Dear Aunt TUAW: Are pixels doomed?

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Dear Aunt TUAW,

Today I've been reading rumors of new iPhones all over the interwebs. Everyone's talking about 3x resolutions and 1704 x 960 displays. Help me, Aunt TUAW -- is my Retina display doomed?


Your Nephew David X.

Dear David,

Your Retina iPhone is not doomed. Apple's Retina technology packs in tight pixels for resolution excellence and has been a certain winner. Uncle Rich's coverage of what Retina means is a must-read if you're interested in learning more about the subject. Today's rumor suggests that Apple might pack a new iPhone with even more pixels than ever.

Auntie is not going to take a position one way or the other on whether it makes sense to introduce another resolution style. All the developers she talked with this morning reacted with horror tinged with a certain intrigue when approached on the matter. Here are some basic facts...

If the iPhone 5 had used a non-retina display, its screen would have presented 181,760 pixels at a time, a quarter of the 727,040 it actually uses and a ninth of the 1,635,840 rumored pixels for the iPhone 6. But compared to a current iPad air with its 3,145,728 pixels that's just pocket change.

What developers are particularly worried about is having to stuff yet another image resolution into their already bloated applications. With the baseline iPad air packing only 16 GB, and apps having to already support image assets for non-retina and retina distributions on both tablet and phone families, it's hard to think that Apple would force yet another set of images into everyone's distributions.

Auntie is hoping that Apple will introduce native vector support for the "UIImage" class in iOS 8. Describing images as rescalable vectors would massively shrink those app bundles. Sure it takes a bit more processing time to scale and display vectors than to present simple images, but they'd provide a great way to design images that would automatically scale without blurriness no matter what kind of screen was thrown at them. In fact, popular developer icon resource Glyphish just announced a "Complete" bundle with full vector icon support, to scale up the art as needed. (Photographic images would still pose an issue, and they're never going to go away, unless Apple throws in some kind of magic fractal compression solution as well.)

Auntie suggests you wait a few weeks and then poke a developer after WWDC. The image APIs introduced this year will probably deliver some strong hints as to whether the rumored August product launches will stretch the definition of Retina or not.


Auntie T.