Why The MacBook Air Got A Resolution Bump and The MacBook Pro Did Not

Interesting post about the future of the Mac Pro by Josh Centers where he sidetracks to the possibility of a retina MacBook Air:

“Ah,” you say, “but if screen size is key [smaller screens make for easier retina targets because of display yields], then why not go ahead with 11″ and 13″ Airs? That’s a lot of screens per sheet.” Fair question, but there are a few reasons why I think the Macbook Air will be the last of the line to receive retina screens:

4- The Air already has a better screen resolution than most Macbook Pros.

There he makes a good point about why it is taking so long for the 13″ MacBook Pro —or the whole Pro line for that matter1— to get a bump in resolution, similar to the Air. The current 13″ MBP is a great machine; it’s my laptop of preference. So when the 2nd generation of Airs was released late 2010 with a slightly higher resolution display, I was hopeful the 13″ MBP would get a similar increase in resolution. This hasn’t happened yet. Now it’s clear to me why.

A retina display just doesn’t show up uninvited. Apple has been planning and working on this for the last couple of years. They knew it would be harder to put retina graphics in the MacBook Air. That is why they went with slightly higher resolution (and higher dpi: 113 vs. 128 for the 13.3″ models) displays when they redesigned both Airs in 2010. Let’s face it, the Air is a laptop that is stripped down to its basics. It is going to take a while before it gains retina graphics. I’ll just quote from Josh’s post:

1- The Air currently has no space for a dedicated graphics processor. The current Retina Macbook, despite its beefy hardware, has a hard time pushing all those pixels.

3- Retina screens need more power and cooling. Apple managed to make the retina MacBook thinner and lighter by making it more like an Air. The Air doesn’t have the room to spare.

Substitute ”Air” for ”MacBook Pro 13-inch” and you have the reasons why Apple didn’t bother bumping its resolution before. They had bigger plans. Apple considers the current Pro machines as end-of-line, and they have been for some years. The future of the MacBook Pro is retina, both in 13″ and 15″, and that future is near.

How long before the current Pro’s are discontinued? I’m guessing after Apple has updated the iMac and its standalone displays, but well before the MacBook Air goes retina.

  1. Although, while the 15″ does have a build-to-order Hi-Res option, the 13″ does not. 

My Next Laptop

Brooke Crothers from CNET has learned that a 2560 x 1600 pixel density display is in production for Apple. The display is believed to be targeted at the 13.3 inch MacBook Pro, not the MacBook Air.

I’ve had a 13.3” form factor MacBook for the last six years. I carry it with me almost every day on my long commute that spans two bike rides and a train ride in between. Portability is pretty high on my list of requirements, to say the least. However, that laptop is also my main machine. I use it for work and, to a lesser extend, pleasure1. So it needs to be powerful enough for some software development (Java, Python, Eclipse), scientific writing (Sublime, Latex) and minor graphics work (Omnigraffle, Pixelmator).

The 13.3” MacBook Air has been in my crosshairs for some time now as a replacement for my current 2009 MacBook Pro. But there is something about that super-thin tapered design that has me worried. We already know it sacrifices performance2 because of heat and battery concerns. And I can’t help but feel that the thin design feels less sturdy when being handled and carried around in a bag —although probably without warrant.

What I definitely do like about the Air is the slight increase in resolution and density of the display (1440 x 960, up from 1280 x 800) and its use of SSD storage by default. That’s why I think the rumored 13” retina MacBook Pro —if it is anything like the 15’’ retina MacBook Pro— might just be the machine that really suites my needs:

  • It increases portability, though not quite on par with the MacBook Air level. It pulls this off foremost by removing the optical disk drive, and likely also by optimizing the internals: non-removable RAM and a Flashmemory module instead of an SSD drive.
  • It doesn’t sacrifice performance for extreme portability.
  • It gains a massive increase in display quality and, if the current 15’’ retina MacBook Pro is any indication, without sacrificing battery life. The 13’’ would likely also gain the possibility to set the display to a larger virtual resolution than the native 1280 x 800 points.

The Air is a great consumer laptop. Let’s hope the 13” rMBP will turn out to be a great portable Pro laptop.

Ethernet port, you will be missed.

  1. Although the iPhone, iPad and a Windows gaming PC are able to satisfy most of my free-time computing needs. 

  2. I’ve had the opportunity to play with a 2012 1,8-GHz 13″ Air, and I couldn’t say I was blown away by the Air’s speed, compared to a 2009 2,26 GHz core 2 duo MacBook Pro. 

Mountain Lion Downloads

Phil Schiller reporting on Mountain Lion’s release:

“Apple has announced that its latest Mac OS X version, Mountain Lion, has had three million downloads in just four days thereby making it the most successful OS in Cupertino’s history.

ModernGeek in a comment on Slashdot:

I have to wonder how many of these are people that received a free upgrade with their new Macintoshes… /didn’t rtfm

And the simple answer is: it doesn’t matter. Companies like Microsoft make money from selling software. They always talk about sales because that is what’s important for their bottom line. Apple, on the other hand, makes all its money from selling the hardware. They are trying to commoditize software by lowering its prices and shortening its release cycle (see the App Stores and iOS). It’s their goal to get more users to (want to) run their latest and greatest release, effectively adding additional value to their hardware products (e.g. iCloud), and potentially getting you to upgrade your hardware when it gets left behind (e.g. Siri).

Apple Doesn’t Innovate

People often say and write that Apple doesn’t innovate. That it is merely taking technologies and products, introduced by other companies, applying some Apple-magic to it, before spinning it as “The Next Best Thing”.

  • “Music players, smartphones, tablets and ultra portable laptops existed well before Apple unveiled their version of these products in 2001, 2007, 2008 and 2010. There is nothing new about what Apple did.”

  • “Clearly, Apple is acquiring all of its components from companies like SAMSUNG, LG, Broadcom, etc., so it is pretty obvious that they aren’t creating anything new; they are just repackaging these parts in a fancy aluminum or glass case and selling it for more than it’s worth. No innovation by Apple here.”

  • “Multitasking, notifications, maps, wireless syncing, copy-and-paste, the app store, cloud services, etc. are all shamelessly copied. No innovation here either.”

  • “The only thing Apple is good at is getting existing products and technologies to work more seamlessly, be more intuitive, and lure in customers through superb marketing.”

These are the kind of arguments I often find online. You would think that these arguments could be easily countered by pointing out how quickly other companies try to mimic Apple’s products (music players, smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks). But, apparently, that particular thing Apple did some time ago is, well, just that, a thing Apple did some time ago, because right now Apple is nothing but a copying bully.

This is all bullshit.

Apart from the fact that some of these arguments just don’t make any sense, this is the kind of FUD that competitors, idiots and uniformed people spread for reasons that are motivated by their own fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Apple is a very opinionated and ruthless company when it comes to the products, services and the software it designs. About the only freedom the company does allow is for customers and developers to take their business elsewhere if they disagree with how things are done.

Clearly, that is a good reason not to like Apple and the products that it creates. And that’s perfectly fine. Nobody is forcing you to. So please, quit trying to educate us on how irrelevant Apple has become, based on these bullshit arguments.

The whole principle of innovation is to look at existing solutions to problems and come up with different solutions that are better in particular ways, that matter to you. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So it’s perfectly acceptable to look at what a competitor is doing —you’d be a fool not to— and see if he’s solving problems that you could solve even better.

In January of 2007, on stage at MacWorld, Steve Jobs showed us how he believed Apple would change the (smart)phone industry with the iPhone. He was so excited about every aspect of this product that he demoed the hell out of every feature. There wasn’t a single person in that audience that didn’t hang at his fingertips while he was swiping through lists of songs, contacts and emails, rubber-banding as he went along. I agree, Steve performed masterfully, but I also remember how defining it was to be able to do it myself a few months later. Playing with that large multi-touch display felt like I was holding something from the future.

As it turns out, if there’s one thing that these PC guys (Apple) are a lot better at, it’s building great software to go with the hardware. While Apple wasn’t the only one working on touch displays —no vacuum— they were definitely the first to perfect it and put it into a product that worked incredibly well and shipped in the millions. And it’s this road from the idea of multi-touch to a working product that is filled with new solutions to hard problems, both in software and hardware, as Jony Ive explains:

“There were multiple times when we nearly shelved the phone because there were multiple problems. I hold the phone to my ear and my ear dials a number. The challenge is that you have to develop all sorts of ear shapes, chin shapes, skin colour, hairdo… it seemed insurmountable”.

That is innovation.

Still, today, people are using these same defining features to mock Apple. “Isn’t it obvious to swipe your finger across the screen to move through a list?” — I guess it is not innovation unless it involves something artificial as a stylus.

But you don’t have to take my word for it; here is Google General Counsel Kent Walker in a letter about standards and patents:

The capabilities of an iPhone are categorically different from a conventional phone, and result from Apple’s ability to bring its traditional innovation in computing to the mobile market. Using an iPhone to take photos, manage a home-finance spreadsheet, play video games, or run countless other applications has nothing to do with standardized protocols. Apple spent billions in research and development to create the iPhone, and third party software developers have spent billions more to develop applications that run on it. The price of an iPhone reflects the value of these nonstandardized technologies — as well as the value of the aesthetic design of the iPhone, which also reflects immense study and development by Apple, and which is entirely unrelated to standards.

Although sometimes it’s hard to be sure what Google’s position is on the matter.

But in any case, the pace this industry is moving at requires many of its players to push it forward. I am certainly not implying the other extreme: that this is a one man show.

Mountain Lion Battery Indicator Gets an iOS Facelift

With Moutain Lion, Apple has greatly simplified the battery indicator in the menu bar. Before, you were able to configure it to show the (battery percentage) or the (remaining time) to the right of the indicator graphic, or to have neither. Now, the default representation is to only show the indicator graphic. Clicking the indicator pops up a menu that displays the remaining time, and that presents you with a Show percentage checkbox. If checked, it will display the battery percentage to the left of the indicator icon, without round brackets.


The battery indicator in OS X now works almost exactly the same as in iOS — although its look still differs between both operating systems; iOS even has different representations of the battery indicator depending on the look of the statusbar.

This is another one of those changes meant to unify the OS X and iOS experiences. Those of you that preferred to have the remaining battery time always be visible in the menu bar will likely be disappointed by this particular change.