Apple just killed the pixel with new MacBook Pro Retina display

MacBook Pro with Retina displayWhen Apple kicked off its annual WWDC show yesterday, portable Macs were front and center. The MacBook Air received a small bump in specifications and Apple introduced an all new MacBook Pro.

The new MacBook Pro sports a 15.4-inch display with an incredible 2880 x 1880 pixel resolution. That’s a pixel density of 220 ppi compared to the 326 ppi of iPhone 4 and 4S.

That means the Retina display has arrived on portable Macs, and it’s time to forget about pixels on computers. In effect, Apple just killed the pixel.

“Pixels are mentally associated with a computer”

New iPadWhen Apple introduced its new iPad earlier this year, we argued that its new Retina display would mean that bloat on the web could increase. A quick bit of math showed us that the size of the average web page could increase to 5 MB or above, from the 1.1 MB we see today.

This was also affirmed by a conversation with Romain Goyet, co-founder of a company called Applidium, based in Paris, France. We spoke with Romain a couple of months ago on our podcast. He shared an interesting thought about the Retina display:

“Where the real change is [with the new iPad], is that it won’t feel like a computer anymore. You won’t be able to see pixels. And pixels are mentally associated with a computer. You will feel like you’re using some paper, or, well, something that feels natural.”

MacBook Pro finishes off the pixel

MacBook Pro

As Apple moves full speed ahead into the “post PC era,” the Retina display, whether it’s on iPad, iPhone, or Mac, will be a critical component of its strategy. Probably more important than we can imagine today.

One thing seems clear, that Apple is making its computers more and more like iOS devices. John Gruber of Daring Fireball described the new MacBook Pro in a blog post yesterday: “It’s just like an iOS device — a brilliant display surrounded by black glass.”

But what really distinguishes the post PC era? Again we go back to something Romain told us a few months ago:

“Since the concept of pixels is so tightly associated with personal computers, for users to not be able to distinguish pixels is what really puts us in the post PC era.”

This has now, with the new MacBook Pro, arrived on Apple’s portable computers.

The new Retina display takes the pixel count on Apple’s portables to a previously almost unimaginable 5.4 million. In fact, on the new 15.4-inch display there are 2880 x 1880 pixels, equating to 220 ppi.

The iPhone 4 and 4S still has it beat by quite a margin as they sport 326 ppi displays. As for the new iPad, its display with 2048 x 1536 pixels is 264 ppi.

As a comparison, Apple’s most recent desktop displays, both the stand-alone Thunderbolt display as well as the 27-inch iMac display, feature 2560 x 1440 pixels at 109 ppi, which now seems almost pathetic. It’s worth pointing out though that the typical viewing distance of a computer display is larger than that of smartphones and tablets, meaning a higher ppi is not as necessary for the user to perceive crisp and sharp graphics.

New challenges and possibilities

So what does it all mean for web designers and developers? New challenges, possibilites, as well as potential headaches, no doubt.

For sure, it’s going to take a while for these new Retina display MacBook Pros to be sold in any significant number so as to start affecting site design. But other computer manufacturers will follow suit, and introduce similar high resolution displays.

Therefore, increasingly, people will visit your web site with a Retina display device, whether it’s a tablet or computer, and it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to accommodate those users. One suggestion we made recently was that SVG might be a part of the solution to this threatening web bloat.

What is your approach? How do you prepare yourself and your sites for this development?


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