion. With this release, Apple is bringing some of the most familiar parts of its mobile operating system to the desktop.

With features like hidden scroll bars users will recognize, as I did, that utilizing gestures will make navigating through the operating system much quicker and easier.

“This is a really big step forward,” Brian Croll, Apple’s vice president of OS X product marketing, told The Loop. “We’ve made a lot of fundamental improvements in the operating system.”

There are many improvements in Lion, including new features that everyday users will enjoy. But some of the major changes are the ways users will interact with the operating system through LaunchPad and Mission Control. These features really give you the feeling of iOS on the desktop.

Of course, Lion is only available through the Mac App Store, although Apple will make a USB version available for customers in August.

“We’re in 123 countries in an instant,” said Croll. “It [The Mac App Store] is just a fabulous way to distribute software.”

In addition to Lion, Apple also released new MacBook Air notebooks. Besides using the new i5 and i7 processors, the MacBook Air features Thunderbolt, a new I/O interface that Apple and Intel introduced in February in the MacBook Pro.

Thunderbolt supports high-speed connectivity with storage systems and other forthcoming devices. With adapters it can work with Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire and USB peripherals, too.

“Thunderbolt makes the MacBook Air a high performance citizen,” David Moody, Apple’s vice president of Hardware Product Marketing, told The Loop. It gives the Air more I/O options than it ever had before.”

With the release of the new MacBook Air came the demise of the white MacBook. Apple said it made sense after seeing the trends of its customers.

“One of the things we saw is that the MacBook Air was simply more popular than the MacBook,” said Moody. “It does more in half the weight and in half the volume.”

Calling the Thunderbolt display the “ultimate docking station,” Moody said with one Thunderbolt cable, users could have an incredible number of features.

The Thunderbolt display also features integrated FaceTime camera, audio, FireWire 800, Gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 interfaces.

A new Mac mini was also released with faster processors, and surprisingly to some people, no optical drive. Apple said the popularity of the Mac App Store helped with that decision.

“We found that the majority of customers don’t use the optical drive on a regular basis,” said Moody. “Things are changing. The Primary use for the optical drive was to install software, but the mac app store provides a more efficient method for doing that.”

You can still purchase an external SuperDrive for the Mac mini if you like or you can use the optical drive sharing function built-in to Mac OS X.