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The Retina Myth

The Retina Myth

Apple likes to make a big thing about the Retina display of its products. With “rich colour saturation and an astounding 3.1 million pixels”, it certainly sounds impressive. Under the Retina brand name, Apple claims that its LCD screens have a superior pixel density that is high enough for the human eye to be unable to notice pixilation at the typical viewing distance.

For all the amazing features new technology has to offer, one of the fundamental selling points of any device is the quality of its display. This is the exact reason why Apple boasts Retina display, making bold claims about how it appears as clear, or even clearer than, reality. And, in all fairness, it does. The display on the new iPad, for instance, is the sharpest yet with a vibrant resolution that absorbs you in vivid colours, sharp images and clear text. But is the idea of Retina really only applicable to Apple products?

Is Retina Display Exclusive to Apple?

In short, no. The name 'Retina' is a brand used solely by Apple, but the technology is not exclusive to the company. If Retina display is based largely on the inability to distinguish pixels from a ‘normal’ viewing distance (generally considered to be 15-22 inches), then it can be said that any display, based on screen size, is ‘Retina’.

There’s some complicated and very boring maths behind this concept, but the basic idea lies in the knowledge of visual angles and visual acuity – basically the distance at which you hold the device when using it. Compare the specs of the new iPad with those of Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet: On paper, the iPad seems the clear winner with a screen resolution of 2084 x 1536 and 3.15 million pixels, while Surface Pro has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and 2.1 million pixels. Reading these figures, it’s easy to conclude that the iPad, with its ‘Retina’ display, will give the clearest viewing experience. But take visual acuity into account: at a distance of 13 inches, pixels on the iPad become impossible to discern, while the same happens when viewing the Surface Pro tablet from 16.5 inches. At just 3.5 inches further, the Surface Pro display is just as good as that of the higher-resolution iPad. No-one holds their tablet or phone right up to their face when using it, so in both instances the display will appear to be of ‘Retina’ quality.

More Pixels, Less Power

Still, with the iPad’s far higher resolution and over a million more pixels than the Surface Pro, it might seem that the former will still offer the better display: but if you want all those extra pixels, be prepared to make a couple of sacrifices. A higher pixel density means that your device runs slower and drains the battery faster in order to refresh each extra pixel. Pixels at the expense of power.

The new iPad contains a larger battery that has a 70% higher capacity than the previous instalment of the Apple tablet – yet it takes less time to run the battery down. The increased resolution and higher pixel density means that even with an improved battery, power drains faster and you get about 20% less use out of the new iPad just because of those extra pixels.

For all its battery-draining and hyped-up numbers, the high pixel density of the new i-devices is actually extremely impressive. Apple is touting its latest Retina display as a breakthrough, and it really is. While other developers could certainly up their own pixel density to match Apple’s Retina, they are, at the moment, lagging behind. The display on the new iPad, iMac and iPhone 5 is remarkably sharp with vibrant colours and worthily reinforces Apple’s market dominance.