The Retina MacBook Pro

“Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy.”

LOUIS C.K.

Let me get this out of the way: The Retina MacBook Pro is the finest computer Apple has ever made. The industrial design is spectacular. The rMBP feels stronger and more precise than any other computer on the market–it immediately reminded me of the first time I picked up the iPhone 4. The rMBP is thin, light, quiet and beautiful. And it’s fast. I chose the built-to-order option with the fastest processor and 16GB of RAM, with the 500GB SSD.

This thing screams.

I have only one nitpick and that’s the missing MacBook Pro logo from the bezel. I assume they did it to remove distraction, but it’s very strange to look at an Apple laptop without any visible branding. (This sounds ridiculous, but it makes me think of the rMBP as reference hardware, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ll eventually get used to it, I’m sure.)

 It’s going to be a long road

Using the Retina MacBook Pro is a combination of beauty and horror. The screen looks like a finely printed magazine sitting on a light table. Icons are gorgeous. Text, for the most part, looks phenomenal. Images, however, look relatively poor in most cases. In the first week of using this computer, most of my favorite apps looked ridiculous. Sparrow and Reeder both suffered from the same everything-but-the-webview-is-blurry problem. Thankfully, both of these apps were updated quickly. Only a handful of other non-Apple applications have been updated for Retina displays, so much of my time on this machine is spent using blurry apps, hoping for updates.

The app landscape will improve with time, but the internet is a different story.

Creating Retina graphics for every single website is a large enough undertaking (most people and companies probably didn’t design their sites at 2x to begin with, so everything will need to be recreated), but serving Retina graphics is still not the easiest thing to do.

There are quick and dirty ways that simply use Javascript to look for @2x versions of any <img> tag with a special CSS class assigned, but that means the browser downloads both versions of the image, adding quite a bit of bandwidth overhead. Replacing images from the start via CSS is much friendlier to bandwidth but will require tinkering with layouts in a lot of cases.

I went the first, lazy route with my site Maniacal Rage because I had only a single header image (my stupid face–if you’re paying close attention you’ll notice that image gets sharper just after the site loads), and the longer, smarter route with my company website. Redoing Karbon only took a little bit of work, but it’s an extremely simple one-page site. I haven’t bothered to make the lookbook Retina yet because it’s a pretty massive undertaking.

Going forward, hopefully, most thoughtful folks will make new websites Retina-ready from the start. When I created the site for Scratch, I did just that, and it looks amazing on this new rMBP. But for the most part the internet will look relatively crummy on Retina displays for quite a while.

 Is it necessary?

Much of the initial criticism of the Retina MacBook Pro is based on the notion that the Retina display is an unnecessary, expensive addition which adds nothing to the experience other than some sort of Apple fanboy bragging rights. People see the cost of the base-model rMBP and compare it to the 15-inch MacBook Pro and determine the $400 difference is too much for such a useless feature. With this argument they ignore the industrial design differences, the addition of USB 3.0, the blazing-fast SSD and the rMBP’s doubled memory. All of that and the Retina display. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t buy the Retina model for $2,199 when the base 15-inch MBP is $1,799. That $400 difference buys you so much more than the display upgrade.

Is it strictly necessary? Hell no. In fact, you could just buy one of those awful Eee PCs and be done with it. Spend less than the total price difference we’re talking about the for the entire computer. Arguing about the usefulness of pixels-per-inch in a display seems like a waste of time. If you want your computer to have the best display on the market, get the rMBP. If you don’t care, or you can’t afford to buy it, don’t. It’s not worth yelling about what matters more. It matters to me, most certainly, but I’m not you. But I don’t think it’s fair to claim a Retina display is meaningless technological masturbation. Much like the iPhone 4’s screen, everyone cried foul until they saw it for themselves, then Apple sold a billion of them. I’m willing to bet the same thing will happen with the Retina MacBook Pro.

It’s a hell of a machine.

 
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