Musings on the Retina Pro and the Philosophy of Highway Robbery

Being somewhat resource-constrained (the new iPad was the year’s purchase, and any upcoming iPhone upgrades will have to be taken with a grain of salt), I’ve read up on the new MacBook Pro more with an eye to the future than with the unmitigated lust most people express.

What it embodies, however, deserves some reflection.

Ever since the Air surfaced that most of it was in the cards: slim profile, externals whittled down to the bare essentials (alas, the battery and power indicators are also gone), and a locked-down, non-upgradeable configuration.

With which I’m fine. I’m long past the age of tinkering with all my machines, and although I’ve upgraded my own MacBooks a couple of times, I’d rather tinker with less expensive gear these days.

I also used to long for built-in 3G connectivity, but I don’t think it will happen anytime soon - it represents a relatively big battery drain, the user experience largely sucks in terms of both carrier provisioning and basic setup, and embedded mobile chipsets have a very quick path to obsolescence, which poses a manufacturing, testing and logistics nightmare that Apple simply doesn’t want to deal with.

Toss in the personal hotspot feature in iOS and the iPad already partially overlapping with the Air for general use, and I don’t think it will happen any time soon1.

The arrival of a 15” Retina display doesn’t bode well for the future as far as I’m concerned, though.

Surprised? Allow me to explain.

I’ve always found the 15” form factor to be too large for a laptop - even though it’s pretty comfortable in use, it’s much too big to carry around, and if you really need portability and a comfortable desk you’re vastly better off with an external display.

And I find the 13” form factor comfortable, but slightly too large for my taste - and certainly still too heavy for true mobility. The screen real estate is big enough to feel roomy to me, but I can live with a slightly smaller screen - all the better if it’s Retina-enabled.

The only problem with that as far as the Air is concerned is that it already sports a slightly higher res than the current nearest-equivalent Pro (the 13” Air sports 1440 by 900 against the Pro’s 1280 by 800) and a somewhat worse color response, which likely means (especially when coupled with the need for a very thin panel) that the 13” Pro is, at least for now, more likely to go Retina than any of the Airs.

Also, I just don’t see Apple cannibalizing the iPad 3 with a Retina-enabled 11” Air.

Which is sad, because that (BTO to 8GB RAM and with a 128GB SSD) would probably be the ideal laptop for me next year.

But even planning my savings that far ahead, buying a 13” Retina Pro is likely to be pricey, overkill and somewhat redundant for me.

Although I want to have a personal Mac laptop, I already have a work-issued 2010 13” Pro that is likely to have to last me another two years, so getting another Pro would be rather pointless (even if it would further cement my long years of having better taste in hardware than my employers).

So I’m lowering my expectations accordingly and merely hoping for vastly more sensible pricing of the current 11” Air.

Because the current European pricing is anything but sensible. In fact, I have a lot of trouble coming up with suitable (polite) adjectives…

Seriously, Apple, Eur. 1299 for an 11” Air with 8GB of RAM is not the same as US$1199 for the same hardware bought on your side of the Atlantic, regardless of taxes.

There’s no way anyone can persuade me that the Eur. 400 difference (at current exchange rates) is solely due to logistics and import duties, so there’s only one obvious conclusion:

It’s sheer highway robbery.

And given that I’m currently without a decent home office, it’s probably cheaper to renovate - goodness knows we need to repaint the house next year…

  1. I wish I was wrong here, but I think we’re more likely to see something cheap and disposable like an AirPort Extreme with a micro-SIM slot than a Mac↩︎