Erik’s Brain

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Retina iPad Regret

Jessica Van Sack’s piece “Developers: iPad’s display not all it’s cracked up to be” for The Boston Herald is amazingly bad. Let’s start at the top, shall we?

The crowning achievement of the upcoming iPad is its ultra-high-resolution screen, by far the sharpest display of any tablet on the market. But Apple’s giant leap to the post-HD world is causing headaches for app developers and could end up disappointing consumers who’ve just shelled out $800 for a device that the company has dubbed “resolutionary.”

Okay, stop being hyperbolic. The iPad doesn’t cost $800. It has six pricing levels and only the highest, $829 for the 64GB model with 4G LTE wireless, is in the $800 neighborhood. But let’s see how this “resolutionary” screen will be disappointing for consumers, developers and Apple itself.

The problem for designers of iPad applications is two-fold: They’ll be working on screens with lower resolution than the tablets they are designing for. And apps already running on iPads may end up looking poorly on the next generation screens.


“Day one on the iPad, everything graphical is going to look fuzzy,” said Matt McMillan, the Cambridge-based co-developer of the popular app CourseNotes. “It’s a matter of going through and upgrading all graphics. That probably will be a huge problem for us.”

The giant HD monitor that McMillan uses to design apps has a resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels, far less than the upcoming iPad’s 2,048 by 1,536 pixels.

“That means when I’m designing for the new iPad I can’t even see everything,” he said. “I’ll have to just try to figure it out and hope they come out with some new desktop displays.”

Holy Christ. Where to start with this? I wanted to give McMillan the benefit of the doubt and say that Van Sack was taking his quotes out of context. But I don’t think that’s the case.

Issue One: Having a screen that doesn’t match the resolution of your target device or medium is a non-issue. It’s a “problem” people have faced since they started using computers to design anything. The simplest example I can give you is working with photographs. If you are working on a photo that’s going to be printed 8x10 inches at 300dpi, by McMillan’s logic, you’d need a screen that runs at 2400x3000 to handle the task. Sorry. You’re out of luck. McMillan’s head would explode if I told him I’ve worked on a few images that were printed 30x40 inches at 300dpi (9000x12000 pixels for those counting at home) on a 1280x1024 screen. Nevermind that fact that you can, and should, test your apps on the new iPad.

Issue Two: “Everything graphical is going to look fuzzy”? No, any custom graphics that you haven’t made double resolution assets for will look fuzzy. Text will look great. UIKit components will look great. On day one. Only custom graphics that you’ve created yourself will be fuzzy, and that’s only if you don’t have the high resolution versions ready to go. And if you don’t have them yet? If you’ve been blindsided by the announcement of a Retina screen for the iPad? If you don’t have a plan to create @2x graphics? You just might be an idiot who doesn’t deserve to be a successful iOS developer. Harsh? Yes. But true? Yes.

I can think of a reason developers might be concerned about the high resolution display. They might not like what these new high resolution assets will do to the size of their app. Bigger graphics means much larger file sizes. That might annoy some developers.

But that’s not all. “An analyst” has some bad news for Apple:

Richard Shim, an analyst at NPD DisplaySearch, thinks there’s another reason altogether that Apple may rue the day it decided to pioneer its so-called retina display screens.

Shim, a market analyst who focuses on the supply chain of manufacturing, says the screens are so hard to make that the providers are having difficulty coming up with the volumes that Apple has requested.

Manufacturers are having a hard time making the highest quality display ever created at volume? Shocking. But today’s cutting edge is tomorrow’s run of the mill. Manufacturing will improve. Demand will be met. Maybe not in the first month or two. But manufacturing will catch up with demand. This is another non-issue.

Consumers aren’t going to regret buying an iPad because of its display. Apple won’t regret introducing this high resolution display. And developers who don’t have their heads in the sand aren’t worried about what will happen to their apps on the new screen.