16th July 2012

Do web designers need retina displays?

Scroll down

Apple Retina Display Marco Arment of Instapaper, formally of Tumblr, recently commented on Twitter, saying that “If you’re a web designer, you really, really need to get a Retina MacBook Pro so you can see how bad your site looks on it and fix it.” This was met with both positive and negative responses, including this one from Stuart Frisby: “There are still more IE6 users than Retina MBP users. Should I get a dell running Windows ME too?” Now this may seem like a valid point, right? There are currently more people out there still using IE6 than using a retina display MBP, and these people may be within your target demographic, although for the Creode site, a whopping 0.07% still use IE6! (You can look into your Google analytics to find out the technology your audience is using). So, although Mr. Frisby’s comment was most likely sarcastic, there are arguments that weaken his point, these two:

  1. You can test out-dated browsers, by simply using an emulator or software. There are many out there
  2. Think about the future…

It’s that second point that holds a bit more validity. Just think, in a year or so, how many people will still be using IE6 or Windows ME? Not many, I would imagine. However, the retina display on a MBP is just the beginning of High-DPI screens; the market may be pretty small right now, but other manufacturers will be adopting high-DPI screens soon enough. I mean, just imagine if someone had said “High-definition television is clearly irrelevant” 15 years ago… Unfortunately these beasts, the MacBook Pro’s with retina displays, cost a fair whack, we’re talking £1799.00 for the basic model. This is clearly going to be out of reach for most web designers and/or their companies/agencies, especially if the argument to buy them is for compatibility testing. There are ways around buying a new MBP with retina display. Such as testing designs on an iPad 3, simulating an iPad 3 with Xcode, or enabling HiDPI on a large screened Mac. But without a real high-DPI you will miss the nuance of what actually looks good and what actually works well. And it’s not just a case of images upscaling incorrectly and becoming a bit blurry; fonts react differently on retina screens too. Some that looked great on the web now look uneven and font’s that were previously meant for print only now look fantastic on the screen. Using a high-DPI screen you can see a lot more potential for design changes, to make things sharper and more beautiful. It shouldn’t be a case of waiting until high-DPI screens take off, you should want your designs to wow that minority right now. Be one step ahead of the game. Be ready for the explosion. I have to finish by saying that, personally, I am not a web designer, so I don’t know the whole ins and outs. But our lead designer has a lot to say both for and against this argument. What are your thoughts? Is it the excuse you’ve been waiting for to get an upgrade?