Thoughts on Apple’s Retina Display

There’s a lot of commotion going on about the awesomeness of Apple’s Retina Display and I think it’s getting blown out of proportion. Before I share my thoughts, let me just begin by saying that I think the iPhone 4 is a wonderfully crafted piece of hardware. As always, Apple gets high marks for thinking “different” and really putting the user experience first.

Now on to this Retina Display screen.

Apple gets to claim highest resolution screen on the market due to their quadrupling of pixels thanks to the doubling of screen dimensions. I suspect they chose this resolution in order to maintain easy compatibility to all their software programs since it’s programmatically easier to do a double scale. Also, compared to the competition the existing ppi of their product at 165ppi was noticeably blurrier than the competition. Of course, they now get to say they have a 300+ ppi screen and dream up some marketing slogan about why it’s so good. Granted, they’re not the first to have this. In recent memory, the Sony Xperia X1 released in 2008 had a 800x480 resolution screen at 3” which equates to around 312 ppi. I still have this phone so I can verify that having the high ppi “can” make a difference….up to a point. The problem is that having a high resolution on a small screen doesn’t end up helping most people much because they end up increasing font sizes or zooming into the content anyways because the display port itself is so small. Ask anyone with devices with 4 or 4.3” screens with 854x480 or 800x480 resolutions and you won’t hear anyone complaining that they have trouble reading their screens. My Xperia X10i has a 245ppi screen at 4” and I have to try really hard to make out the pixels.

Most of the reviews comparing the Retina display have been doing so with close ups where the camera macro-focused on the screens. This doesn’t seem to mimic real world usage (i.e. holding the device 12-18 inches in front of you) and most people are not going to be able to tell the difference. So, while it’s an improvement, it’s not really that much better. I’d argue that there’s a point where simply having a larger screen more than makes up for having more pixels per inch. Imagine monitor shopping where you’re comparing a 20” 1920x1080 LCD monitor to a 23” 1680x1050 LCD monitor. While the 20” may be crisper, it’s probably just as easy (if not easier) to read text on the 23” screen since text is larger.

So, while I like the direction Apple is going with their display, it’s simply not that big a deal.








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