3rd Generation iPad: A New Year’s Resolution I’ll definitely keep…
The announcement from Apple yesterday of the 3rd Generation iPad will, in my view, go down as one of those historic moments in time when the world changed. Not just because of the device itself – although a mainstream computer with this much resolution will indeed change everything – but because some of the sales figures quoted make it clear we are indeed moving into a post-PC world.
Since PCs first appeared, humans have had to adapt to their idiosyncrasies. In the beginning, you had to be able to program them to do anything. Learn command-line interfaces. Then, you had to learn the applications you used. Or figure out how to drill down five levels deep in the Display Properties of Windows XP in order to turn on ClearType, for example. (sorry – that was a personal sore spot).
Apple has figured out the future. Not humans adapted for computers, but computers adapted for humans. The astonishing sales figures revealed by Apple CEO Tim Cook yesterday show the old order is passing: Apple sold more iPads last quarter than any PC manufacturer sold PCs. There have been 315 million iOS devices sold so far, and 25 billion downloads from the App Store. And all of that before yesterday’s unveiling of the highly-anticipated iPad3, which did not disappoint.
The announcements were right in line with my predictions. I suggested Apple would probably double the resolution of the existing iPad, rather than give it the full 360 pixels per inch (ppi) resolution of the iPhone. In my view, the 10-hour battery life achieved by the first iPad was a breakthrough which Apple would continue to regard as a sacred goal for all future iPad versions. It’s critical, because a 10-hour battery means a student, or an office worker, can use it to move from class to class or meeting to meeting all day without a power cord.
Let’s recap on resolution. It’s not a number determined by some graphics standard of the past, like 640 x 480 or 1024 x 768 pixels. True resolution is really all about pixel size – how many of them you can pack in an inch.
Human vision can resolve out to 600 dots per inch. That’s vernier acuity, or an ability to detect edges used historically in, for example, the scale of a precision Fortin Barometer. In reality, once you get out beyond 250 ppi, you’re pretty much done. If you plot “Perceived Improvement” against “Pixels per inch”, you get a curve which by around 200ppi is beginning to flatten dramatically, and by 250ppi is almost flat.
Explained simply, that means you can throw as many additional pixels per inch at a screen, but beyond 250ppi no-one will really notice the difference.
Increasing the pixels-per-inch resolution is an n-squared problem. To go from 100ppi to 200ppi means a 2x increase in both horizontal and vertical pixel counts, and therefore a 4x increase in the number of pixel computations a system must perform. To go to 300ppi is a 9x increase in computation. The math is killer. The demands on a computer graphics card are staggering. And a faster graphics card able to handle more pixels naturally consumes more battery power.
Another problem with making pixels smaller is that the wiring tracks in the LCD display which drives the RGB sub-pixels become increasingly intrusive. You start to see proportionally more wiring and less pixel. This also affects the amount of light the panel’s backlight needs to transmit.
Apple claims to have developed a new technology which elevates the luminance sub-pixels above the wiring tracks, putting them on a higher plane and resolving this problem.
New display technology reduces intrusive wiring tracks at sub-pixel level
The new iPad, then, has 264 pixels per inch. And it’s enough to change the world.
As readers of this blog will know, I’ve been a strong advocate of pushing screen resolution to this level for well over a decade. In 1996 or 1997 – I forget which – I first got my hands on a 133ppi Dell laptop. My next system was another Dell Inspiron laptop with a resolution of 147ppi. And by 1998 I was running a desktop system with a 204ppi flat-panel display from IBM.
In those days, adapting Windows UI to higher resolution displays was painful. You had to go in and manually adjust all then sizes for text, icons etc. Even then, most of the applications you used – and Windows itself – pretended that all screens had the same resolution, 96ppi.
Apple went to a resolution-independent graphics architecture in the 1980s. However, the true significance of that move was not revealed until high-resolution displays appeared – along with new graphics chips capable of driving them.
The 3rd Generation iPad has a display resolution of 264ppi. And still retains a ten-hour battery life (9 hours with wireless on). Make no mistake. That much resolution is stunning. To see it on a mainstream device like the iPad – rather than a $13,000 exotic monitor – is truly amazing, and something I’ve been waiting more than a decade to see.
It will set a bar for future resolution that every other manufacturer of devices and PCs will have to jump.
Having that much resolution in a handheld device will be the final step in changing reading forever. I’m not the only one who believes this. Andrew Rashbass, chief executive of The Economist Group, recently gave a fascinating presentation he called LeanBack 2.0. He postulates that in the days of print, we leaned back and read. The Web and computers made us lean forward to read. Devices like the iPad have restored our ability to lean back, relax, and read. LeanBack 2.0!
Lean Back – and Read!
Watch the video