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Summary:

The most impressive feature on the iPhone 4 is the Retina Display, which pushes display technology quite far. The new technology is so advanced one has to wonder if Apple will bring it to the iPad? The 9.7 inch display would be quite impressive if so.

Retina Display thumb

The iPhone 4 is looking to be a nice evolution in the smartphone line from Apple. The most impressive new feature on the new iPhone is the Retina Display, which pushes display technology quite a bit. The new display technology packs four times as many pixels into the same physical area on the display, resulting in a display that makes everything crystal clear. It is a big advance in the smartphone space, and one has to wonder if Apple will bring the Retina Display to the iPad?

The pixel density is so high (326 pixels/inch) that the resolution is pushed to the maximum. The human eye can’t really see this resolution according to Steve Jobs in his iPhone 4 keynote, and while this may be overkill it certainly is as crisp as can be. This is significant on the small (3.5 inch) screen of the iPhone 4. With a limited amount of space to work with, making everything pop out is good, especially for longer viewing sessions.

I can only imagine what such a wonderful screen might be like on the iPad. The 9.7 inch screen would simply dazzle with the Retina Display technology onboard. Reading web pages and especially e-books would be outstanding with the crisp text that Apple claims is better than printed text. Sounds like a perfect fit for an e-book reader, doesn’t it?

I suspect there are two factors that will determine if the iPad gets a Retina Display — cost and manufacturing issues. This display must be more expensive than the standard type of display, due to the higher resolution. This also may lead to difficulties in manufacturing. High resolution screens are not easy to make, with a higher failure rate than less resolute displays in the manufacturing process. This potential failure rate may be manageable for a 3.5 inch screen, but I can imagine it would be significantly higher for a large 9.7 inch screen.

Related content on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Hot Topic: Apple’s iPad

  1. Steve said at about 300 the eye can’t dicern the pixels. At 326 dpi, that’s about 18×18 pixels in that inch (18×18=324). Just stepping down to 17×17 would be 289 dpi, i.e. not getting to the 300 dpi threshold. I’ve seen this argument before that Apple is making you pay for those 26 extra pixels that you can’t see or that it’s overkill by going over 300, but it’s not like they could hit 300 exactly.

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    1. @Todd: dpi dot per inch, not dot per square inch… You’re looking at it the wrong way

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    2. He also said 300 dpi is the limit of the human retina at 10 inches.

      Obviously if you look at something an inch away, your eye will pick up more detail than a foot away but people seem to be quoting the 300 dpi limit out of context all the time.

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      1. Filipe Ferro Sunday, July 4, 2010

        no it’s Pixels Per Inch, dots per inch is for printed stuff

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  2. Is the processing power needed to manage that number/density of pixels another possible limiting factor?

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    1. I can tell you definitely, absolutely, most certainly, yes, maybe…

      But seriously, I wouldn’t doubt that even the A4 is to weak to handle this high of a resolution.

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      1. err my bad, I meant ‘that,’ as in if the iPad had a retina display…

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  3. @Todd: dpi dot per inch, not dot per square inch… You’re looking at it the wrong way

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    1. Filipe Ferro Sunday, July 4, 2010

      it’s Pixels Per Inch… -.-

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      1. That’s the same. DPI is a density measure: a ‘dot’ on paper is a ‘pixel’ on screen.

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  4. Isn’t this less of an issue on larger displays where you can legibly read text?

    I’m not saying I don’t want it, but it makes more sense on the smaller device where anti-aliasing can only do so much.

    FWIW, the Sony Xperia X1 had 800×480 resolution at 3″. That’s roughly 300ppi and it came out 18 months ago. So, they’re not the first company to get to the 300ppi threshhold.

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  5. There is nothing called a “retina display”. It’s a dumb marketing term used for, apparently, a high res screen. I can almost guarantee you that Apple wouldn’t have made it this high res if it hadn’t been for the fact it HAD to be EXACTLY 4x the resolution to keep the same scale for backwards compatibility. The resolution is basically useless being as high as it is, as you can’t use the resolution in a practical way (like on the iPad) because of lack of physical screen real estate. Yes, it will make existing apps look great, but there’s nothing NEW this new display will let developers due because of the physical limitations.

    It’s also wrong to say “retina display technology”- LCD is a technology, so is AMOLED and OLED; this is just a marketing term.

    For the record, the iPad would need a resolution of 4096×3072 to be able to take a jump up now, because it has to be 4x. Otherwise they would end up having to do like android and have scalable apps that don’t scale perfectly. With 4x multiplier, every pixel is displayed twice the amount of times in both directions, creating a perfect upscale. Anything less than 4x and you have to “smooth it out” to make it fit, and it’s abvious Apple don’t want to do that.

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    1. James loves his iPad, you can’t blame him for that. However, I agree with what you say about pixel density. Pushing anything at 1280×800 or higher at 30fps requires a decent processor, and I’m certain the iPad would fail at that. Factor in the cost of such a high-end display, and that $600 iPad now costs $800+. Still not convinced and having plunked that money down, you realize that your 10-hour battery now obliterates in 3 hours thanks to the beefier graphics engine required to run your big-screen HD fantasy.

      Jobs may tell us his devices are “magical”, but they are still bound by technical limitations, and that’s something not even he can change.

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  6. That’s 2048×1536 of course, not 4096×3072. Multiplication fail

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    1. But a 2048×1536 9.7″ display is only 263 PPI – not enough to be considered a “Retina Display.”

      3072×2304 would be an interesting possibility – it’s 9x resolution. However, it’s 396 PPI, which I believe is among the highest direct-view display densities ever made. (Projector panels can break 2000 PPI, however.)

      2560×1920 would be the best bet, at 330 PPI, but it doesn’t go evenly – it’s 6.25x. Also, these high resolutions require a ton of processing power to handle.

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      1. You are missing context. As I noted above, Jobs said 300 dpi is the limit of the human retina AT A DISTANCE OF 10 INCHES.

        So much brainpower on display here, but so little wisdom.

        Obviously with a bigger 9.7 inch screen, you’re going to use it at a greater average distance than you would a smartphone. Just like no sane person watches a 50 inch HDTV from 2 feet away.

        With that in mind, an iPad can probably get away with 263 dpi because most of the time, you’re going to be holding it at 18 to 24 inches away from your eyes, thus still allowing it to achieve a retinal limit.

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  7. While i’m sure the iPad will eventually get a higher resolution display, we are probably a generation or two away from a mobile graphics chip that can pump out enough pixels for a 2048×1536 display without sucking down battery power like there’s no tomorrow.

    Remember, that iOS and the chips that run it support some pretty fancy 3D graphics and harwdare based acceleration. Doing that at 1024×768 is one thing, but quadrupling the number of pixels makes it a very unlikely prospect for a near term upgrade.

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  8. Let’s not run away with this “Retina display” claptrap. It’s just a marketing term, not a new technology. Technobabble.

    But I can only hope that we’ll finally get screens with decent DPI even on larger devices. The problems there have been enumerated already… a 3.5 inch 960×640 screen is still a 960×640, and to get that sort of pixel density on 10 inches (or better yet, 30) you’re going to need an awful lot of pixels.

    I’m all for screens that dense regardless of size, but it’s going to take a while.

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  9. What is it with Jobs and his marketing terms that sound new, but are just existing technologies?

    The iPhone 4’s “retina display” is just an IPS LCD, like the iPad and many high-end LCD monitors. This one just happens to have a really high pixel density.

    Putting a screen with such a high pixel density in an iPad-sized device will be even more problematic, though. You know about the complaints of dead pixels by now, which will just increase exponentially with more pixels to go bad in the first place.

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    1. Actually, there is more to it than just pixel density. The IPS display on the iPhone 4 is constructed significantly differently from a standard IPS display. For one thing, there is no air gap between the IPS panel and the glass layer. Also, the order of the components has been shuffled around somewhat.

      All of this leads to the pixels being closer to the surface of the display, which gives the display a ‘painted on glass’ look that is very hard to overlook in person. It also gives incredible viewing angles, and a better ‘feel’ to multitouch interactions.

      In short, it’s currently in a class all it’s own.

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      1. So it’s basically a refined version of IPS where the LCD matrix is less distant from the screen surface, and there’s not even an air gap between the LCD and the digitizer? That doesn’t sound good for durability, but few things irritate me more than specks of dust or lint somehow working their way in between the LCD and the glass layer in front (be it a capacitive touch digitizer or just tempered glass meant to withstand the prodding of a plastic pen nib).

        How long do you think it will take to spread to other devices? I’d certainly like to have a screen like that, but as a full-fledged PC monitor with 2560×1600 resolution. (Tablet PCs in general also need such screens. BOE Hydis has spoiled me with the viewing angles, and so has the iPad and its IPS panel.)

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    2. Surely, if you can’t “see” individual pixels, dead pixels will be less of a problem?

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  10. I think one has to realize is that while the diagonal between the iphone and ipad display is less than 3x as great the area is over 6x as great… which translates to around a 2400×1600 resolution. Driving that res is going to take some serious power and seems overkill.

    I think Apple would be better off stopping at a 1080p resolution and reducing the screen size (7-8 inch perhaps) to achieve “retina-topia”. :)

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