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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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