Retina MacBook Pro: The future comes a year too early

The stunning new laptop comes at a price few can afford, but that should change over time

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Yesterday's revelation of a MacBook Pro boasting a Retina display and 0.7-inch thin design left many of us drooling. It's the MacBook Pro I wanted a year ago when the MacBook Air hit its stride but didn't have enough storage capacity to be my prime Mac.

In announcing the new-gen MacBook Pro, Apple, of course, couldn't help but make a dig at the Ultrabook PC designs based on specifications that Intel created and that pretty much every PC vendor now offers in an attempt to steal some of the MacBook Air's cool factor. CEO Tim Cook dismissed them all as pretenders. So far, they haven't been huge sales successes, though there are now many nice-looking Windows laptops on the market.

The new MacBook Pro is supposed to change the conversation, making Ultrabooks look like yesteryear's wannabe designs. The Retina display's double pixel density promises hyperrealistic gaming, photo editing, and video production. The innovative dual 3.0/2.0-standard USB port shows Apple's knack for taking a standard PC technology and making it obviously better in retrospect -- why have two different ports if you can combine them?

And its physical design's ability to flex with stress promises that a new-gen MacBook Pro could take what a road warrior dishes out for years. At Apple's prices, it'll have to. A moderate power user's system -- with 512GB of storage, a 15-inch body, a Core i7 processor, and 8GB of RAM, plus the required dongles and adapters -- costs nearly $3,000 before sales tax. That's more than $500 more than the 17-inch MacBook Pro that had been the top of the line for Apple's laptops but disappeared from the Apple Store when the new Retina MacBook Pro was announced. The $3,000 model of the Retina MacBook Pro isn't even the top of the new line; you'll spend $3,800 to get that.

It's clear that the Retina MacBook Pro's design will be Apple's new laptop platform for the coming years, supplanting the current MacBook Pro design that has been around in various forms for more than half a decade. No doubt those "old" MacBook Pros will become regular MacBooks next year, then disappear a year or two after that, leaving the Air as the "lite" model.

But this year, the Retina MacBook Pro really is a stake in the ground for the future. Its high price -- occasioned by both the Retina display and, to an even greater extent, its all-SSD design -- is simply too high to become a widely adopted Mac. It'll be a good year before that new design's component prices come down to permit the $1,800-$2,300 cost of a well-equipped current MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.

We've been here before: The original MacBook Air was underpowered for its price. It too was a year ahead of its time, released mostly to keep Apple well staked to the future compared to the then-unimaginative PC market. The big difference was that the Air wasn't so expensive; it reduced its functionality to be relatively affordable. The Retina MacBook Pro today takes the opposite tack, delivering the whole future package with the price you pay for pushing the envelope.

The future is here. We just can't afford it yet.

This story, "Retina MacBook Pro: The future comes a year too early," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.