Why Apple dumped the 17-inch MacBook Pro

While sales played a part in Apple's decision to drop the larger of the MacBook Pro systems, it wasn't the only reason for their demise.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Question in today's mailbox:

Why did Apple dump the 17-inch MacBook Pro? I've owned several over the years and I'm upset that I'm going to have to switch to a 15-inch when I buy the next one.

Although Apple made no official announcement during the WWDC keynote yesterday, the absence of the 17-inch MacBook Pro from the online store can be taken as proof positive that the notebook has been dumped from the lineup. So, it's certainly gone, but why?

Rumors that Apple was going to dump the 17-inch MacBook Pro go as far back as April when Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst with KGI Securities, predicted that Apple was "likely to stop making" the large notebook because of weak sales. Weak sales would be a good reason for a company like Apple to ditch a product, especially given how rapidly the company turns over its inventory every five days or so. Apple doesn't want products laying around in stores gathering dust. It wants them to roll up in delivery trucks today, and be carried out by happy customers tomorrow.

However, one thing that blows a hole in this weak sales theory is Apple's continued commitment to the Mac Pro. While we're not offered any figures by Apple, I'm certain that the company sold more 17-inch MacBook Pros over the last year than it has Mac Pro systems. I certainly come across more 17-inch MacBook Pro systems than I do Mac Pros. While I'm sure that while sales played a part in Apple's decision to drop the larger of the MacBook Pro systems, I'm also certain that it wasn't the only reason for their demise.

So what other reason might Apple have had to dump the 17-inch MacBook Pro? To answer this, I think we need to look at the screen.

Yesterday Apple revamped the MacBook Pro lineup and moved them over to having high-resolution 'retina' display screens. The 15.4-inch display on the MacBook Pro has a 2880-by-1800 resolution and packs over 5 million pixels into the panel. That's not only an amazingly large high pixel density, it's also a very large panel to have that sort of pixel density.

Back in May, Richard Shim, senior analyst with NPD DisplaySearch, believed that Apple was in a position to source high pixel density 13.3-inch and 15.4-inch LCD panels from suppliers such as Sharp, LG Display, and Samsung. What wasn't mentioned was 17-inch panels, and the likely reason for this is that panel makers have not yet perfected a technique for making these panels at the appropriate cost and yield for Apple to be able to continue to offer a 17-inch MacBook Pro.

When LCD panel makers get better at making 'retina' display screen, and 17-inch panels start rolling off the production lines at the right price point, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Apple starts to offer 'retina' display enabled 17-inch MacBook Pro systems once again.

Especially if the demand is there.

Image source: Apple (1, 2).


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