"Is that the new one?" one of my workmates asked of the iPad sitting on my desk in its upright dock.
"Yep," I said, and showed him the screen.
He played around with it for a few seconds and said, "Huh. It doesn't look all that different, does it?"
"Are you kidding?" I said, and grabbed my old iPad 2, now destined to be my wife's new/used device. I opened iBooks on both devices, queued them up to the same page of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and invited him to check out the (to me) obvious differences in text, side-by-side.
He liked the iPad 2's rendering better. I was pretty much dumbfounded. I suggested he visit the optometrist as soon as possible, because to me the difference is stunningly obvious.
Somehow, in spite of selling three million units in a weekend, we're meant to believe the newest iPad is a disappointment. It's supposedly a merely iterative upgrade to the iPad 2; the bigger battery, more powerful GPU, and doubled system RAM all simply offset the increased power and processing demands of that new Retina Display. A display which, if various pundits and casual (possibly half-blind) passersby are to be believed, isn't that much better anyway.
Frankly, those people are on crack. The new iPad's Retina Display is the best display I've seen on any device, ever. And for a device that's essentially all display, the effect that has on the experience can't be overstated.
Macworld's Dan Frakes agrees and says the new iPad's screen isn't getting its just due. "The new display is simply phenomenal. I expected it to be good, but it's really good. Really, really good. Text on a screen has never seemed clearer or more...right."
He's right. I used my old iPad 2 briefly, and it was like the screen had been smeared in a thick coat of Vaseline. The iPad 2's screen quality was always something of a letdown after months using an iPhone 4 and then an iPhone 4S, but it wasn't until I used the newest iPad that the 1024 x 768 screen on the old one became absolutely unacceptable to my eyes. There literally is no going back.
Between the iPhone 4S, iPad (3), and the still-impressive 1920 x 1200 screen on my MacBook Pro, I now have the privilege of owning three devices whose individual pixels are completely indistinguishable at the distance I normally use them. Sure, I can lean into my Mac's display and see the pixels, or I can push my nose against the iPad, or I can squint real hard and concentrate on my iPhone 4S screen and see a stray pixel here or there. But I have to make the effort to do that.
Is all this pixel density overkill? Hardly. As recently as five years ago, I still regularly printed out documents rather than reading them onscreen. For one thing, a sheet of paper was more portable than my Mac; for another, printed text simply looked better. Five years later, the tables have turned. I can carry an entire library worth of books on a device not much bigger than a book itself, and the text renders every bit as well on its screen as it does on a sheet of paper. Meanwhile, I can't remember the last time I printed out a document -- any document, for any reason.
This new 9.7-inch screen has more pixels on it than my 17-inch MacBook Pro and iPhone 4S have -- combined. The iPad's Retina Display has spoiled me; if I see a pixel, you blew it.