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.