Mac of the Future: Displays

Joel Mathis
20 December, 2012
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Higher-definition. Less power-hungry. Thinner. Those are some of the terms describing the displays on Apple’s latest iMac models and MacBook Pros. And you can expect these traits to define the monitors on the company’s desktop and laptop systems for the next two years.

Buyers expect longer battery life and sleeker design with every new generation of Apple products. And we should see Apple continuing to put out machines that satisfy that market, partly because the company recognises that the display is a crucial aspect of the user experience.

That isn’t typical of the rest of the computer- display market, however. Monitor makers have hit hard times lately, largely because corporate IT departments nowadays treat their products as afterthoughts: Better- quality displays aren’t a high priority. That, in turn, has been bringing profits and prices down.

Apple, with its introduction of Retina displays and Thunderbolt technology, is the exception to that trend, as its brand is based on quality rather than price. Since it focuses on the high end of the market, it can make good-looking screens a priority.

So in light of those broader market trends, what kinds of displays can we expect to see from Apple over the next couple of years? Here are a few possibilities.

More Retina, slowly

We’ve all heard of people who have used a Retina screen for a while and then tried working with an old display – it’s hard to go back. As Retina displays spread throughout all of Apple’s product lines, they will become yet another feature that separates Apple from other computer, tablet and smartphone vendors.

The Retina rollout could happen slowly on the desktop, though, largely because it’s still more cost- effective to use standard-definition technology for displays measuring 19in and bigger. And that means the iMac could be the last to go Retina.

In the end, Apple may decide that larger displays aren’t the best use of Retina technology. You can argue that it would be overkill for, say, a 24- or 27in monitor; the benefits might not be worth the cost.

Apple is facing competition for its Cinema Display line. Its current line-up of large monitors relies on high-grade IPS (in-plane switching) panels, which allow a broad gamut of colours to be visible from a wide range of angles. But Samsung is coming out with its new PLS (plane-to-line switching) displays, which the company claims beats IPS for viewing angle, brightness, image quality and cost of production. Analysts expect Samsung to come out with a series of low-end PLS-based monitors this year. We’ll have to see how Apple responds to that challenge.

More screen on your monitor

The iPad mini (see our in-depth look on page 42), with a much smaller bezel than earlier iPads, offers a clue about the future of Mac displays. So do the new thinner and lighter iMac models. In other words, smaller bezels and shrinking profiles are expected to become the norm for stand-alone computer displays and all-in-one machines. One particular benefit:

The slimmer the display panel, the lower the power consumption.

No desktop touchscreens

Since iOS devices have led the way for Apple on the high-def display front, it might stand to reason that the portable devices’ touchscreen technology is also on the way to the Mac. After all, competitors such as HP have been incorporating touchscreens on their desktop and laptop systems for years.

Apple has been resistant, however. Steve Jobs famously observed that the ergonomics for desktop touchscreens are all wrong: Reaching up to interact with your computer is less comfortable than keeping your hands down on a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad.

On top of that, although Apple has so far been careful to maintain the boundary between its iOS and Mac operating systems, maintaining that boundary would be more difficult if everything the company produced had a touchscreen. The latest versions of the Mac OS have employed trackpads as touch-by-proxy, and the market seems to like that compromise.

One Comment

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  1. Christopher Deeble says:

    I wish Apple made a less gargantuan version of the Thunderbolt display. The Mac mini really needs a small-screen alternative to deaf and dumb el-cheapo screens.

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