What If Apple’s New MacBook Pros Don’t Have Retina Displays?

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All the hype and prognostication around Apple‘s allegedly forthcoming MacBook Pro refresh pivots on two bullet points: thinner frames and higher-resolution screens. The new laptops — initially said to resemble the MacBook Air in terms of the latter’s tapered body, now said to be more of an existing box-frame shrink — are supposed to give us more power (with less expenditure) by way of Ivy Bridge as well as more to appreciate, screen-wise, while delivering all of that in a lighter, slimmer package.

But what if all the talk about “Retina” quality displays turns out to be media-misled or pipe dreaming bunkum? What if, at WWDC next week, Apple unveils new MBPs with industry standard laptop screens?

(MORE: Apple-Guessing: New MacBook Pro 13-inch Wanted More than 15-inch Model?)

Engadget just put up a screen of what resembles a leaked product listing for the forthcoming 13.3-inch MBP, snagged from WeiPhone, which suggests Apple’s going with a classic 1280 x 800 pixel screen instead of something roughly twice that. The whole thing could be a fake, of course, and that some of the other specs appear to align with parallel rumors may just mean the prankster could pass an elementary “how to collate media gossip” test. But what if it’s not a fake? Would new MBPs absent ultra-high-resolution displays be a gigantic letdown?

Putting higher-resolution screens on laptops would make them more valuable to imaging specialists, it’s true, but it’s hard to see the average consumer really noticing, much less deeply caring, about higher pixels-per-inch counts. For starters, ultra-HD screens wouldn’t offer more in the way of screen real estate (nor would we want them to — have you ever played around at something like 1920 x 1080 without asset scaling on a 15-inch screen?). No, Apple would instead have to upscale its interface art to make it look like you’re running at conventional resolutions, proportionally speaking, while benefitting from the higher, crisper PPI count. In fact recent updates to OS X Lion that, among other things, double icon resolution have led many to assume it’s all part of a not-so-secret Apple plan to bring ultra-HD to the laptop masses.

But what if Apple just released thinner, lighter, more powerful MBPs? Would that be such a letdown? Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, sure, and I can’t say an even larger iPad-like screen wouldn’t be impressive to an ordinary user like me at a purely aesthetic level, but if I’m thinking practically, my inclination to buy one wouldn’t hinge on something so functionally trivial. (To be fair, Apple could always demonstrate some new OS X-related technology at WWDC that torpedoes everything I just said about functional superficiality.)

Something else that bothers me: the way the media takes a rumor like this, spots something that suggests the rumor may be false, then writes about it as if not satisfying the media’s possibly fabricated conditions would be Apple’s fault. Is Apple (or any company) responsible when the media gets it wrong? Shouldn’t we take it on the nose, not Apple, when we hype anonymously sourced information that turns out to be incorrect, come showtime? Something’s screwy where the folks stoking the propaganda engine are blaming the rumor’s object when reality fails to pony up. If these nigh legendary MBPs do appear at WWDC and they don’t have ultra-HD displays, I suggest consumers train their animus on us, not Apple, for wasting everyone’s time the past half-year.

By the way, there’s a third possibility here that no one’s mentioned: Apple could simply be planning to make the larger MBPs ultra-HD while leaving the 13-inch models unchanged. But my guess is this ad really is a fake. Look at two of the other bits and bobs on that listing: a 5400 RPM hard drive (not solid state) and a DVD drive (as opposed to its absence, as strongly suggested by prior rumors). I know, citing one rumor to dispel another is no less suspect, and it’s just as possible Apple’s planning to offer alternative “with” or “without” versions. I’m basing my skepticism about this “listing” on conventional wisdom that mainstream laptops in 2012 are poised to lose optical drives and shift to solid state storage, and that, coupled to Apple’s history of embracing changes like this ahead of, or at least in sync with, the curve.

MORE: Report: After the New MacBook Pros, New Core i5, i7 Apple iMacs Incoming