iPhone 4 and the Retina Display: Time to Update Your Apps

The new Retina Display on the iPhone 4 is simply stunning and gorgeous. However, the increased resolution has meant that developers need to increase the resolution of the assets used in their apps. Is it really such a big deal?

Take a look at part of the home screen on my new iPhone 4. The icons look super sharp but Apple’s own Remote app still needs an update to take advantage of the higher-resolution display. In fact, it just looks plain gross compared to the rest of the icons.

Here’s a few more examples, this time of Apple’s own iDisk app. This particular app, which still lacks a native iPad version), really looks rough around the edges. (Click on these images to view a full size version.)

Consider the official new Apple Store app, which is being highly profiled and featured by the staff at local Apple Stores. The tab bar icons need a definite refresh. (Click on the image to view a full size version.)

Native iPhone UI elements, like segmented controls, text labels and navigation buttons are all automatically updated, however some of them still cause awkward interface goofs, like when receiving a message on Facebook.

The time it’ll take for developers to update their assets is indeterminate. Depending on how their interface assets were originally created (vector vs. rasterized files) could mean some developers have to re-design their interfaces from scratch.

Five months ago, developers were asked to update their apps to support a larger interface on the iPad. Though the iPad can automatically scale an iPhone app to twice its size, it’s generally agreed that such scaling does not look attractive at all.

If developers have been holding off delivering native iPad versions of their apps, now is a great time to polish their apps for the iPhone 4 because the increased resolution will automatically translate into a higher resolution on the iPad when iOS 4 ships for the iPad this fall. At least, until the next iPad revision sees a Retina Display-like update.

Has Apple put too much work on developers to keep their apps updated to take advantage of the latest and greatest? Apple could be feeling a bit of this weight itself, as some of its own apps, including MobileMe iDisk, Remote, Texas Hold’em, Keynote Remote and MobileMe Gallery are still not ready to shine on the iPhone 4. In fact, some of the more high-profile apps aren’t even designed to take advantage of the full canvas of the iPad, like the iDisk and Apple Store apps. Why not?

Do you develop apps? What do you think about how apps look on the Retina Display? Anxious for developers to update their apps to really look sharp? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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