Blog Post

Laptops, Screen Sizes, and Resolutions, Oh My!

With the entire Mac world seemingly focused on the next-generation MacBook and MacBook Pro models, I’d like to put in my $.02 regarding screen sizes.

For all the hope and pie-in-the-sky dreams of new models incorporating some touch screen or tablet characteristics, the latest rumors would seem to confirm that these will still be more or less conventional laptops, used in conventional ways, with conventional applications. Maybe that sounds boring, but let’s not pretend the new models could possibly have been such a paradigm shift that we’d suddenly stop running our usual productivity software on them, OK?

Though I’ve never liked the wide screen form factor, preferring vertical to horizontal space, like most people I modified my work habits to take advantage of the horizontal real estate. This Spring, screen manufacturers began moving more to a 16:9 screen ratio from the current 16:10. Sony, Acer, and Lenovo have already introduced models with such screens, and we may very well see them incorporated in the next generation of Apple laptops as well.

The 16:9 ratio matches their HDTV counterparts, and are allegedly more efficient (read: cheaper) to manufacture, but they lose vertical space. To help make up for this they’ll likely be a bit wider (more horizontal space), but will still not reach existing vertical resolutions. For example, the current MacBook 13″ (actually, 13.3″) has a resolution of 1280×800, in a 16:9 ratio it would be more like 13.8″ and have a resolution of 1366×768. Frankly, that sucks. I want more.

Back in June 2007, Apple added an option to the 17″ MacBook Pro to upgrade the resolution to 1920×1200 from the standard 1680×1050. I loved this idea, but thought my admittedly not-very-sharp eyes wouldn’t be able to read such a high-resolution screen. However, when I compared them side-by-side at an Apple Store it was clear I wouldn’t hesitate to get the larger resolution. If you haven’t compared them yourself, you should.

What I’d like to see in the next generation of laptops from Apple is an option on all models for the next-higher screen resolution.

Imagine today’s 13″ MacBook with a resolution of 1440×900. My biggest MacBook complaint would vanish. If Apple charged, say, $75 for this it’s worth it because to otherwise have that resolution you’d need to buy a 15″ MacBook Pro. Likewise, a 15″ MBP at 1680×1050 would be worth a little more as opposed to buying a 17″ model.

Would this kill sales of the next higher model? That’s highly doubtful because the allure of a larger physical screen is always strong, and the price delta between the different models is just too great. Many could justify an extra $75 for 1440×900 on a 13″ MacBook, but not an extra $600 for a 15″ MBP with the same resolution (never mind the added size and weight). The same holds true for someone considering a 15″ MBP over a 17″ model.

In short, people who justify or require the larger physical screen will get one anyway, but those who cannot may very well kick in a little extra to get the resolution of the larger model. In my view, rather than killing sales of a higher model, Apple would see a slight increase in the average selling price of each model as numerous people take advantage of this option.

There’s a saying in cars that there’s no substitute for cubic inches; well, in laptops there’s no substitute for screen resolution. With the next wave of screens likely to reduce vertical resolution, I think $75 for the next level up would be a pretty big sell for Apple.

18 Responses to “Laptops, Screen Sizes, and Resolutions, Oh My!”

  1. I am typing this from a 13″ white MacBook that I’ve repaired for somebody. I’ve been playing on it for a couple of days, and I am finding some things that I really like about the system (most obviously the two-finger scrolling for now, and of course that MagSafe. The OS is lovely but that goes without saying). The build quality is average bordering on poor (plastic chipped off all around the front top edge of the base, keyboard requires punching keys, bezel has same plastic chipped bits), but overall I am somewhat tempted. I use Fedora on my own machine so could quite easily live with a non Windows system.

    So, the announcement of the new 13″ aluminium MacBook, with a really clever touchpad, and stonger materials, plus better overall look, is extremely tempting to me.

    The only problem is screen resolution (hence how I ended up at your blog – thanks to Google). My Thinkpad T43p has 1400×1050 in a 14.1″ panel, and my Fedora desktop machine has 1920×1200 (27″ Dell Ultrasharp).

    I really couldn’t live with 1280×800 in a laptop. I don’t want a bigger screen – for me, the perfect size for a laptop is 13.3″ – 14.1″.

    So for now I am still left looking at the Thinkpad X300, which is too expensive for now and given the choice I’d prefer the Mac just for something different and to explore other niceties of the Mac system.

    If Apple gave the option of a higher resolution screen in the new 13″ aluminium MacBook, I reckon I’d buy one right away.

  2. Homunculus,

    The 12″ PB is a great machine, but in terms of resolution it’s 1024×768. The new MacBook has more vertical space at 800, and a lot more horizontal space.

    Yes, it also has a larger footprint, but it’s thinner and the weight is a lot closer now. Along with all the other advantages I really think the 12″ is long in the tooth. The performance difference between the two machines will be astounding.

    In my opinion, yesterday’s 13″ MacBook announcement made it as close to a 12″ PB replacement as Apple is going to get anytime soon.

  3. I’m with Homunculus: I still love my little 12″ PB, but it HAS been six years now. And if Apple comes out with any halfway decent subnotebook of comparable size, I’m on it.

  4. homunculus

    I’m holding onto my 12″ PB as long as I can. The vertical space and overall compact size has no equal. I upgraded every component I could and we’ll see how long this beauty can hold out. Can’t stand the size/shape of the macbook. It’s lack of vertical space is terribly annoying to me. Long live the 12″ PB!!

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I can’t stand these wide-format screens. I’m tired of scrolling web pages, and don’t watch videos on my laptop – so these stupid widescreens are a waste (actually, it’s a ploy by the manufacturers because they’re smaller than a normal screen.

    My 20″ LCD screen I bought about 5 years ago for my desktop has a 1600×1200 resolution, yet most 24-28″ LCD screens today still only have a 1200 vertical resolution.

  6. Jon,

    “I just don’t get where you come up with $75.00. Did you just pull that number out of your head?”

    Better pulling it out of my head than some other part of my body. :-)

    Seriously, when they introduced the option for the MBP over a year ago, it was (and still is) $100. My target of $75 is simply based on the thinking that it could come down a bit, especially on the lower-end models.

  7. @Ted, Macs don’t have to compete, like HP, Dell, and Sony do. Therefore, they can control their prices. If Dell posts something too high, then HP, and Sony can post something of the same value, but for a lower price, and Dell wont make anything. They are a little bit too overpriced though.

  8. Curtis Carmack

    I couldn’t agree more. Even with my ageing eyes, I can’t seem to give up my Dell laptop with its 15.4″ screen and 1920×1200 resolution. They don’t even offer that option anymore. Works great with Ubuntu, too. Of course I wish it were a Mac . . . I’m hoping we get those options you’re wishing for, as I would jump on it immediately. Heck, I used to have a Fujitsu with a 10.6″ screen that resolved 1280×768 — that was an awesome machine (though very underpowered).

  9. Darrell,

    I have a 24″ iMac with 1920×1280, which is why I thought that same resolution on a 17″ MBP would be impossible for me. But it wasn’t that bad.

    Part of the reason is that with a desktop, of course, you sit further back from it (in my case, frequently with my feet propped on my desk, wireless keyboard in my lap), whereas the laptop is much closer.

    For sharing documents/settings on both systems and, more importantly, for screen sharing, having your desktop and laptop the same resolution is a huge convenience.

  10. Darrell Etherington

    I definitely understand your points Tom if the MacBook is your primary device, but I’ve always had a desktop and a notebook, and I want each to give me the best of what it’s designed for. Meaning, I want my laptops portable and my desktops deep resolution-y. I find my 13.3 inch perfect (although I miss the wonderful 12 inch powerbook and have even considered buying one used) for writing and quick design edits on the go, but that’s only because I know the iMac’s at home for the big stuff.

  11. Robert Thille

    I’d pay $200 for a 15″ macbook with a high-res 17″‘s resolution (1920×1200)

    Sure I might have to run my text at higher point sizes or sit closer to the display (I run my laptop on my desk most of the time), but I don’t want the extra physical size of the 17″, but I want the resolution. I find that most UIs these days waste lots of space/pixels on elements that I don’t need to be anywhere near as big as they are and leave precious little space for the ‘content’ that I actually care about being able to see a lot of at the same time.

  12. I whole-heartedly agree and hope that Apple steps up resolutions (at the very least as a BTO).

    I seems like the thing people are least excited about in regards to the upcoming updates are the hardware specs. There’s been very little speculation over which chips the Macbooks / MBPs will get or RAM bumps etc.

    P.S. I’m more familiar with the saying “there’s no replacement for displacement” but I get the metaphor ;)