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The new iPad's disruptive display

By

March 21, 2012

The new iPad's Retina display might cause more problems than it solves

The new iPad's Retina display might cause more problems than it solves

The verdict is in: the new iPad has a brilliant display. Unsurprisingly, quadrupling the number of pixels on a display allows it to output crisper text and sharper images. Unfortunately, the rest of the hardware (and content creators) might be playing catch up for the next few years as Retina-caliber displays become cost effective to produce in larger sizes.

Think about the relatively recent move from standard definition to high definition (HD). HDTVs were around for years before the rest of the ecosystem (hardware and content) caught up - HD game consoles didn't arrive until 2005, the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray wasn't finished until 2008, and bandwidth is still an obstacle for streaming HD video.

Reading

Text looks gorgeous on the Retina display, but I'm not sure if there's any practical benefit to the crispness. I still much prefer reading on a Kindle, with all its imperfections.

Indeed, text almost looks too good. Just as nostalgic artists try to emulate the imperfections of yesteryear in their digital audio and video, I believe we will see the very same thing in Retina-era typography.

The web

The first step to reading a web page on an iPad is, most likely, double-tapping to zoom in on the content column. For arguments sake, let's say that content column is 600 pixels wide, and contains an image of the same width. The new iPad is now using a 600 pixel wide image to fill upwards of 1500 pixels. It looks about as good as you'd expect (that is, not at all).

Apple's own website deals with this in the following way. It starts by loading a 1454 x 605 JPEG, which weighs 115 KB. If a new iPad is detected, it uses Javascript to fetch a 2908 x 1210 JPEG, which weighs 369 KB, and swap it with the original image. For those keeping score, that's twice the HTTP requests and four times the data consumption to make a webpage look nice on what is essentially a mobile device - with no ability for a bandwidth-starved user to disable it.

The World Wide Web Consortium are working on a solution to this, called responsive images, but who knows when their work will be complete enough for browsers to begin supporting it (and web designers to begin implementing it).

In the meantime, expect your web experience to be pixelated images set within crisp text.

Magazines

Already got a collection of iPad magazines in Newsstand? You might want to keep your old iPad around.

Most iPad magazines, including those made with Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite, are raster-based - they're basically a bunch of JPEG images - including the text.

…and if you thought the pixelated images in Safari were bad, wait until you try and read an issue of Wired with pixelated text.

So not only will all your back issues be borderline unreadable, but future issues will be much, much bigger. If a pre-Retina magazine issue weighs in at around 300 MB, expect a Retina-compatible issue to weigh about 1.5 GB.

This, my friends, is what we call going backwards.

Apps

Universal iOS apps now need to include multiple sets of graphics to cater for the various devices still in use (480 x 360 for the iPhone 3GS, 960 x 640 for the iPhone 4/4S, 1024 x 768 for the iPad 1/2, and 2048 x 1536 for the iPad 3).

This has led to significant increases in weight - with Apple's own Numbers and Pages more than doubling in size.

Perhaps not too much of an issue if you're using a 64 GB iPad, but painful for those who opted for a 16 GB iPad (or iPhone).

Games

The App Store already has plenty of games that have been updated for the new Retina display. Unfortunately I'm yet to see anything more than lipstick on pigs.

Using higher resolution textures and rendering at 2048 x 1536 doesn't fix low polygon models or clunky animation - it just makes them more apparent - and if the game was already having performance issues on previous iPads (I'm looking at you, Gameloft) they might even do worse with the increased graphical workload.

Video

I downloaded a few 1080p movie trailers from Apple, and they look absolutely stunning on the new iPad. But at roughly 75 MB per minute (based on these trailers), or 6.75 GB for a 90-minute movie, you're not going to be carrying too much content of this caliber around with you.

And let's face it, in the real world, most people are illegally downloading TV episodes and movies that are heavily compressed down to arbitrary filesizes, which look pretty bad even on the original iPad.

We'll get there eventually

It might be a decade until you're reading a gorgeous HTML5-based magazine in Newsstand while you wait for a sanely-priced, high-definition episode of your favorite TV show to download onto your 2 TB iPad 14 over your unlimited 4G connection, but we'll get there eventually.

Until then, devices like the new iPad are a glimpse of the future marred by the reality of the present.

About the Author
Tim Hanlon Tim originally came to Gizmag as a developer, much to the dismay of anyone who had to maintain, build on, or rewrite his code. After wearing every other hat that didn't have a head for it, he became CEO in 2010. He's a racing sim tragic, an amateur martial artist, a nacho enthusiast, and a (mostly) reformed electronic musician.   All articles by Tim Hanlon
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11 Comments

As someone who's a part of the development of software that enables publishers to create Magazine and Multimedia Apps getting my hands on the new iPad to check out the retina display was a priority.

Were we going to look good, would we look bad, how would the other software providers look. I'm happy to say after a minute or two browsing various mags on the new iPad my fears were long gone.

Our software, Oomph, is based on resolution independent formats like PDF and HTML and because they are vector based they re-render well at any resolution. So our legacy magazines like the Qantas Mag and Gourmet Traveller look great without any revisions needed.

Obviously these resolution independent assets are combined with rendered assets such as images and video but personally I think the new iPad does a great job of presenting these 'continuous tone' assets with little degradation. As long as you have good quality to start the end product is surprisingly good (in my opinion).

So I'd have to disagree that it might be a decade. With the right software and some judicious use of imaging and video programs to create content I think you will see some spectacular results.

Tony Redhead
22nd March, 2012 @ 12:35 am PDT

One particular website pulled a new Ipad apart. They said the screen was manufactured by Samsung. Unless Apple has some legal agreement to the contrary, I would imagine Samsung tablets/smartphones will soon be flourishing with this tech.

Australian
22nd March, 2012 @ 12:50 am PDT

In reply to:

..."Until then, devices like the new iPad are a glimpse of the future marred by the reality of the present."

Wrong.

The iPad 3 is what would have been now if companies are not greedy and people integral. Did we really need a HD format war when after it everyone started to download movies anyway?

I download movies from iTunes. Yes it takes half a day sometimes but you really cant blame Apple for providing products and services you cant afford.

Yudi Sahputra
22nd March, 2012 @ 01:59 am PDT

years ago the hard disk drive on my laptop only 20GB, but now you can get a 2TB hard disk drive on a laptop. all new technology can not leave without larger data or the same technology with less data. I think that's the future. when I hold my new iPad compare to my old iPad 2, I think the New ipad should be named iPad 2s and you don't want to look back to iPad 2's screen again. the new display makes you feel that you have a pair of new glasses.

Shang Li
22nd March, 2012 @ 02:25 am PDT

The new iPad will kill sales of all other tablets until the Windows 8 tablets come out at the end of the year from Dell, HP, Acer etc. It will be like 1984 all over again.

joe1946
22nd March, 2012 @ 01:23 pm PDT

This is what the iPad wishes it was.

http://www.samsung.com/au/consumer/pc-peripherals/notebook-pc/slate-pc/XE700T1A-A01AU

Anything less and you are being cheated.

Foxy1968
22nd March, 2012 @ 05:21 pm PDT

iPad 3, still no SD card slot. FAIL, but anything Apple says they don't need, the Applytes (Apple acolytes) smile and nod and chant in reply "We don't need expandability. We don't need options."

The "everything you need in one box with little or no ability to add more" has periodically been Apple's business model since 1984*. They keep going back to it and legions of customers keep buying it, and having buyer's remorse when they don't shell out the money for the highest end package.

*IIRC, Steve Jobs didn't want a hard drive on the original Macintosh, thus the ultra slow kludge of one connected via the external floppy drive port. It looks like there's no glimmer on the horizon of a super expandable high end Macintosh like hasn't been made since the PowerMac 9600. Make us a Mac with six x16 PCIe slots with the hardware bandwidth to use all the slots at full capacity. Kick everyone else's arse it would.

Gregg Eshelman
22nd March, 2012 @ 07:44 pm PDT

Gregg - on the expansion front, have you had a look at what Thunderbolt can do?

http://www.gizmag.com/tag/thunderbolt/

Tim Hanlon
22nd March, 2012 @ 11:25 pm PDT

I am a developer as well as other developers, are experiencing speed issues with the high resolution display. The new iPad just does not have the power to move high-resolution graphics around. The new iPads Graphics chips have two times the power of the iPad 2 yet they are expected to move 4x the memory around. I will tell everybody to wait on the next generation iPad. I expect the next generation will have 8 cores which would essentially make it even with the iPad 2s ability to move graphics around at a higher resolution.

Even something as simple as moving, maps around; the developers are having a problem because it's just too slow. Of course we will not hear about these problems until and generation iPad comes out. Example: Cnet, just compared to the iPad2 to the new iPad, however when they compared they tested at 720 P not the new high-resolution; They avoided using the high res,because it would be to slow and most people would not want to pay for a slower iPad.

The new display is only good for static graphics; this also comes at a cost, if u are paying for your data, At 2g for $30 we need a low res option. Unless you need a camera with no flash, I would wait, for a year. What we need is an option to disable graphics unless we want them on any pages or e-mails. You can do this with android devices already. Seems Apple is in bed with the phone companies they are loving this new screen

Facebook User
23rd March, 2012 @ 09:54 am PDT

Wow what a bunch of baloney from most all of you. I am Stunned by how fast and beautiful the iPad3 is. Go through Flip board and pages load and fly through like magic-use Pulse news and magazines blast through colorful articles with video like nothing. It is one of the BEST products ever and I have had every Mac since the first Macintosh and many PCs-blows every Android thing away. I do wish Flash was reintroduced with vector layers -let the video part be HTML5 but the rest we need back.

zekegri
3rd April, 2012 @ 07:30 am PDT

I build sites for a living. No problem with the new iPad if one knows what they are doing. I agree with zekegri on the fact the device rocks. Note, I am not a fanboy of Apple but in this case, they sealed the deal with this hardware.

Robert E. Moran
5th April, 2012 @ 08:46 am PDT
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