What Would You Do with a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro?

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One of the wants floated back when Apple’s Retina MacBook Pro display was still just a rumor inside a riddle wrapped in a DigiTimes story, was an even thinner 13-inch version with Apple’s new pixel-flush screen technology.

A 15-inch model was on the menu then as well, but 13 inches? That’s the sweet spot, argued many (analysts, too) who have been craving a laptop with tricked out visual real estate and the slender-ized portability of something like Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air.

(MORE: Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion Review: The Mac’s Lion Adventure Continues)

But when the curtain came up, all we got was 0.71 inches and 4.46 pounds — not bad for a system packing a 15.4-inch display harboring over five million pixels. But imagine that (or most of it) squeezed into an even smaller chassis, shedding as much as a pound from its frame and hundreds of dollars from its price tag. Moments after the 15-inch Retina Pro was unveiled, prognosticators were already chanting “13 inches” like monks in a possibility-induced trance.

But when?

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts (via MacRumors) that we’ll see a 13-inch Retina Pro sometime in September, though there’s no hard evidence for it. Nonetheless, like most future-casters, Kuo writes as if he’s describing the past from his time-traveling TARDIS:

We think consumers who initially planned to purchase the 13” MacBook Pro and Air will turn to the 13” Retina MacBook Pro instead because it has an attractive panel, its price is similar to MacBook Pro and it has a better balance between power consumption and form factor. However, as supply is limited due to panel and assembly yield rate issues, shipment of the 13” Retina MacBook Pro won’t be able to satisfy demand.

There’s some other stuff in Kuo’s note about new iMacs and the next iPhone as well as iPod and iPad updates.

(MORE: Three Questions About the Inevitable iPod Refresh)

But I want to talk about laptop availability and screen sizes and practical resolutions. Let’s assume there’s a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro in the offing. Would you buy one?

The more salient question: Will you be able to? Apple launched the 15-inch Retina Pro on June 11, well over a month ago, and it’s still crazy-backlogged on fulfillment. The 15-inch Retina Pro presently shows ship time delays of “1-2 weeks” through Apple’s online store, only a modest improvement over the exuberance-choking “2-3 weeks” buyers were faced with at launch.

I’m told retail availability remains sporadic, with bite-sized shipments pretty much pre-sold, as buyers who put their names on intimidating wait lists weeks ago arrive to whisk them away like lottery winners. And while you might surmise that means Apple’s selling the bejesus out of these things, it’s more likely, as Kuo claims above, that the Retina display is holding things up. The bottleneck looks to be supply, in other words, not demand.

If that’s still a safe assumption, it doesn’t bode well for 13-inch Retina Pro wonks, especially not if the model arrives in the back-to-school (or “just-back-to-school,” September) window, when there’s a historical spike in laptop demand. I’d wager there’s a sizable group waiting to pull the trigger on a 13-inch Retina Pro if Apple obliges and builds one. The 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro has long been Apple’s bestselling model, after all. There’s the possibility that Apple’s been quietly building these things all along, stockpiling them for a back-to-school “perfect storm” in terms of availability.

Assuming they arrive in September and you somehow get you hands on one, what resolution would you like to see Apple use natively? (For default, everyday use, that is.) Current thinking pairs the 13-inch Retina Pro with a 2,560 x 1,600 pixel native display. That’s down slightly from the 15-inch model’s 2,880 x 1,800 pixels, but still packing twice as many in either direction as the 13-inch non-Retina Pro.

(MORE: 10 Mac Apps that Need MacBook Pro Retina Support)

Apple’s “Best for Retina display” resolution on the 15-inch Retina Pro is 1,440 x 900, which looks gorgeous but lops off desktop space. That may be a good thing (for your eyes, anyway). The higher your laptop’s screen resolution, the smaller the icons and non-scalable text are. And while sometimes you want access to the extra pixel-space higher resolutions afford, only power users unconcerned with eye health jam the machine’s highest setting — a whopping 1,920 x 1,080 pixels — into a 15.4-inch diagonal box as a matter of routine.

I occasionally bump my Retina Pro’s display up to 1,680 x 1,050 while playing with interface-busy apps like Logic Pro, but for general use, e.g. Internet, playing music, email, watching video, I prefer to leave the display at the Retina-recommended setting. I use my computer most of the day, sometimes seven or eight hours straight. I suspect that in 30 or 40 years my eyes are going to thank me.

Whither a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro? The 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro has a screen that employs 1,280 x 800 as its native resolution. That’s workable for everyday stuff, but much too small if you’re working in apps like Logic Pro or Photoshop (or frankly even GarageBand). By contrast, the 13-inch MacBook Air employs a 1,440 x 900 native screen. Why not make that the default resolution on a 13-inch Retina Pro? And if 1,920 x 1,200 is the top-end desktop resolution you can select on the 15-inch Retina Pro, it stands to reason 1,600 x 1,200 would be the 13-inch model’s top-end analogue.

Given options like those, what would you use a 13-inch Retina Pro for? I’m genuinely curious. Would you crank it up to 1,600 x 1,200 and run stuff like Logic Pro? Photoshop? Drafting tools like AutoCAD? Or are you just looking to buy a laptop that’ll handle day-to-day stuff on a twice-as-gorgeous screen?

MORE: Apple Retina MacBook Pro Review: The MacBook Pro, Only More — and Less — So

16 comments
DavidBirkhead
DavidBirkhead

Only reason the retina is faster is the SSD. Bung an SSD in the older macbook pro and it will equal or outperform the retina.

Jonathan Sheppard
Jonathan Sheppard

I simply want a 13" Mac laptop with a discrete GPU and an SSD.  The SSD I can add myself, but not the GPU. Slimmer body and even-more-gorgeous screen are just icing on the cake at that point.

Jahnna Randall
Jahnna Randall

I did a comparison video on the 15" Macbook Pro 2.6 VS Macbook Pro Retina Display 2.3 if anyone is interested in seeing the difference between the two laptops. http://youtu.be/vD6SCvt3Eiw

fran farrell
fran farrell

Wait a year for 1200x2700 pixels on a 10_13" Chrome book with 64 Gb offline memory and infinite computing and storage support from the cloud. Laptops and 10" tablets are the Commodores and Ataris of today. Use them if you must to play pong, but they have no future.

Kimo1
Kimo1

I've found buying more than I need today has served me well in the long run. My 10 year old Dell 410 is still doing OK but it's time to move on. With three 13" offerings, Apples product line guys will have to thread the needle on price. Maybe the Air 13 will drop in price to make more space for the new one. Apple can then kill most of the "untra" machines as well.

David Leon Feild
David Leon Feild

I would take a chainsaw to it first and smash the remaining parts with a sledge hammer, capture it all on video and upload it to youtube for fun. want to send me one? lets get this party started!!!!

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

Probably the same thing everyone does. Use that stunning resolution, sweet SSD, all that RAM, multicore processor, and empty wallet... to browse facebook and watch kittens on youtube.

There's a reason Apple's business never took off with computers.

Jose Miguel
Jose Miguel

I would like to hear that reason.  I am no fanboy fandroid or whatever, but so far they seem to be doing very well since the retina macbooks were released...

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

Go back 5-7 years, however long its been since the iPhone debuted and really kicked off all this Apple fervor. No one really cared about apple beyond iPods and iTunes. Sure you saw the odd Macbook here and there and you knew a couple of people who owned an iMac or a Mac Pro. However, they represented a whopping 5% of the OS market. I'm sure in the last few years the Apple market share has grown. I've certainly seen more of them around, but that growth corresponded with the company's popularity boom created by the iPhone and iPad, not by any merit of the computers themselves. Hell, Apple's laptops/computers have traditionally been pretty ho hum with the occasional mix of awful. The original Airs were prone to getting unreasonably hot and barely sold at all, and the laughable venture that was the Cube was practically DOA. To be perfectly honest, the Retina display is the first genuine selling point of any apple computer. All the rest used run of the mill parts crammed into an aluminum package with the price jacked way up, which, aside from the Retina display, is still the case.

corvato
corvato

sell it and buy a amazing windows laptop for half the price, pocket the difference

Anonymous User
Anonymous User

What would I do with it? Throw it as far as possible. Why? Because it is going to clog up the bandwidth since everything will have to look good on it. You can't look at any other display (even your TV) without going "How did I ever look at that crap"... The world is not ready for a retina display.

squashsquashed
squashsquashed

In some regards I'm less concerned with Apple releasing a 13" Retina version, and more with simply an update to the 13" Macbook Pro.  If it also comes with a retina display, that's icing on the cake.  I would like to see the 13" Macbook Pro come stock with upgrades the 15" Retina has, such as an SSD drive, 8GB or even 16GB of RAM, a four core processor, and a slim profile.  While I use my computer for ordinary browsing throughout the day, I also use Adobe products as well as Final Cut Pro often, and at the moment I'm finding myself in that limbo of "should I or shouldn't I" invest in the "old technology" of the current 13" Macbook Pro.    

Danpim
Danpim

I'm in exactly the same predicament and am not sure whether I should wait for the rumored release of this new 13 inch Macbook or just buy the current Pro..

Roberto
Roberto

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