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A web developer's take on the MacBook Pro Retina - Unscripted Labs - Unscripted Labs
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A web developer’s take on the MacBook Pro Retina

A web developer’s take on the MacBook Pro Retina

I’ve had my new 15″ MacBook Pro Retina for exactly a month today so I thought I would share my experiences with it.  Seems kinda fitting for my first post on the new site since it was completely built with the new MacBook Pro Retina.  Damn that’s a long name… from now on we’ll call it the MBPR.

Well first off it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) the screen is AMAZING! I still occasionally find myself in awe of how crisp text is and much detail you can see in photos. It’s absolutely stunning. However, since everything that is “retina ready” is so crisp and clean it really makes things that aren’t retina ready just look bad.

I think the guys from the Iterate podcast nailed it when they said that this is a machine for developers/photographers and not your everyday user. Why is that you ask? Well the things that a “normal” user would do such as browsing the web, or working in MS Office look “wrong”. Images aren’t clear, text isn’t crisp and in the case of any app that hasn’t been updated to support high res, everything looks fuzzy. In MS Office the Apple UI buttons for close and hide are incredibly pixelated, I’ve even found that some of Apple’s apps don’t have all of their features updated. (i.e. Genius in iTunes is still low res imagery) It took a while but Google Chrome just released their retina update and damn it looks good… but that’s just the UI. Once you start looking at websites pretty much every image is low res (pixelated) and anything using text replacement is 50/50 on if it’s going to look correct. So with all of that said, I think a user that just expects their computer to work and doesn’t understand why everything isn’t crisp, will think that something is messed up.

The reason I say it’s geared towards developers is it seems like Apple wants us to help “fix” the experience for everyone else.  Obviously Apple can’t fix our apps and websites, but we can.  One of the first things I did is went and fixed my logos and changed a lot of things that were image based to text.  Why?  Because I want it to look good for me too.  We’ll immediately start fixing our Mac apps so that they can look amazing on the screen.  Then, we’ll reach out to all of our clients and let them know they need to pay us to update their sites and products. (cha-ching!  Thanks Apple)  For photographers, as long as you’re not using Photoshop, you have amazing screen real estate to work with and unless you’re a shitty photographer your images will look more incredible than ever.

From the actual development side of things moving to the MBPR from my old 15″ MBP has been a great experience.  Well, with the exception of working with images…  I use Coda 2 as my editor and the guys at Panic have made their software resolution independent for a while.  With the text being so crisp my eyes aren’t as tired after looking at code all day.  Since Google updated Chrome, all of their webmaster tools look great.  There’s definitely things I’ve changed in my workflow and how I load content but overall it’s been nice to work with because everything just looks good.

Now lets talk Photoshop…  It’s absolutely miserable.  I would even go as far to say unusable for web graphics.  Since images for the web are 72 dpi and the retina display is 144 dpi, when you open your PSD everything is fuzzy.  Imagine if on a regular machine you took a 72 dpi file and increased the size to 144 dpi.  Thats what it looks like… total crap!!!  It doesn’t even work well to try and build at 144 then scale down because then your width and height have to be scaled and rasterized layers start pixel shifting and babies start crying and then everything just gets ugly .  So yeah… right now, working on web graphics isn’t fun.  Adobe is working on a retina update for Photoshop that’s supposed to be released later this year but I’ll be really curious to see how they “fix” the 72 dpi issue.  In the meantime I’ve had to use a second monitor to work in Photoshop which sucks because the point of having a laptop (for me) is to not have to plug into things.  I just want to use this kick ass screen.

    Here are some other quick notes about the machine:

    • Extremely light
    • I don’t miss the CD drive
    • Not a huge fan of the power button placement. I press it a lot when going for the delete key.
    • New speakers sound great
    • Battery life seems great so far
    • I don’t like the new charger. I can’t set it on my lap without it disconnection. The round connector was much better.
    • I did have to buy an ethernet converter
    • screenshots are HUGE
    • Startup is ridiculously fast


So my conclusion is that this laptop is still an amazing machine and will only get better as more apps and websites get updated.  I would highly recommend this machine to another developer but I would NOT recommend it to a designer. (At least not yet…)  I think the experience will be very frustrating if you constantly design for the web.

I would love to hear what you think of the MBPR or if you have any questions about my experience with it.  Drop me a line in the comments.

As a side note, if you’re looking for some amazing retina desktop images check out InterfaceLIFT.

20 Responses

  1. wanderson

    Hi Cullen,

    Great post!
    I’m a webdesigner/developer considering migrate from PC to MBPR 15″.
    I use Illustrator, Photoshop, Sublime Text, After Effects and Premiere running on PCs. After read your excellent post I’m reconsidering my migration to Mac :(

    Greetings from Brazil!

    • Cullen

      Thanks for reaching out. I should probably update the post since I’ve been using the MBPR for so long.

      I would highly recommend making the switch. Since the time of this post Adobe has updated their software as have many other software packages. If you have any questions about the machine just let me know. I use mine daily and it’s quite the work horse.


  2. Angel

    So, the world doesn’t seem to be ready for this.

    • Cullen Whitmore

      @Angel – Unfortunately it’s still kinda rough but it’s getting better every day. Most of the big players have gone “retina ready” so I don’t notice it as much as I used to. If the MacBook Airs go retina, I think we’ll start to see it grow much faster.

  3. Bart

    Great review! Just one question.. do you have experience with running Windows on the Mac? For school I do need to occasionally use Windows (mostly for .NET development). I am thinking about just using VirtualBox and making a Virtual Windows 8 PC but Bootcamp is another option..

    Other than that is seems to be the perfect machine for me. :) I was indeed awed by the screen when I saw it in the store the other day. Even though I do occasionally need to use Photoshop in order to create or edit website graphics, I don’t use it often enough that it could be a dealbreaker.

    • Cullen Whitmore

      @Bart – Thanks! I run Windows on mine through Bootcamp and haven’t had any issues. To be honest I was pretty impressed with how well it worked. I haven’t checked it recently but it doesn’t really recognize the pixel density so you get a true 1:1 screen resolution.

      Another note that I should make is that with the new Adobe CC stuff the big players look (and work) great for retina.

      I’ve had my MBPR for about a year now so I should do a follow up to this. It’s a great machine and the internet is slowly but surely starting to catch up.

  4. Shadman Ahmed

    Great Read, must say. Most understandable article on rMBP. I am a designer and offlate most of my work are UI/UX based. I find it extremely frustrating to realise that this beast machine is no good for a designer.

    When I try designing a website @ 72dpi the result is horrible. I cant judge the font size properly. I dont even know what point is bigger or smaller on a non retina display.

    For instance, I wanted to design a website. I started off with 72dpi. When i had a text at 12 pts, it looked extremely small. I then had to increase the size to 18pts. But I know 18 pts is just way too much.

    I have no clue what to do with this expensive machine if I have to go back to my 27″ iMac. Even 2650 x1440 (My 27″ iMac’s resolution) looks smaller on my 15″ rMBP.

    Absolutely no clue what to do and how to design a website so that it renders properly with proper text size on normal monitors. Do suggest me a solution


    • Cullen Whitmore

      Hi Shad,
      Thanks for the kind words. I totally know what you mean and I struggled with this for a while too. The latest version of Photoshop is “better” but still not great.

      When dealing with app design I highly recommend a program by Marc Edwards called Skala Preview. However for websites I still haven’t found that perfect solution. When I’m designing files myself sometimes I will work at 144dpi and drop to 72 before I save my slices. Marc has some pretty cool actions to help with this as well. (http://bjango.com/articles/actions/)

      Another option is using a second monitor. I did this for a little while but then got rid of it because I wanted my desk space back.

      When I’m working with one of my designers I find that I usually end up just looking at the ugliness and knowing that it will look correct once I code it.

      I know it’s not the best solution and sorry that I don’t have a better answer but I guess we just have to deal until things catch up. I would love to hear if there’s anything else you’ve tried or if anyone else out there has some ideas.


  5. kc

    Would you recommend the retina display for a backend developer who is not really working with images or graphics that often? I feel like it might be overkill or just not worth the extra money but playing with it at the apple store made the non-retina displays look horrible.

    • Cullen Whitmore

      I would highly recommend it if you’re just doing the development side of things.

      Sometimes I still can’t get over how clean and crisp the text looks. It definitely makes staring at code all day a lot easier on the eyes.

  6. thiru

    Hello there !

    I am totally confused to get which machine i should go for ?

    Please help me in this if you can.

    till now i have used Dell laptop for my web development. I have been developing web applications from 4 years. I have used Dell laptop.

    Now i just want to switch mac book pro. But i don’t know how much comfortable with Mac in terms of developing web applications.

    Most of my work is involving as Backend and frontend development.
    1. Coding in PHP/MySql, HTML, CSS, Javascript,
    2. Using tools like; Git, Svn, Dreamweaver, Eclipse, Sublime 2,
    3. I am using Photoshop but not often.
    4. I have to check browser compatibility for websites in all major browsers, ie: IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera etc…

    For above tasks, Shall i go for mac book pro ? Would it be helpful for me ?

    Or else i should go with Lenovo Thinkpad T430 with windows 7 ?

    Please suggest me, Your suggesting will be appreciated !

    Thiru !

  7. Tamas


    I would like to ask you if anything changed meanwhile in your workflow in designing websites for standard resolution with a MBPR, is there any further progress in PS (referring to the conversation you had with Shad ).

    Your answer would be very helpful, thx in advance,

    • Cullen Whitmore

      Hi Tamas,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately not a lot has changed. I will say that it doesn’t seem to bother me anymore though. At least I don’t notice it now anyway. There are times that I will be working and notice that icons or images look a little “fuzzy” but it’s something I’ve just learned to deal with. I do get a bit of a smile when I see a site that has been built for retina though. Over the last year more and more sites are becoming retina friendly so it helps.

      If you’re leaning one way or the other for a new machine I would definitely say go with the MBPR. My wife has an Air and every time I use it now I go crazy. :)

  8. Tamas

    THX for your reply! I just bought a couple of days ago the MBPR and I really love it!

    I was experimenting a bit with the different softwares and it looks like that Sketch works great on retina display and you do not have to zoom in and out (http://www.bohemiancoding.com/sketch/). I tired pixelmator also, but there the result was the same as in PS.

    Sketch is not a PS, but works fine for UI design., some recent articles about Sketch.

    “It’s Time to Dump Photoshop and Embrace Sketch,” Baz Deas

    “Discovering Sketch,” Jean-Marc Denis (of Google)

    “Khoi Vinh on Using Sketch Instead of Photoshop,” Creative Bloq

    Have a super WE,

    • Cullen Whitmore

      I’m glad it worked out. I’m sure it will only get better. I’m definitely going to have to check out Sketch too. Thanks for the tip!

  9. Alex


    Thanks for this post. Have one question. How photoshop (web design) works now on retina? All is good, they fix problems?

    Want to buy it, but really worried about how it works :) i plan to work with external display too, but a lot of time i work on 15 macbook display :)

    Thanks :)

    • Cullen Whitmore

      Hi Alex – I would definitely recommend it! Over the last two years there have been substantial improvements. The new Photoshop CC 2014 works pretty slick on the retina screen too.

      Let me know what you think once you get it!

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