Why a Retina Display on a MacBook could be a bad idea
The most-rumored new MacBook update sounds like it might be more trouble than it's worth.
But, would this fairly significant change be worth it? If Apple breaks from the laptop norm (for example, by upgrading the 15-inch MacBook Pro's 1,440x900-pixel display to a ), I'd have concerns about battery life, system size and weight from a potentially larger battery, and even price, as higher-resolution panels cost $100 more by some estimates. And consumers could be confused if Apple breaks a long-standing tradition of how laptop screen sizes and screen resolutions relate.
The current high-end resolution for laptops is 1,920x1,080 pixels, which we sometimes refer to as full HD or 1080p -- that's the same as Blu-ray HD video. On a 17-inch desktop-replacement laptop, it's great, and it mostly works on a 15-incher as well. The handful of 13-inch laptops with 1,920x1,080-pixel screens I've seen are hard to read. For even higher resolutions, Apple would have to have a workaround for this. The most likely way a Retina MacBook would work would be using HiDPI. :
If Apple bumps up the resolutions on these displays and keeps them the same size, it has to treat pixels differently using a a special mode called HiDPI. The feature understands that there are more pixels, but that the scale of the display is the same. Apple added the feature to its OS X 10.7 software last year, but it isn't readily available to users. Some third-party software, including the recently-updated Air Display app for iOS have unlocked it so that users can try it out on their third-generation iPad.
Most MacBooks are already outside of the laptop resolution mainstream, with 16:10 screens on everything except the 11-inch MacBook Air, which is the company's only 16:9 laptop. As these are some of the only 16:10 laptops left, some kind of change wouldn't be surprising.
Even if Apple trades up to a much higher resolution than any other laptop but still manages to keep things readable, that would mean resolution and screen size alone would no longer give you a fixed idea of what content (Web sites, games, photos, etc.) would look like on a laptop screen. This could make comparison shopping confusing, and it would be another example of different computer manufacturers using different standards.
For example, today I could easily tell someone shopping for a laptop that a good sweet spot to look for in a premium 13-inch laptop is a screen resolution of 1,600x900 pixels. In the future, would I have to suggest 1,600x900 if a laptop is from one list of PC makers with one type of DPI technology, and a second set of recommended resolutions for brands that use different DPI settings? Good luck fitting all that on the shelf tag at a brick-and-mortar retailer.
On top of that, as we saw with the third-gen iPad, the implications for battery life (and therefore battery size) are real, which is especially important in the slim MacBook Air models. A Retina Display would likely need more power, which would lead to either a bigger battery (and thicker chassis) or shorter battery life, or both. The MacBook Air is near-perfect as is. Mess with the size, weight, or battery life at your own peril.
Of course, crisper text and sharper images is not a bad thing, and if it gives consumers a notably better overall experience, that could mitigate my concerns. But, I have to admit, in many years of reviewing laptops, no shopper has every told me he or she wanted a screen resolution higher than 1,920x1,080.
Do you think new MacBook laptops need a 2,560x1,600-pixel display? Would it be worth less battery, more weight, or a higher price? Post your opinion in the comments section below.