Last June at the announcement of the iPhone 4, there was one feature that was given more emphasis than most others, and rightly so. Apple didn't fit their flagship device with just any ol' display. No, they fitted it with the highest resolution display and the highest pixel density on a phone to date. At 3.5-inches and a resolution of 960 by 640 pixels, the 326ppi (pixels per inch) rating was well over that of its Android counterparts. At the time, the EVO 4G was easily one of the most well-equipped Android phones around, toting a mere 217ppi rating. Thus the marketing term "Retina Display" was born.
Things have greatly changed since June of 2010. Android now runs the show with devices ranging from 2.6-inch displays to 4.7-inches and beyond, and they've come around on resolutions as well. Devices like the Sensation and Bionic carry 960 by 540 pixel resolutions, and the Galaxy Note, a giant 5.3-inch phone (or tablet?), holds a resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels. None of these densities quite match up to the Retina, but if the upcoming Nexus arrives with rumored specs (4.5-inch HD display), it may give Apple's Retina Display a run for its money.
Rumors of a 4-inch iPhone 5 with a new design have spread far and wide since the beginning of this year. Many didn't believe the rumors, and some still don't. But if Apple wants to maintain their strong presence amongst the never-ending onslaught of Android devices, they're going to have to change some things. That tiny 3.5-inch display is the first thing that should go. For those that still enjoy the 3.5-incher, that's where the iPhone 4S comes in to play.
That said, if Apple changes the size of the display without changing the resolution, they will also have to kiss the Retina Display goodbye. According to Peter Pachal of PC Mag, the accepted qualifier for “Retina Display” is anything above 300ppi. By stretching the display to 4-inches without a bump in resolution, Apple is looking at a ppi rating of roughly 285 – dead even with some of the competition. DisplayMate President Raymond Soneira also spoke with Pachal on the matter back in February, stating that Apple would have to up "the [horizontal] resolution to 1,097 as opposed to 960 to preserve that same pixels per inch." Not going to happen.
That was February and nobody really knew whether to believe the claims of a larger iPhone or not. We still don't know exactly what will happen, but with oversized iPhone cases popping up left and right and all fingers pointing to a 4-inch display, it seems pretty clear.
Apple's best bet, for the time being at least, is to stick with the current resolution. Changing it up once again might not sit well with developers. As you may recall, applications with interfaces that were not using vector (scalable) graphics needed to be updated to support the higher resolution display in the iPhone 4. If the interface was coded using rasterized graphics for a specific resolution, the entire interface had to be rebuilt from scratch. Seeing as the resolution of the Retina Display was simply an up-scaled version of the older, iPhone 3G/3GS display, it wasn't too difficult. However, throwing an oddball resolution of 1,097 into the mix could cause some serious confusion, among other issues. Even a resolution that makes more sense – double the current resolution, for instance – could cause some unrest in developers. They need to choose a resolution that works and stick with it for a while.
Talk of a Retina Display doesn't stop there. The iPad 3 is rumored to also sport a Retina Display. At 9.7-inches, that resolution would be 2,048 by 1,536 pixels, so Apple's Retina gambit wouldn't be a total loss. They would simply have to skip a generation in their iPhone line. Who knows, maybe this delay is due in part to a new, higher-res display that we don't know about.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this who iPhone 5 affair plays out, and it looks like we'll know the truth soon enough. What say you, readers? Should Apple launch the iPhone with a larger display at the same resolution, effectively killing the Retina Display claim? Or should they bump the resolution, too, and possibly step on developers' toes?