With Apple’s next generation iPad just a couple of hours away, one of our biggest sources of speculation has to do with its biggest part the screen. Some believe that the device will double its pixels in order to provide a similar “retina display” experience that we found on the iPhone 4, and others feel that Apple will simply bump the screen resolution to support 1080p.
Sadly the only tool we have against speculation is history, and so far Apple’s move in doubling the pixels of the iPhone 3GS from 320×480 at 163 ppi to 640×960 at 326 ppi with the iPhone 4 says a lot. It’s important to point out that the only reason why Apple made such a dramatic change was to make the lives of developers easier. By doubling the pixels and keeping the same aspect ratio, Apple allowed current generation apps to work well on their newly released iPhone. Apps that weren’t optimized didn’t look as well as the ones that did, but it gave developers time to scale things to the new device.
With so many iPad apps already available in the App Store, history will most likely repeat itself. Surely supporting 1080p will be much easier and cheaper to do, but it won’t go well with developers. So, just for a minute, think about the next generation iPad doubling its pixels to a whopping 2048×1536. At just 263.92 pixels-per-inch, it still won’t reach the “Retina Display” title that Apple gave to anything about 300 ppi, but there’s no doubting that it’ll be the best resolution display ever offered on a tablet. The only question left is if the rest of the ecosystem around it will be ready?
See, doubling the pixels on a phone makes sense. The pixels on a 3.5-inch screen are so small that there’s no way Apple could’ve not improved the user experience with so many pixels on such a small screen. Even at the current iPhone 4S screen resolution, no standards are being left behind since both current HD standards (720p and 1080p) are still above the resolution provided by the iPhone. On a tablet, things are a different story. Doubling the pixels would require Apple to exceed current HD standards on their new tablet, and therefore, two new challenges emerge:
1. How will movies scale to it?
One of the top reasons why people buy an iPad is to watch movies on the go. The problem here is that all of Apple’s iTunes Store content is limited to 720p. Even if Apple decided to move towards Full-HD at 1080p, their new iPad resolution would pretty much leave 1080p boxed into the display. We’ve seen current-generation DVDs scaling old 480p DVD movies in order to fit a 1080p resolution TV, but that’s a hit or miss endeavor. Even watching iTunes 720p content on a 21-inch iMac with a 1080p resolution display can sometimes prove to be cumbersome. If Apple plans to double the pixels on their next iPad in order to pat developers on the back, how do they plan to scale video in order to look good on their new display?
It’s hard to speculate if this will look good or bad because there’s simply nothing in the market to show us what it will look like. It could be that it still looks good, or it could be that Apple plans to use some special new API that will scale things properly. Which-ever solution they consider, it does make you challenge the possibility of a retina display coming to the iPad if current HD standards are still way bellow it.
2. How will iPhone apps scale to it?
Another killer feature found on the iPad, is that not only iPad apps work on it. There are still thousands of iPhone apps that are not built for the iPad, or that simply won’t be built for it. Back when Facebook was still reluctant to support it, you still had the choice to run the iPhone app on your iPad and simply box your mind into it, or double the pixels a-la-Nintendo-8-bit. Apps that are already optimized for the iPhone’s retina display still look quite pixelated on the current iPad 2, so can you imagine how they’ll scale to double the pixels?
We have no doubt that Apple has already thought about this and worked on a solution, but it still makes you wonder if things will still scale for the future.
To scale, or not to scale, that is the question:
With Apple’s simplistic mentality, it also makes you wonder if Apple is really going to move forward with a Retina Display on a tablet. Surely their competitors are already moving towards 1080p, but none are even close to reaching the pixel-depth that Apple could reach if they doubled the pixels on their next iPad. With HD standards still bellow this new endeavor, it’s kind of weird to think of Apple ever wanting to deal with all these challenges. I, for one, still think that Apple won’t go as far as to double the pixels with their new display. I don’t see them going beyond 1080p support, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish to be proven wrong. What about you? Do you think the iPad 3 will challenge the system?