Retina

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, after seeing a graphical user interface for the first time at Xerox, “within 10 minutes it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this someday.” While it’s arguable whether or not the retina display on the new MacBook Pro has the same impact as the graphical user interface, I had a similar reaction after using this computer. We have come to accept pixelated, slightly blurry text and imagines from computer screens, but it does not, should not be like this.

The retina iPad creates a similar effect, but for some reason it’s more striking with the the MacBook Pro, perhaps only because I’ve been more accustomed to seeing the non-retina version for longer, or perhaps because retina iOS images first appeared two years ago with the iPhone 4.

The MacBook Pro is an impressive laptop in many aspects, but it’s really the screen which has to be the driving force for buying it. Right now, it’s the only way to buy a retina Mac. The key question is when the rest of the line will go retina as well. iMacs would be the most impressive, but it’s hard to imagine that screens as large as 27 inches could expand to four times the pixel count without a significant cost difference at this point. The expectation is that we’ll see these machines next year. I think that’s possible, though possibly still optimistic.

The Airs seem like a logical target as well, but the current 13″ Air packed the old 15″ Pro’s 1440×900 screen into a smaller space. For the Airs to go retina without losing real estate, an even higher pixel density will be needed. In addition, it’s clear from using the Retina MBP that the GPU is struggling to keep up at times. The Airs lack a discrete GPU, so Intel has a significant amount of work to do with their integrated chipsets to make retina Airs a reality.

Lastly, it’s striking how bad apps that have not been updated for the retina display can look. While some of this is a just a contrast with the crisper surrounding images and text, it’s clear that low-resolution graphics actually look worse on the retina screen than they do on a standard screen. An update to Microsoft Office, where many people spend a good deal of time, is clearly needed. Even Apple’s own iWork apps are not retina-compliant, though I assume the delayed update is just waiting on Mountain Lion.

I don’t mean to overstate the downsides: the screen really is quite impressive. If I were buying a new computer today, I would accept the extra heft over my 11 inch Air in return for those extra pixels. The reality is, however, that there are still compromises with using this machine in the current environment.

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