Okay. Let’s face facts, you and I. Endless rumors and prognostications to the contrary, the 2nd Generation iPads – which will likely be announced in the next few weeks – will not have a Retina display.
Like you, I was hopeful. I wanted to believe the rumors. I shipped my better judgment off to destinations unknown, admonishing it not to hurry home.
But it couldn’t stay away forever: no Retina.
But… but… you say the iPhone 4’s screen is so backlit-magazine crisp, so beautiful, so blow-your-mind readable – why would Apple not bring this amazing display technology to its next tablet?
Because, hopeful reader, it simply can’t be done.
There are currently four predictions about the next iPad’s display, and one of them will be proved correct. Two are highly implausible – read: not happening. Another is unlikely, but possible.
But it’s the final forecast I now grudgingly accept.
1. 2nd Gen iPad to Have iPhone 4 Equivalent Display
That being one with a 300+ PPI, or pixels per inch.
But it won’t. Not one chance in a 4.7 million.
As has been observed since mid-2010, this would mean a resolution of 2530×1897 (give or take) with a total pixel count of more than 4.7 million. That simply doesn’t make sense given the accompanying hardware required (a faster CPU, a much more powerful GPU, loads of RAM, and – therefore – a whopping battery), to say nothing of the cost of producing these 9.7-inch displays.
This would be an insane amount of pixels for the physical space, and while technically possible, there is absolutely no way this one is true – at least in the near future.
2. Double Resolution: 2048×1536
Less implausible, but still a no-go. This theory states that while not technically a Retina display as defined by Apple for the iPhone 4, the 2nd Gen iPad’s screen could have double the resolution at 2048×1536, or about 260PPI. Still a huge improvement of the current iPad’s 132. And since the pixel count would be neatly doubled, older iPad apps could run on the new display with Apple’s pixel doubling.
First, pixel doubling looks terrible.
Second, this would still require very expensive panel production and (though less demanding than the full-on Retina theory) much more powerful underlying hardware to drive the display, along with a battery to support the whole shebang.
Third, what exactly would look great on a screen at this resolution other than text and very large HQ images? Even 1080p HD video wouldn’t fill it, and video files encoded at 1080p are massive, so add insufficient storage to the mix. 2160p video files, the next step in HD, require an astounding amount of data storage (a 16 second file is about 500MB) and processing, and wouldn’t display even at 300PPI.
Theory two: DOA
3. Just Higher Resolution, PPI
Why couldn’t the new iPad just have a higher resolution, packing in a few more pixels per inch? Forget technical Retina or double resolution – just more.
This would certainly be doable, and Apple may in fact do this. But if they mess with the resolution much, there will be issues.
Current iPad apps are written for the 1024×768 display with graphics packages to match. If you up that by say 50%, that’d give you a resolution of 1536×1152 – which would look amazing, but also further complicate app development.
The lovely folks who create software for iOS devices would, if this unfolded, have yet another resolution to contend with. They’d need to design for the 320×480 iPod touches/iPhones, the 640×960 iPhone 4 and late-gen iPod touch, the 1st Gen iPad and the new 2011 tablet. Scaling could allow current iPad apps to be displayed at higher resolutions, but there would be image distortion (the kind you see in iPhone apps that haven’t been updated for the iPhone 4’s display, only larger and more noticeable); the larger the resolution bump, the more noticeable the distortion. It’s like taking an image that’s 150×150 and blowing it up to 225×225 – there’s a fuzzy factor (as seen above).
Of course, app developers would have to toe the line if Apple did this – most apps were updated for the iPhone 4 within a month or two of its release, though some Retina-supported updates are still trickling out more than six months later.
I was completely sucked in by this one at first, and after considering the resulting problems, still think it’s possible – but I wouldn’t place a bet on it. And even if Apple increases the resolution by 20 or 50 percent, it still won’t really be Retina (though I’ would take bets on them saying it is, citing viewing distance, most likely.)
4. Same ‘Ol, Same ‘Ol
The most likely reality is that the 2nd Gen iPad will have the same resolution as the 2010 original. This is not to say that there won’t be improvements made, I just don’t think it’ll be in the resolution.
But change will come. Future iPads will certainly have double resolution displays once the processing power, fabrication costs and battery technologies make it possible. Some say the iPad 3 will get the double-res screen, others that it’ll be the iPad 4. Either way, it’s only a matter o time.
That time just isn’t now.