All MacBook Pro computers may look the same on the outside, but components cause disparity in the quality of displays, a California man claims in a class-action suit filed this week.
The suit alleges that panels made by LG cause "ghosting" or burn-in for the Retina display, while Samsung panels used in the same machines do not.
Ghosts in the Machine
Apple's Retina is a liquid crystal display that Apple claims is so sharp that an actual human retina cannot detect the pixels without looking extremely closely. Since introducing Retina in the iPhone 4 in 2011, Apple has now added it to the iPhone 4S, the fourth-generation iPod Touch, the third- and fourth-generation iPad, and iPhone 5, as well as the MacBook Pro 15-inch and MacBook Pro 13-inch.
It's on the latter devices, introduced last June, that some consumers complained of the ghosting or burn-in of static screen imagery. Apple addressed the issue on Feb. 15 on its support blog, telling the public that "image persistence" was due to in-plane switching, which allows an enhanced viewing experience with 178-degree viewing angles in all directions. The IPS screens allowed images such as login windows that are left on screen for too long to leave a "faint remnant" even after a new image replaces it.
Apple's advice was to "turn off the display when it is not in use" with the display sleep feature or use a screen saver, both options available on Mac OS X with adjustment controls.
Commenters on that blog took exception to the idea that image retention is a normal occurrence.
"I've had several iMacs with IPS panels and not one of them has ever exhibited a bit of IR or 'ghosting,' " wrote Barry Fisher.
"Ghosting is apparently occurring on several of the new [MacBook Pro] Retina screens using LG panels."
That's the basis for the suit filed by Beau Hodges, who says customers have no way of knowing if they're getting a MacBook with Samsung or LG panels. Apple, meanwhile, markets both as equal in quality.
Nuisance Suit or Valid Complaint?
The suit was filed Wednesday in San Francisco, in the U.S. District Court for Northern California -- home of countless technology-related legal battles because it has jurisdiction over Silicon Valley -- before Judge Laurel Keeler.
"The performance disparity between the LG version and the Samsung version is particularly troubling given that Apple represents the MacBook Pro with retina display as a single, unitary product, described as the highest quality notebook display on the market," says the lawsuit in a passage widely quoted in the tech media on Friday.
Apple did not respond to our request for comment sent on Friday afternoon to two spokespeople in time for publication.
We also asked Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, for his thoughts on the case. King suggests that such cases usually don't stand much of a chance against Apple's legal team and amount to little more than nuisance suits.
"For a company like Apple, serious and self-funded competitors like Samsung represent a greater threat" in the legal arena, King said. "While it isn't impossible for a lone horseman tilting against a very large windmill to inflict some minor damage, the likelihood of major injury is typically small."
That being said, it will be interesting to see if lone horseman Beau Hodges will indeed have an impact with the lawsuit filed, and whether Apple might somehow compensate MacBook owners who ended up with the allegedly lower quality displays.