Dear Lifehacker, A lot of the discussion of the new iPad talks about the “retina display”. Everyone says it looks amazing, but what does the term actually mean? Can anyone else make use of it? Thanks, Eyeballing iPad
Picture by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The short and simple answer: it’s marketing speak, not a specific type of technology, and even Apple uses it to mean slightly different things in different contexts.
The longer answer: Apple introduced the notion of a “retina display” when it rolled out the iPhone 4. The definition it uses is that the resolution is so high that you can’t see individual pixels in normal use. Here’s how Apple explained in in its original announcement:
Apple’s stunning 3.5 inch Retina display has 960 x 640 pixels—four times as many pixels as the iPhone 3GS and 78 percent of the pixels on an iPad. The resulting 326 pixels per inch is so dense that the human eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels when the phone is held at a normal distance, making text, images and video look sharper, smoother and more realistic than ever before on an electronic display.
There has been some argument over whether or not the resolution of the iPhone 4 actually meets this definition, since the issue of what the human eye can see is the subject of debate. More relevant to the current discussion is that while the latest iPad also claims to have a “retina display”, it has a lower resolution than the iPhone. Apple’s own announcement rather blurs over this distinction:
The new iPad’s Retina display delivers four times the number of pixels of iPad 2, so dense that the human eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels when held at a normal distance, making web pages, text, images and video look incredibly sharp and realistic. The 3.1 million pixels in the Retina display are more than one million more pixels than an HD TV, and with 44 percent increased colour saturation the new iPad displays colours that are unbelievably richer, deeper and more vivid.
While the phrasing is very similar, you’ll notice Apple doesn’t actually mention the pixels per inch measurement. And that’s because the iPad actually has a lower resolution than the iPhone 4, as analysts DisplaySearch point out:
The highlighted and most expected feature is the display, which at 2,048 by 1,536 pixels has a pixel density of 264 ppi, twice that of the iPad 2. While Apple is calling this a “retina display,” the pixel density is significantly less than that of the iPhone 4 “retina display,” which is 326 ppi. But since “retina display” is a marketing term with no specific definition, Apple is able to use it how it wants.
Because of the association with Apple, no-one else is likely to use that specific term. Displays on phones and tablets from every manufacturer continually improve, and ultimately it’s your experience of the screen that matters, not the marketing hype surrounding it.
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