Open your eyes – Retina Display will be everywhere soon

By on December 19, 2011
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Retina Display rumored to come to new Macs and iPad in 2012.

When the iPhone 4 launched in 2010 one thing Apple made a lot of noise about was the so-called Retina Display. As is the case with the iPhone 4S, its predecessor has a 3.5” display with 640×960 pixels. Apple states the resolution as 326 ppi (points per inch), saying it exceeds the ability of the human eye to detect individual pixels from around 10 inches away. The resolution necessary for this is usually states as being around 300 ppi.

Now it seems we’ll see the Retina Display concept spreading to other devices, including coming iPad models as well as MacBook Pro portable computers.

iPad 3

The most obvious choice to get the Retina Display upgrade would be the coming iPad, presumably called iPad 3. It’s supposedly arriving in just a few months, which would be just in time for the annual cycle Apple established for its tablet by introducing iPad 2 a year after the first model.

But will iPad 3 really get enough pixels to reach 326 ppi, like the iPhone? Well, if we believe rumors, iPad 3 will be 2,048×1,536 pixels, which would mean 264 ppi.

So why “just” 2,048×1,536? It’s twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the current iPads, meaning there will be less work for developers to get their apps to work on the new display. Since everything just doubles, current apps should work just fine, while apps written to take advantage of the increased number of pixels can look even better.

And let’s be honest, that many pixels on a 9.7″ display – assuming Apple won’t change the physical display size – will still be a lot of pixels. If Apple wanted to add the “HD” label to iPad 3, it still could, as it would exceed the usual benchmark for HD, 1,280×720.

If this is one change we can expect iPad 3 – no surprise here – to featured a faster processor, possibly quad-core, and a much faster graphics system as well. To drive these many pixels, Apple would have to beef up the GPU quite considerably.

MacBook Pro

There are also rumors that Apple’s MacBook Pro will get a higher resolution in 2012. Some sources say 2,880×1,800 pixels, which if we’re talking about a 15” display would mean 226 ppi, still far from the iPhone’s Retina Display.

Currently you can get up to 1,680×1,050 pixels on the 15″ MacBook Pro, which equates to just 132 ppi. I think you just imagine the same display at almost three times the pixel density.

For that to really work Mac OS X will have to start supporting resolution independence. Right now, interface elements like menus and buttons are a set number of pixels big. If that continues with a much-higher ppi, things will just look smaller.

With resolution independence, a user interface element can look about the same real-life size but be built from more pixels, thereby giving it a smoother and crisper look. Basically, with resolution independence, the interface doesn’t depend on a particular pixel resolution to display elements in various sizes, it can scale up and down and still look good.

This is certainly the direction that Apple is moving in but a good guess why they haven’t already is that the +300 ppi displays haven’t arrived yet. Already in 2005 John Siracusa wrote that the “race is on” for “the affordable 300dpi display or the resolution-independent version of Mac OS X.”

For Macs that may be what Cupertino is waiting for, displays with Retina Display pixel density. My guess is that we’ll see Retina Display in iPad before we see it on Macs though, probably as soon as in a few months.


I write and talk too much about tech. You can find my personal blog at, my radio shows at, and me on Twitter as mnystedt.

  • Abbas Jaffar Ali

    “Apple states the resolution as 326 ppi (points per inch), saying it exceeds the ability of the human eye to detect individual pixels from around 10 inches away.”

    Keep in mind that your phone is held closest to the eye, whereas a tablet is further away and a laptop still further away, so the ability to detect individual pixels changes as well, letting Apple smartly use the “Retina Display” tag without an issue.

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