The Apple Retina Display and the iPad: I Speculate Some More


There’s been a lot of guessing about the resolution of the iPad 2. Everybody who has been speculating (except me, it seems) has been saying that in order for Apple to be happy with the product, they’ll have to call it a “Retina Display,” and that in order to do so, they’ll have to double the iPad’s 1024x768 resolution. That is, after all, what they did to the iPhone 3 to achieve Retina Display status for the iPhone 4.

Yes, this makes good sense for lots of good reasons, not the least of which is that graphics work better when the scaling factor is a nice, round two. And with the more-limited hardware of the iPhone, it makes a lot of sense. But as others have noted, that resolution would be a whole helluva’ lot of pixels to push, and that ain’t happening in the iPad. Not yet, anyway.

I, on the other hand, am guessing that Apple will choose something else and that there’s nothing special about “times two.” They’ll choose manufacturable, cost-effective, and, above all, marketable over “times two” any day. Technically, I believe “times x” is completely feasible as I outline in a previous entry, especially if the iPad 2 has more horsepower than an iPhone 4.

So I’ll guess that Apple will define “Retina Display” as it properly should be, i.e., they’ll base it on the resolving resolution of the human eye, and not on an arbitrary number of pixels “times two.”

The thing that most people miss in their guessing is that the average user doesn’t hold an iPad at one foot as she might with an iPhone 4. No, the typical iPhone user holds it at about 1.5’ to 2’—lap distance or so. If we start with Bryan Jones’ assertion that the eye can resolve about 287ppi at one foot and scale that triangle up to 1.5’, then the resolution required is only about 190ppi. Since the current resolution of the iPad as stated by Apple is 132ppi, then an iPad Retina Display would have a minimum of 1475x1106 pixels, which is pretty close to the SXGA+ standard of 1400x1050.

If Apple uses a 2’ figure for average use distance, then 142ppi will do, or 1101x826. But that’s too close to make any kind of marketable difference, and it’s at the hairy edge of acceptable Retina Display resolution. If anything, they’ll shoot for over, not under.

Anyway, at 1400x1050 pixels, that’s not even twice as many pixels to push, and is a much more reasonable expectation of the iPad 2’s hardware.

Bottom line? Here’s my bet: if—and that’s a big if—if Apple changes the iPad resolution for the iPad 2, I’m going to bet on somewhere between 175ppi and 200ppi, favoring the upper end of that range.

Speaking of bets, John Gruber hasn’t taken me up on my bet. I don’t expect him to—heck, he’s a celebrity! But I think my wager requires clarification: I’m not betting whether or not Apple will change the iPad resolution with the iPad 2, but rather that if they do, it’ll be to something other than (and less than) “x2.” So that’s the wager: if they do, it’s less than two.

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