Apple updated the MacBook Pro lineup this week, with both evolutionary enhancements recognizable as successors to the previous lineup, and also adding a new option branded as a member of the same family (“MacBook Pro with Retina Display”) which is actually a whole new model. It’s not an improved display option for the same machine, as the name implies: it’s thinner and lighter with an entirely different case design, different set of external ports, no optical drive, and vastly different (and less upgradeable) internals.
To my thinking, it’s closer to a 15” MacBook Air than a true MacBook Pro.
That doesn’t affect whether you should buy one, but I do find it interesting.
Predictably, people are gushing about the display and complaining about the price. Apple positions it as the high-end option in the MacBook Pro lineup (13” starting at $1199, 15” starting at $1799, and 15” Retina model starting at $2199). No, that’s not cheap, but let’s consider: the lowest-speced Retina model has a 2.3 GHz quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD for $2199; the 15” non- Retina model with the $1799 price tag has the same processor but 4GB of RAM and a spinning hard drive.
If you equalize the storage and memory options, Apple wants $100 for the memory upgrade and $500 for the SSD upgrade. Leave aside the question of whether those are fair component prices — they’re the same components Apple is including in the base level of the Retina model. So this brings the price of the non-Retina model to $2399, or $200 above the Retina model. With equivalent specs, the Retina model is actually cheaper!
This point is exacerbated by the display options — the non-Retina model actually offers a choice of displays, and the base price includes the lower- resolution 1440x900 display. For $100 more, you can get a 1680x1050 display “with 36 per cent more pixels”. Or, for $200 less, you can get the Retina model with, um, 300% more pixels, if you’re into that sort of thing.
This difference carries over to the higher-spec model too. In chart form:
|CPU||2.3 GHz quad-core i7||2.6 GHz quad-core i7|
|Pr ice with 1440x900 (non-Retina) display||$2,399||$3,099|
|Price with 1650x1050 (non-Retina) display||$2,499||$3,199|
|Price with 2880x1800 (Retina) display||$2,199||$2,799|
(In fact, note that the spread between the Retina model and its 1440x900 sibling has grown to $300 in the 2.6GHz model, because once you cancel out the cost of the storage and RAM upgrades bundled into the faster model, Apple wants $200 for the faster CPU in the non-Retina model, and $100 for the same CPU upgrade in the Retina model.)
Now, the older (non-Retina) “MacBook Pro” models do have some advantages over the Retina model: Firewire and Ethernet ports, the option of a matte screen, an optical drive, room for larger hard drives, standard components that can be upgraded, and (combining these last 3 qualities) the ability to replace the optical drive with a second hard drive or SSD. For some people, these qualities might actually be worth more money. And true, these machines do start at a lower price point than the Retina model, if you’re willing to go with spinning storage and less RAM. But comparing apples to apples (can… not… resist… use… of… phrase), it’s not true that the Retina model is more expensive.
In fact, what I find interesting here is what the pricing says about Apple’s priorities. They’re actually trying to push people in the direction of the new model, at least at the high end. I presume it costs more to build than the non-Retina model, and I think you could build an argument it should sell for more than the non-Retina model. It would probably still sell (it’s lustworthy and has no direct competition). But it would not sell as well.
Now we’re dealing with all Apple prices here, and they do charge well above market rates for the RAM and SSD upgrades which the Retina MBP forces you to opt into. So feel free to argue that it’s overpriced, if you think so. You can also argue that all this proves is that the non-Retina MBPs are even more overpriced. But the bottom line is that for anyone already considering a high- end MacBook Pro with SSD anyway, the price on the Retina models is low — surprisingly low, even.