Can Apple make a "Retina" display MacBook a reality?

Can Apple make a "Retina" display MacBook a reality?

Summary: Bringing a Retina display MacBook to market would involve balancing three factors.


Apple is preparing to launch MacBook systems featuring high pixel density Retina displays, according to an analyst speaking to sister site CNET.

Richard Shim, senior analyst with NPD DisplaySearch, believes Apple could now source high pixel density 13.3-inch and 15.4-inch LCD panels from suppliers such as Sharp, LG Display, and Samsung.

Shim claims Apple could replace the current 15.4-inch and 13.3-inch screens used in the MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air systems with these higher density screens.

Apple's current 15.4-inch panel currently has a screen resolution of 1,440 x 900 pixels, and a pixel per inch count of 110. The updated screen would have a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 and a pixel per inch count of 220.

The 13.3-inch panel currently has a screen resolution of 1,440 x 900 pixels, and a pixel per inch count of 127. The updated screen would have a screen resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 and a pixel per inch count of 227.

The iPhone 4/4S has a pixel per inch count of 326, while the iPad 3 comes in lower at 264 pixels per inch. However, because you hold an iPad further away from your eye than you do an iPhone, the screen is still considered a Retina display panel.

To qualify as a Retina display screen, Apple says that the pixel density needs to be high enough that the eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels on the screen.

Apple could feasibly put together a MacBook with a Retina display screen, but to bring this device to market would involve balancing three factors.

The first factor is cost. Shim estimates that the new high pixel density Retina display panels would add around $100 to the bill of materials for a MacBook. If we were talking about Windows OEMs, who operate on single-digit razor-thin profit margins, this bump in price would likely be unacceptable.

But we're not. We're talking about Apple, a company that manages to command 30 percent-plus profit margins on hardware. Combine that with Apple's grip on the supply chain means that this increase in cost wouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker.

The second factor to consider is yield. Higher pixel density screens have a lower manufacturing yield due to a number of reasons, including increased manufacturing time and defects. Apple sells some four million Macs a quarter across the entire range, which includes iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs. Turning to multiple suppliers could allow Apple to fulfil the demand for these Retina display panels. Additionally, if Retina display is offered as an option of certain systems, this could further allow Apple to control demand.

Also, the millions of iPhones and iPads sold, all with Retina displays, have given the supply chain a lot of time to work out the kinks.

Final factor to consider is power. Just like the iPhone or iPad, MacBook systems rely on a battery to keep them powered. A higher pixel density screen will put more pressure on the battery. However, given that Apple managed to put a battery with 70 percent greater capacity into the iPad 3 while keeping the size and weight almost unchanged compared to the iPad 2, the company is no stranger to packing a big battery into a small space.

This experience will no doubt come in handy if the company does decide to release MacBooks featuring Retina display screens.

Backing up the rumor that Apple is preparing to release Macs with a high pixel density screens is a patent filing for a screen resolution independent graphical user interface (GUI) for OS X. A resolution-independent OS X would make it easier for Apple to support a range of screen resolutions and pixel densities across a wide range of devices.

Image source: Apple.


Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • Retina plus Windows...bliss :D

    If Apple can bring out a 15.4 inch MacBook Pro with a Retina display I will be first in line with Windows 8 in tow.
    • That's not a good idea

      unless Windows 8 has a "screen resolution independent GUI".

      It's like how the new iPad has the same size icons as the previous, but the resolution is actually twice as high. Can Windows do that? Unfortunately, I don't think so.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Yes it can (up to a point)

        The Metro interface is explicitly designed to be resolution independent. The problems would be with the desktop. The desktop is perfectly capable of running resolution independent but unfortunately a lot of developers have not used the APIs properly and so will not scale correctly. They will scale but parts of them will not stay in proportion.
      • If the metro design was "resolution independent"

        there wouldn't be a minimum resolution required for things.

        edit: Also, ask anyone with a 1920 x 1080 monitor what happens to their tiles. Go ahead, I'll wait, and you can come back and explain to me how it looks exactly like with 1600x900, right?
        Michael Alan Goff
      • You think wrong

        [i]Can Windows do that?[/i]

        Yes. o m/en-CA/windows7/Make-the-text-on-your-screen-larger-or-smaller

        From the reading I've done in response to the last time someone said Windows couldn't do this, it is actually OS X that can't do this. However, I'm not an expert on OS X so it is possible that if you drop down to the command line and add enough switches and parameters, you can change the PPI setting in OS X.

        http://en.wikipedia.o r g/wiki/Resolution_independence
        [i]Since Mac OS X v10.7, Apple has removed the rudimentary support for resolution independence

        Microsoft Windows has supported DPI aware programs since Windows Vista and allows user specified DPI settings for the windowing interface.

        The Windows Presentation Foundation from Microsoft, and consequently, WPF applications, are also designed to be resolution-independent.[/i]
      • They must have added that to Metro

        last I knew, the biggest complaint was that the metro screen looked horrible in a hi-def monitor's native resolution.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • Windows 8 has yet to be sold on a laptop

        [i]They must have added that to Metro[/i]

        Doubtful. This is a feature that has been around for years in the Windows world.

        [i]metro screen looked horrible in a hi-def monitor's native resolution[/i]

        It would be up to the OEM to configure the PPI of the Windows 8 image to match the resolution and size of the screen that it is installed on. Since Windows 8 has yet to be sold on a single device, no manufacturer has had a chance to do this. It is currently up to the person installing Windows 8 preview to configure the PPI appropriately for the resolution and screen size of their monitor.

        It is a good point though, perhaps it will be an important step to add to the installation of a "boxed" copy of Windows 8 where the user is asked to enter the size of their monitor if such a property can't be queried from the monitor programatically. Otherwise, people might end up with a less than perfect experience with Metro.
      • So it's just bad design so far?

        "It is a good point though, perhaps it will be an important step to add to the installation of a "boxed" copy of Windows 8 where the user is asked to enter the size of their monitor if such a property can't be queried from the monitor programatically. Otherwise, people might end up with a less than perfect experience with Metro."

        I would have expected it to be somewhat automated, considering I use Windows because it "just works". I can't wait for a good retina display laptop.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • What are you talking about

        Windows 8's GUI is screen resolution independent (that's generally the complaint about it).
      • I see where this is going

        [i]So it's just bad design so far?[/i]

        Yes. Bad design. Fine.

        At least we've managed to educate you on the capabilities of Windows since you started this discussion with horribly incorrect information.

        But if you refuse to see the difference between Apple being able to configure the PPI of iOS on the iPad before shipping it to the customer, and people installing the Windows 8 preview on devices with very different monitor sizes and resolutions, then I guess we'll just smile and nod while you display your hatred of everything Microsoft. When Windows 8 is released on tablets and laptops and all-in-ones, the OEM will configure the PPI of Windows before shipping it to the customer so that "it just works". As for the install of a "boxed" copy of Windows 8, we'll have to see what the gold master is like before judging the install process. If Windows 8 cannot query the monitor to find its physical size, hopefully MS will simply add a prompt during the install process to allow the user to enter their monitor size. I'm sure you'll seize on that as being horribly confusing though. So be it.
      • @Todd

        I hold Microsoft to a higher standard than I hold Apple. I know that Apple is only getting the things they do because they control the entire stack. Microsoft doesn't have that ability, they make the software. I would hope that they would make something to where it would work with what somebody else can do.

        I am glad that I have learned something about Windows that I didn't know (despite it being my main OS, how sad is that?).

        I won't decry anything unless it doesn't work, and I really hope that Windows 8 works perfectly. I really like it, though I haven't quite put it on my laptop yet. It seems strange that I have been called a Microsoft-hater by one group, though. Just look for a guy named Scorpio-blue/black/whatever color he goes by now. He will be very willing to tell you that I'm a Microsoft shill.

        Isn't that just amazing?
        Michael Alan Goff
      • Reading the replies to your comment, it's pretty obvious

        that a lot of windows users don't know what resolution independence is. It means your screen elements don't change size regardless of pixel density. It means your icons aren't measured in pixels, but in inches. It means you don't have to go into a control panel and toggle a Make text larger setting. The funny thing is, you see resolution independence every time you print something. Your fonts and graphics don't change size because you are printing on a 2400 dpi linotronic vs a 300 dpi inkjet. You don't have to tell your print job to "make text larger."

        But for some reason, computer geeks cannot translate this to the display and think that Windows, with a font rendering engine that snaps its letter forms to the pixel grid, is resolution independent because you can force everything to be 120% or 150% larger via a control panel setting, then log out and back in again son Windws can substitute out the new screen fonts.
      • baggins: then get to work

        [i]a lot of windows users don't know what resolution independence[/i]

        I provided the link to the Wikipedia article that states Windows supports resolution independence. You clearly know better. Please do the world a favor and go edit that Wikipedia article. I understand that Wikipedia is not perfect but it will only get better if really smart people like you fix up the problems once they are identified. Please go to Wikipedia and correct the mistake. Windows does [b]not[/b] support resolution independence. So say we all.

        [i]son Windws can substitute out the new screen fonts[/i]

        Now who is the ignorant one? Hint: you. This has nothing to do with substituting one set of fonts for another. As an experiment, hook up a small screen, high resolution monitor to a Mac Pro. What? All the icons are smaller? Hook up a large screen, low resolution monitor to a Mac Pro. What? All the icons are bigger? Huh. At least with Windows, you could fix that. You probably could fix it with OS X to as long as you went into the terminal and modified a few config files by hand, hoping and praying that you don't get a single setting wrong or your monitor will burst into flames.

        I agree with Michael on one point: this should "Just Work". If Dell ships high resolution / small screen laptops without adjusting the PPI, that is bad on Dell. Microsoft has given Dell all the tools they need to do the job right. Windows is properly designed so that the manufacturer (Apple) or OEM (Dell) or the consumer (you) can adjust the size of the UI based on their screen size and resolution. That is resolution independence. It has nothing to do with swapping out fonts and if you believe that is all that happens in Windows, you only expose your complete ignorance on the subject.
      • @toddbottom

        OS X is not resolution independent yet. iOS is. Going in and adjusting element sizes to compensate for higher pixel density is not resolution independence. Thanks for proving my point on not knowing what resolution independence is.
      • baggins: if you are so confident, go edit wikipedia

        Let the world benefit from your brilliance.

        [i]Going in and adjusting element sizes to compensate for higher pixel density is not resolution independence[/i]

        Which is why that isn't how Windows works. Windows allows you to specify the PPI of your display. If your PC is a laptop or a slate, the OEM should be the only one who needs to touch it but you, as the end user, have the option to specify a different PPI.

        But I shouldn't have to explain this to you. After all, you know all about it. Go fix wiki. Make sure to come back when you are done so we can all marvel in your brilliance. Unless you aren't quite so confident that you are right?

      • @toddbottom


        You can adjust the font and icon size on the desktop on OS X, and you don't have to use Terminal to do it.
      • I love being downrated...

        ...for stating a fact.
    • Nice troll

      Unfortunately there won't be drivers for the hardware for about a year.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
  • Not sure how they say you hold your tablet and phone at a different

    distance with a straight face. But 220 dpi doesnt sound very retina. The ipad3 is already not very retina. I remember seeing full color 1000+ dpi displays about ten years ago. Yes actually getting 1024 on a watch size display in full color. The problem is not pixel density, never has been. Just power and app support. The new macbooks or any other device could have 100x what theyre talking about for the new resolutions if they wanted. Its not a technology thing, just no need for it. The downsides outweigh the upsides.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Yes, people do hold their 3.5in phone and tablets at different distances

      I have a Galaxy Note and hold it at about 14" which makes it 'retina' as well.