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Apple playing hard to get with the newest MacBook Pro

It used to be that getting a new iPhone or iPad was tough. Now that same story appears to be playing out with Apple's latest notebook.

WWDC attendees crowding around enclosed versions of Apple's latest MacBook.
WWDC attendees crowding around enclosed versions of Apple's latest MacBook. James Martin/CNET

One line I've made a point to throw into numerous launch stories about the iPhone and iPad is how nobody is having trouble getting their hands on one of Apple's computers the first few days it's out.

Right now, you can't say the same about the company's newest notebook.

The top of the line MacBook Pro, with its Retina Display and $2,199 starting price tag, is a hot item. Apple announced it at its annual developers conference on Monday and went put on sale immediately, but boy is it tough to get one.

If you want to buy one off the company's Web site, you'll face a three- to four-week wait until it ships. At the company's retail store the alternative is stores that don't have them, and don't know when they'll get more.

Ship times on Apple's latest MacBook.
Ship times on Apple's latest MacBook. CNET

My quick check over the phone with a sampling of 25 Apple stores around the U.S. suggests units are extremely hard to come by. All of the stores I called were out of stock, and many said they hadn't yet received a first batch of machines, but did have a display unit we could look at. One store operator I spoke with even went so far as to say -- with exasperation -- that my call was "the question of the day."

According to NPD DisplaySearch, the scant supply is simply due to the fact that Apple didn't start putting these machines together until a few weeks ago, when it was originally supposed to have started earlier in the month.

"Following Apple's announcement we have checked back into the ODM supply chain, and found that yield issues pushed the start of mass production into late May," wrote NPD DisplaySearch analysts Richard Shim and Jeff Lin in a post on the company's blog today.

The pair added that less than 2 million of these units would be made within the next six months. To put that in perspective, Apple shipped 12.9 million MacBooks -- a number that includes both the Air and the Pro lines -- during calendar 2011, according to the firm's estimates.

In a follow up call with CNET, Shim noted that the production of the new Retina panels is "trickier" than with the displays Apple uses in the rest of its line, particularly because of the backlighting required. Like with the latest iPad, Shim says the bigger, pixel-dense display requires more backlighting, and thus a battery that is 23 percent larger than before to supply the extra juice.

Coming back to the retail front, what makes it difficult to get a handle on where people can find the machine at one of its retail stores is the fact that Apple has disabled the in-store pick up option -- at least temporarily. Similar tricks have been used to suss out when next batches of iPhones and iPads will come into stock shortly after they're released, leaving no such luck in this case.

For would-be buyers, perhaps it's best to take a page from those portable products. As numerous launches have shown us, there are two routes: persistence and patience. You can, as several stores told me to do, simply keep calling back to see when they get units in. Then there's the patient path, which can be taken one of two ways: either you buy online and wait, or grab a comfortable pair of shoes and camp out in front of an Apple store.

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