(Update: On September 19, a couple of months after the retina MacBook Pro came out, Microsoft updated its Office apps for the higher-resolution display. And then in December, Adobe finally updated Photoshop. Most other Adobe apps remained non-retina ready.)
Along with all the usual crop of rave reviews from Apple publications of Apple’s latest flagship notebook, the 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina display, John Gruber’s is probably the most disappointing. The Daring Fireball author offers lofty praise for the new notebook and its dazzling screen:
Like no Apple device since the original 2007 iPhone, the new Retina 15-inch MacBook Pro feels like a device from the near future, something slightly beyond the ken of today’s cutting edge.
But the main thing is the display. That display. This display. Oh my.
–Daring Fireball, Monday 13 August 2012
Funny thing about fonts and that gee-whiz display, though, funny thing Gruber forgot to mention. And Macworld forgot to mention in its even longer review. And a lot of other people forgot to mention. If you sling your words in almost any non-Apple program, the fonts look like ass. Total ass. Total, unmitigated ass¹.
Although Gruber says you wouldn’t be able to appreciate Retina crispness on an older display², I snuck this screen shot off a Retina MacBook Pro today which was running OS X “Mountain Lion” with all the latest upgraded apps. Click on the picture below to see a much larger version of the image.
The program in the upper left corner is Microsoft Word. Look at the jaggies in that 12 point type. Ugly. Now look over to the top right. That’s Apple’s own Pages program with the same words in the same font also at 12 points. Yummy. Likewise, in mid-screen is Apple’s TextEdit program. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. And in the lower foreground, Adobe’s Dreamweaver with text that looks like, well, like ass as Gruber might say.
But, hey, the guy at the Apple store tells me everything will look a lot better as soon as other software makers update their apps to take advantage of the Retina display.
How long will that take for Adobe, which showed a pre-release version of Photoshop at Apple’s Retina display press conference? No one knows. It’s helpfully “in the future,” says Photoshop kingpin John Nack. What about other text-heavy Adobe apps like Dreamweaver? No clue. Or what about Microsoft, not exactly known for ever bringing its popular Office apps like Word and Excel up to the latest and greatest OS X features? Absolutely no idea but sounds pretty far off. So we’re talking about the most popular programs that professional Mac users use every day. Seems worth mentioning in a review, no?
So, okay, the MacBook Pro with Retina display — It’s a not-ready-for-primetime-player of a Mac, a rare misstep in Apple’s lengthy track record of getting things right.
But the lack of Retina-ready apps isn’t the only problem and probably not even the most serious one. There’s also the question of who exactly needs this 15″ portable powerhouse that’s a lot bigger and heavier than a Macbook Air but lighter than a breadbox. Even Gruber seems a bit confused on this score, although he relegates his doubts to a footnote:
When I’m at my desk I want a big standalone display; when I’m away from the desk I want the smallest, lightest MacBook possible. The 15-inch retina MacBook Pro doesn’t fit this model. It’s way heavier and clumsier than the Air when used as a portable (especially on airplanes, a frequent mobile use case for me), and it would be criminal to put this machine on my desk only to hook it up to a fat-pixeled non-retina Cinema Display.
As I wrote about recently in my “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times” post, Apple’s current line up is annoyingly out of step with customer needs right now. The Retina display is ahead of its time and comes only on a tweener notebook size and weight that’s falling out of favor faster than Gotye’s last music video. But more desirable MacBook Airs don’t have a Retina display and the desktop line doesn’t even have the latest Intel processors, flash hard drives standard or even USB 3.0 yet, not to mention the lack of Retina-ready external displays. What’s a poor Mac lover to do? Hurry up and wait, I’d recommend.
UPDATE: Thanks to John for linking back here just now. He asks: “I’m not sure what Pressman’s argument is, though. It’s no different than any previous transition — PowerPC to Intel, classic Mac OS to Mac OS X, etc. Apple ships first; developers like Microsoft and Adobe catch up later.”
Easy answer: I’m not seeking “complaining” but reviews of the Retina MacBook Pro ought to clearly let people know that a lot of apps not only don’t get Retina-quality text but actually look worse than they do on older, non-Retina displays. I’m not blaming Apple or anyone, really. It’s just a highly relevent fact to a potential buyer.
Having read a bunch of early reviews, similar to John’s, I went into the Apple store in June thinking I might actually buy one soon. But I was shocked at how poorly some of the apps displayed text. So the apps aren’t ready yet, hence the bottom line: hurry up and wait.
¹There is this vague bit but it doesn’t make clear that non-Apple apps are screwed and implies it’s only a problem on web sites: “Retina text looks better on the MacBook Pro than on the iPhone or iPad, even when you move in pretty close to the screen — and non-retina text and graphics (on the web, or UI elements in not-optimized-for-retina-yet apps) look far worse on the MacBook Pro than they do on the iPad or iPhone”
²There’s at least one other minor, if glaring, error in the piece. Gruber says the new Retina Macbook Pro is “noticeably and appreciably thinner and lighter than any previous MacBook Pro.” But at 4.46 according to Apple’s specs, it weighs exactly nine-tenths of one percent less than the 4.5 pound 13″ MacBook Pro (like the one I’m typing on right now), which doesn’t count as either noticeably or appreciably lighter in my book.