Apple's new laptop heralds 'Air-izing' of all MacBook Pros

Retina-like display could hit the 13-in. MacBook Pro by the fourth quarter, say analysts

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Currently, new orders won't ship for thee or four weeks, Apple's online store stated Thursday. That delay first appeared Tuesday, after Apple apparently exhausted its supply.

But others predict that Apple will start the shift to Retina sooner, perhaps as early as October.

Yesterday, Richard Shim and Jeff Lin, analysts at DisplaySearch, said that their supply chain sources reported that production of 2560-by-1600-pixel resolution 13.3-in. displays would start in the third quarter.

"Our sources indicate that Apple will use this panel in a MacBook Pro unit to be launched in the fourth quarter [of 2012]," Shim and Lin said in a blog post. "Production volume is expected to be roughly twice that of the 15.4-in. MacBook Pro."

They estimated that the year's production of the larger display -- the one used in this week's Retina MacBook Pro -- would be less than two million units, putting a sales cap on the new laptop.

It's also possible, however, that the higher-resolution 13.3-in. displays could end up in the higher-end MacBook Air, which uses a screen that size, too.

While the $2,199 starting price of the Retina MacBook Pro is high -- "It feels pricy for a 15-in. laptop," said Gillett -- that should come down as Apple's suppliers ramp up the production of the high-resolution screen, and as the new model's characteristics migrate to other Pro configurations.

"They took all the expertise they had from the Air and applied it to the Pro," said Gillett. "It may be more expensive now, but they'll be making a lot of these, and for a long time."

Apple does not often reduce prices, but rather keeps the dollar figures stable while boosting performance and storage space. It made an exception this week when it cut prices of most MacBook Air models by $100.

The discounting could have been a pre-emptive strike by Apple against Windows laptop rivals, who are expected to launch a bevy of devices, including touch-enabled notebooks and hybrids that combine tablet and laptop elements, before those competitors start selling Windows 8 systems later this year.

"Just as the ultrabook ramp is expected to reach an inflection point in [the third quarter], Apple unveiled a refreshed MacBook Air line and lowered the price range by $100," said Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets, in a note to clients on Tuesday. "We believe the ultrabook price points remain too high, thus we believe consumers will continue to opt for the MacBook Air."

If a 13-in. Retina MacBook Pro does launch in the fourth quarter, the two Pros with high-resolution displays -- along with the reduced-priced MacBook Airs -- could put even more pressure on Windows PC OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to up their game, cut prices or both.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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