Blog Post

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 (s aapl) 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.

11 Responses to “iPhone 4 and the Retina Display: Time to Update Your Apps”

  1. It still depends on the ratio of customers using iPhone 3 and iPhone 4.
    – It is not easy to update app for retina display, actually there are two different set of images, photos (and of course different apps settings) using for iPhone 3 & 4.
    – There are around 60-65M devices using 480×320 resolution, compare to 1-2M devices using 960×640. If it is not free app, how many additional customers shall paid for retina display? around 1/30 to 1/60 of current customers.
    – More code, (certainly) more bugs. Is it worth in this time?

    • For visual, if you can sell 10,000 copies for a 0.99c app (480×320) (due to the huge number of similar apps, currently this number is just a dream for every dev).
      (In this time) What do you expect from selling that app for retina display?
      – A 1000 copies? Don’t be over expectation.
      – A 100 copies? maybe 100 or 200, this is reasonable. Can be 500 copies if you are lucky.

      How much you could earn from retina display? A hundred bucks? Check your cost first, it just a big loss.

  2. Mike M

    I have removed every app from my phone that isn’t iPhone 4-optimized, because I can’t stand how blurry they all look now that I’m used to the new display. This means I’m missing out on a few apps that I use from time to time, but all the apps I use on a daily basis (Instapaper, OmniFocus, Byline, Twitterrific) are all ready to go and look amazing. If you’re a developer, I would say that supporting the Retina Display should be one of your highest priorities.

    Also, I hope that the App Store will begin showing the higher resolution app icons soon, because right now it’s very difficult to determine which apps are optimized for the iPhone 4 and because of that, I have been reluctant to buy any new apps unless the description specifically mentions improved graphics!

  3. This last weekend I was messing around with an EVO, iphone 4, and iphone 3gs. Mainly focusing on the overall experience and seeing which one I liked more. Oddly enough after spending a few hours with them I didn’t even notice the retina display. Yeah you can see the difference in zoomed in pictures, but I was surprised that with just everyday use I didn’t notice it at all.

  4. I confess I’ve spent a fair amount of time admiring how sharp the icons look-especially the Camera app! I’m no developer of course, but if I were I’d totally try to take advantage the retina display.

  5. I have updated one of my apps ( and it really is a huge difference. The main benefit here is that I took the chance to re-do some of the assets using vector graphics, thus I’m set for any future changes + consistent way of making each asset shines through.

    The screen on the iPhone 4 is so wonderful, it bothers to look at not updated apps. Working on updating my other app as well.

  6. mac_cain13

    Please note; The red Facebook notification icon in the screenshot is NOT an icon from Apple. They have made their own icon to mimic the red Apple notification icon. So that one is not to blame on Apple.

  7. As the graphics guy in a little development outfit that includes myself and a friend of mine, I was a bit concerned about the new resolutoin. I’ve often felt more comfortable working with rasterized graphics rather than vectors. Thankfully, I generally work big, and so while beta-testing the upcoming 2.0 update of our app (EmoWeather on the App Store if you’re curious to check it out), I’ve found that it actually looks quite good on the Retina Display. Regardless, I do feel that now is as good a time as any to make the jump over to vector graphics.

    Since our app is very visually-oriented, though, I can’t complain about the extra work required of us, as the new screen only serves to improve the experience.