One of the most hyped features of the new iPhone, known as iPhone 4, is the new screen. Apple bombastically calls it the Retina display, citing a host of improvements over the current screen, which has gone three years without a major update. But what does it all mean?
Judging from the specs alone, the new screen will look better than before. That's a good thing by objective standards, and we'll get into the improvements below, but first a word of caution about relying on published specs when it comes to screens in general.
Improvements, especially resolution, tend to have diminishing returns--it's really tough to see the difference between same-sized 1080p and 720p TVs with moving video, for example. The way a manufacturer implements the technology, for aspects like color reproduction, reflectivity, and gamma, can have a larger impact on image quality than any published specs. Finally, the content, the viewing environment, and even your own visual acuity all affect how an image will look to you on the new iPhone 4's screen.
960x640 resolution: This is the native resolution of the Retina display, which crams 614,400 pixels onto a 3.5-inch diagonal screen (326 pixels per inch). That's four times as many pixels as the current iPhone, which has a 320x480 native resolution on the same-sized screen (163 PPI), and significantly more than newer competitors like the Motorola Droid (854x480, 265 PPI) and the Nexus One (800x480, 252 PPI), for example. As Jobs pointed out, 300 PPI is typically regarded as the limit of useful pixel density, and the iPhone 4's mark of 326 is among the best available on any display.
Text, especially smaller fonts, should appear sharper and less pixelated when you look closely in a side-by-side comparison between the old and new iPhones. The difference with photos will be a lot more subtle, on the other hand, while the difference with moving video might not be visible at all. It's simply easier to see differences in resolution with black-and-white, line-based material, especially when it's not moving. In any case, you'll have to look closely to see them. Compared with other screens with higher pixel densities than the current iPhone, the differences in detail will be even smaller.
We say "should" because material that's not designed for the higher resolution--Jobs said the new iPhone iOS 4 would be, and encouraged App designers to update to higher rez--has to be scaled to fit the pixels.… Read more