"Retina" MacBook Air

So, Apple didn't release a MacBook Air with a "Retina" display this year, but I believe the device is inevitable for next year. With IGZO panels plus increasing competition in the Ultrabook market when displays are considered, Apple would be silly to not update the MacBook Air line to IPS "Retina" displays next year.

The real question is no longer if, but when and what resolution. I believe the when is next year, but resolution is a bit more difficult to discern. Let's start with the 13" Air.

The 13" Air currently boasts a 1440x900 pixel resolution, which is definitely higher than the normal 1366x768 you see on many 13" laptops. However, the Ultrabook market paints a different picture. Many 13" Ultrabooks have displays with 1080p resolution, with some even offering 2560x1440 or even 3200x1800!

The problem with the current 13" Air resolution when it comes to Retina is the rMBP. The 13" Air has the same native resolution as the 15" non-Retina Pro, which when doubled to Retina levels would be 2880x1800. The question that arises here is what does Apple do about the 13" rMBP when compared to the 13" rMBA. I believe that Apple will either use the current 13" rMBP resolution in the 13" rMBA (so 1280x800 pixel doubled to 2560x1600) or double the current 13" Air's resolution to 2880x1800, change the 13" rMBP to the same Retina resolution and then update the 15" rMBP to a higher resolution panel (perhaps pixel double 1920x1200 to 3840x2400, a 16:10 4K display).

So far, this is what I expect Apple's Retina lineup to look like next year:

Scenario #1 - Go with the 13" rMBP resolution on the 13" rMBA

  • 13" rMBA - 2560x1600 (2x, 1280x800)
  • 13" rMBP - 2560x1600 (2x, 1280x800)
  • 15" rMBP - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)

Scenario #2 - Bump up the resolution of the rMBP lineup

  • 13" rMBA - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)
  • 13" rMBP - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)
  • 15" rMBP - 3360x2100 (2x, 1680x1050) OR 3840x2400 (2x, 1920x1200)

I'd personally prefer Apple to go with Scenario 2 and put out a 4K 15" rMBP, perhaps making the standard resolution 3360x2100 but offering an upgrade to the 4K 3840x2400 resolution (like how they offer an upgrade on non-Retina 15" MBP from 1440x900 to 1680x1050).

Now that just leaves the 11" MBA. If Apple goes with Scenario 1 from above, a Retina 11" would become a problem. Let's look at some possibilities.

  1. Apple updates resolution, no pixel doubling - This would be un-Apple like, as all Retina products to date have doubled the pixels from the non-Retina displays. With a "Retina" 11" MBA, Apple would not double the pixels (2732x1536) but instead upgrade the panel to an IPS 1080p or IPS 2560x1440 QHD display. Apple would introduce a 1.5x scaling mode in a dot upgrade for Mavericks to address the non-linear scaling.
  2. Apple doubles a lower resolution - If Apple opted to use the same 13" rMBP panels in the 13" rMBA (Scenario 1 from above), it wouldn't make sense for Apple to double the current resolution of 1366x768, as that resolution would be higher than the 13" panels. Instead, I could see Apple pixel doubling to a QHD 2560x1440 display and presenting a 1280x720 usable resolution. This would be quite low, as 768 vertical pixels is very much necessary for most computing.
  3. Apple doubles the current resolution - This is very likely if Apple goes with Scenario 2 from above, as the 2732x1536 resolution of the pixel doubled panel would come close but not exceed the 13" Retina panels.
  4. Apple moves the entire display lineup even higher res - Perhaps Apple would look at the above scenarios and see the 15" rMBP with two resolution options. Mighty tempting to move the lower option down to the 13" panel, and then move the 13" resolution down to the 11". The only problem here is that the 11" MBA is a 16:9 panel versus the 16:10 on all other Macbooks. I believe it is more likely that Apple would pixel double from 1600x900 to 3200x1800.

So, let's look at the scenarios from above with the 11" rMBA added in.

Scenario #1 - Pixel double 11" from a lower resolution

  • 11" rMBA - 2560x1400 (2x, 1280x720)
  • 13" rMBA - 2560x1600 (2x, 1280x800)
  • 13" rMBP - 2560x1600 (2x, 1280x800)
  • 15" rMBP - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)

Scenario #2 - Pixel double 11" at current resolution

  • 11" rMBA - 2732x1536 (2x, 1366x768)
  • 13" rMBA - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)
  • 13" rMBP - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)
  • 15" rMBP - 3360x2100 (2x, 1680x1050) OR 3840x2400 (2x, 1920x1200)

Scenario #3 - Pixel double 11" from a higher resolution, bump rest up

  • 11" rMBA - 3200x1800 (2x, 1600x900)
  • 13" rMBA - 3360x2100 (2x, 1680x1050)
  • 13" rMBP - 3360x2100 (2x, 1680x1050)
  • 15" rMBP - 3840x2400 (2x, 1920x1200)

Scenario #4 - No pixel doubling on 11", use current Retina resolutions

  • 11" MBA - 1920x1080
  • 13" rMBA - 2560x1600 (2x, 1280x800)
  • 13" rMBP - 2560x1600 (2x, 1280x800)
  • 15 rMBP - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)

Scenario #5 - No pixel doubling on 11", use Scenario #2 Retina resolutions

  • 11" MBA - 1920x1080
  • 13" rMBA - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)
  • 13" rMBP - 2880x1800 (2x, 1440x900)
  • 15" rMBP - 3360x2100 (2x, 1680x1050) OR 3840x2400 (2x, 1920x1200)

Basing my prediction off of Apple's history with Retina displays, I highly doubt that Apple would lower the effective resolution of the 11" and 13" MBA to pixel double them in line with current Retina MacBooks, which eliminates Scenario 1. I also highly doubt that Apple would choose to bump up the 11" Air's resolution and introduce a new scaling level and not straight pixel double the display, which eliminates Scenario's 4 and 5. This leaves Scenario's 2 and 3. The only way I could see Apple using the current 13" rMBP resolution on the 13" rMBA is if they discontinued the 11" Air, which is unlikely.

Scenario 2 sees Apple bump up the Retina resolutions for the 13" screens to the current resolution found on the 15" rMBP, while bumping up the 15" screen to 3360x2100 with an option for a 4K pixel doubled display. Then Apple would simply pixel double the current MBA resolution to 2732x1536.

Scenario 3 sees Apple bump up the Retina resolutions of the 13" and 15" screens even more, to 3360x2100 on the 13" models and 4K 3840x2400 on the 15". Apple would then pixel double a higher resolution 1600x900 11" display to 3200x1800, increasing the effective usable resolution and overall resolution at the same time.

I think that both Scenario 2 and Scenario 3 are very plausible. I believe that Scenario 2 is more likely, but I would much prefer Scenario 3 myself.

So, what do you guys think? Will Apple release Retina MBA's next year? How will Apple shift the resolutions of the Retina and non-Retina notebooks to make room for Retina Airs?