I was checking out a MacBookPro with Retina display a few days ago in the mall, and I noticed something:

  • Photos look awesome
  • Apple apps had super sharp text
  • All other apps that I tried had awful looking text (Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat)

I tried running at different resolutions, but it didn't help. I did note that PDF files created in MS Word (which looked awful in MS Word) looked beautiful in Preview, so I don't think its a problem of source files.

I'm a developer, so I'll likely be using tools like Ruby Mine, Coda, Textmate, Visual Studio in Parallels, etc. I assume vim in the terminal is going to look fine, but I didn't check.

What can help with this? How can I prevent text from looking awful? It's my livelihood, so it has to work.

Note: fellow programmers.stackexchange.com user has added this comment below:

text in the Eclipse IDE and Xcode look fine. MS Word not so much.

This came from a discussion about programming on "high resolution screens" that may be of good reference to anyone reading this. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/154710/do-higher-resolution-laptop-displays-matter-for-programmers

  • Macvim on Retina is "[glorious]"(twitter.com/artgillespie/statuses/215129142503546881) :)
    – nuc
    Jun 28, 2012 at 19:39
  • 1
    Darnit, now you're making me want one again. I was just getting used to the idea of my pocket being a few thousand dollars heavier.
    – Kyle
    Jun 28, 2012 at 19:45
  • 1
    It would be interesting if you mentioned which version of the apps looked "terrible". This is likely a short term issue as very few developers would have had access to a real retina display before Apple shipped this first model.
    – bmike
    Jul 3, 2012 at 0:55
  • Office 2011 has been updated for Retina - reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-57516239-263/…
    – studgeek
    Nov 30, 2012 at 13:14

5 Answers 5


Apple announced in the 2012 WWDC Keynote that applications needed to be updated to take advantage of the Retina display. Apps calling Apple text display APIs may benefit from Apple's improvements thereto without needing to be updated. Apps that use routines that had not been updated would use pixel doubling, which would make their text display using half the resolution of apps properly designed for the new machine.

Apple, naturally, has updated many of their apps, but the versions of third-party apps on the machine you tried had likely not been updated.

There is little you as an end user can do to make the programs render text better, but if you are using products from reputable vendors who update their products frequently, such updates should be released soon to take advantage of Apple's new HiDPI settings.

  • 10
    (In other words, don't hold your breath on TextMate)
    – Daniel
    Jun 27, 2012 at 19:37
  • 1
    So this must explain why most of the app related text, borders icons, etc look great but when it comes to displaying pages, or word documents it becomes degraded. In any case I think everything still looks great compared to anything else. And for some reason the text in the Eclipse IDE and Xcode look fine. MS Word not so much. Jun 28, 2012 at 18:43
  • 1
    @DanielLawson FYI - check out this discussion over on Programmers Stack Exchange re: fonts and the Retina MBP. A surprisingly positive result. programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/154710/…
    – Kyle
    Jun 28, 2012 at 19:09
  • Well, Eclipse is in Java/SWT, and I'd guess that someone got to that.
    – bmargulies
    Sep 15, 2012 at 0:55

Apps that use Apple's APIs to draw text will have crisp text. Apps that draw the text in other ways (such as using an off-screen buffer) or render everything to an image before displaying it will have fuzzy text.

One mail client in particular (I believe it's Sparrow) has both crisp and fuzzy text in the same window: the email list is custom-rendered and has fuzzy text, while the message view is using a standard text component and has crisp text.


You'll have to wait for those apps to be updated with support for the display.

Apple's updated most of theirs (though not iWork) Some third-party developers have as well, but I'd expect Microsoft and Adobe to take their time.


The simple solution is to wait until the applications are updated.

I have a MBPR. I use Parallels with Visual Studio, Office, WebMatrix, and some other applications on Windows 7. The text looks great on the max scaled display setting. An update to parallels has been released to make things look better: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-57470587-263/parallels-update-brings-retina-display-support/

I was so impressed by the performance of the 2.6/16/512 that I decided to take it back for the 2.7/16/768. Being able to swipe between VS and XCode is super convenient for when I'm developing iOS apps that talk to a ASP.NET Web API. There is plenty of screen real estate with the scaled mode. Personally, I do not like the "Best for Retina" setting, because it feels like a netbook display.

Office for Mac 2011 looks pretty awful, as of right now.


An alternative to waiting for all your apps to update to Retina, is to use the native 2880x1800 resolution. Apps that are not updated will look fine, but text will look small. Most of the apps that have a problem with retina have zoom though so you can just zoom their display area.

For some annoying reason Apple has disabled the ability to use the native resolution in the Display prefs, but you can still get it pretty easily using third party tools like Quicksilver or SwicthResX - Macbook Pro Retina running at native resolution.

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