The Retina Display conundrum

Early reviews are in, and people are impressed with the new Retina Display Macbook Pro.

Some are falling in love.

But there are caveats, and these caveats won’t be solved that quickly. We’re in for a bumping ride to a high pixel density future for laptops and desktops.

The biggest and most glaring issue  are all the applications and websites that are not Retina Display ready. As we have seen with watching standard definition content on a high definition TV, non-Retina content looks worse on the new Macbook Pro than it does on traditional displays. This leads people to purchase a top-of-the-line computer to get an inferior experience.

Applications like Word are significantly less usable on the new Macbook Pro. Here is an application built for writing, and it displays blurry, out-of-place text.

The applications and websites that are updated look gorgeous and are more usable. High pixel density displays are the future. Make no mistake about that.

Getting to the future is often a bumpy road. How long will it take applications and websites to be updated to support high pixel density displays? That’s the real issue that has to be cracked with the new Macbook Pro and future high pixel density displays like the Retina Display.

Commercial applications that are under going ongoing development should be updated quickly. Some already have been, and I would expect most applications that are sold in the Mac App Store to be updated by the end of the year, if not significantly sooner.

Many people use applications that are open source or that are no longer regularly updated. These applications may lag considerably behind other applications in getting updated. Unfortunately, applications that are no longer being developed will not be updated, leaving users to either put up with a worse user experience or to hopefully find a suitable replacement.

In the business world, we often put up with old applications and websites because they help us get our jobs done, and we don’t have suitable modern replacements. It is these tools that will hold back high pixel density computing the most.

The Web transition will take much longer and legacy websites will remain with low pixel densities indefinitely. HTML text will immediately look great, but photos, videos and art assets may look quite bad.

The new iPad has been out for months and has sold millions. It will sell tens of millions this year. Despite that fact, few websites have been optimized to display photos and art assets at a high pixel density.

This leads me to believe that the new Macbook Pro will not cause many websites to be updated with high resolution assets anytime soon. What will it take?

To get broad Web adoption, we’ll need more than Apple products to ship with high pixel density displays. Specifically, high pixel density Windows laptops would give Web designers and site owners the kick in the pants necessary to update their websites.

Windows 8 does come with support for displays with high pixel densities. While Android tablets aren’t selling that well (Kindle Fire and Nook Color excluded), if they get on the high pixel density display bandwagon, this will further push application and website developers to update their products.

Many reviewers are saying that the new Macbook Pro is the Mac to get. That may be the case, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to fully utilize its beautiful display for a few years. If you get the new Macbook Pro, you’ll have a front row seat to history, as we transition from a blurry, pixelated, anti-alised computing world to a crisp, rich, no compromise computing world.

New technology helps push us forward, but it can take time. This new computer is a landmark day in computing. We’re finally beginning to see displays that no longer look like we’re staring at a computer. What we see just looks real, living, breathing.

Don’t underestimate the usability benefits that these high resolution displays will give us. People will get less eyestrain, text will be easier to read and we’ll be able to display details that we’ve never been able to before.

This is a brave new world for computing. It’ll be a bumpy ride to get there, but in five years, our computing world will look so much better and clearer.