OS X Lion Resources Point to Retina Displays in Future Macs

Apple (s aapl) may be readying high res or “Retina” display Mac computers, according to resources discovered in the latest developer preview build of Mac OS X Lion (via Cult of Mac). The discovery of new larger wallpaper and higher resolution icons indicates Apple may be planning to as much as double the resolution of current Mac displays.

Doubling the resolution of current Macs won’t create the kind of pixels per inch (ppi) that the iPhone 4 boasts, which makes it impossible for human eyes to discern any visible pixellation effects, but it will accomplish a resolution jump of the same magnitude as that which occurred between the iPhone 3GS and the most recent model. OS X Lion icons have a resolution of 1024×1024, double that of the current 512×512 icons found in Snow Leopard.

The apparent plans to double Mac resolution is also backed up by another source: MacRumors reports that Apple has built “HiDPI display mode” support into OS X Lion. HiDPI is what Apple uses in iOS to allow developers to provide both standard and 2x graphics in order to support both standard and Retina Display devices. It would seem to suggest that Apple is planning to provide Mac displays that operate at double resolution, but that maintain the same size for interface¬†elements, making everything twice as crisp, just like on the iPhone 4.

OS X Lion is almost definitely launching in June, but that doesn’t mean we’ll see retina display Macs launched alongside it. Apple may just be building these features in now in anticipation of a later high-res display introduction. The MacBook Pro, for instance, is set for a major overhaul according to recent rumors, but that won’t arrive for at least another six months in all likelihood. A double resolution display would be a significant selling point if a total makeover really is in store for the machine.¬†Of course, reports point to a possible June launch of refreshed MacBook Airs, which would make it a prime candidate for the first Retina Macs if they end up being the first Apple computers to ship with OS X Lion preinstalled.

I definitely expect Apple to make this leap sooner or later. It’s an inevitable progression, and one which the iPhone 4 set the stage for over a year ago. Were Apple not to leverage that tech in other product lines, I’d be very surprised. That the company is preparing for its arrival in Lion is a good sign we’ll see it reach shipping with Macs within the next two years (the general life cycle of a major OS upgrade), but it’ll depend on whether or not higher res displays become affordable enough to allow Apple to maintain margins without raising prices.