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

Bringing a Retina display MacBook to market would involve balancing three factors.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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.


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