Why Apple’s Retina Display No Longer Matters?

Apple trademarked Retina Display in Nov, 2012. Retina Display is one of the major attractions of Apple’s top products. Introduced with the iPhone 4, during Steve Jobs’ reign, it sure sold quite a number of iPhones in two years. At this time, however, is Retina Display still relevant? Should Apple be actively marketing this feature at all? Let’s see.

What Exactly Is It?

Retina Display or any display at that matter has a particular ppi ratio (Pixels Per Inch). [Learn about pixels]. If, on a display panel, there are more than a fixed number of pixels in every inch, that display will be rich enough to avoid the pixelation issue given by older, low pixel-density devices.

If you can see individual pixels, such a display looks rather dull. Look at this image below. One of half of the Apple logo is pixelated, and you can see the difference.

Pixelation on Apple logo

Creating too many pixels and cramming them up within a display is a very expensive job. This is the reason why mainstream smartphone manufacturers were reluctant to provide very high ppi displays. Apple, however, researched into it and found the best possible way to incorporate dense displays.

Retina Display technology works based on the size of the device you are using. For instance, the iPhone is a small device of 4 inch display, and its pixel density is 326ppi. You are supposed to be holding it about 10 inches away from your eyes, and you will not notice any pixels. Get your iPhone closer and you should start noticing tiny pixels.

On low ppi devices, you will notice pixels even if they are more than 10 inch away. However, you really have to look very close.

On the other hand, the MacBook Pro with Retina display has around 220ppi. It is less than iPhone’s because of the viewing distance. On MacBook, you are probably looking at it from more than 20 inches away. This is the intended viewing distance not to notice pixels. On iPad 4, it is 264ppi, and viewing distance is 15 inches.

As you can see, it all depends on the viewing distance. Also, even if you have a yesteryear display panel, like the one that comes on Nokia N8 (210ppi), you are actually not going to notice any pixels unless you look really close.

Another aspect of the original Retina Display is the size of the pixels. Apple, in 2010 during the release of iPhone 4, has marketed the size of pixels on the display. This is what they told us:

In a word, resolutionary.

By developing pixels a mere 78 micrometers wide, Apple engineers were able to pack four times the number of pixels into the same 3.5-inch (diagonal) screen found on earlier iPhone models. The resulting pixel density of iPhone 4 – 326 pixels per inch – makes text and graphics look smooth and continuous at any size.

A pixel with a width of 78 microns is indistinguishably small. But I did a little digging around. Generally, the pixel width of a smartphone display is over 100, some close to 200 microns. Such pixels are large and can be seen on close inspection. But now, iPhone is not the only display with such small pixels. There are others.


iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 have 326 pixels on every inch. The display resolution of iPhone 4 is 960×640, and hence it has 960 X 640=61,44,00 pixels. iPhone 5 has1136×640=72,70,40 pixels.

Now, 1 inch=25,400 microns (micrometers or 1/1000th of a millimeter).

Hence, 25,400/326=77.91 microns is the exact width of an iPhone pixel. Consider a smartphone with a better display than this – HTC Droid DNA with 443 ppi.

The size of a pixel on Droid DNA should be 25,400/443=57.33 microns.

It’s not that there are other smartphones with better ppi display than Apple’s Retina Display, but that they are not screaming aloud about their products.

Other Smartphones With High PPI Displays

Anything above 250ppi is definitely a beautiful experience. There are not one or two, but several smartphones with displays better than Apple’s Retina Display (in terms of ppi ratio of course; technology differs). Here are a few of them.

Smartphone Pixel Density (ppi) & pixel width Notes
HTC Droid DNA 443ppi (57.33 microns) By far, the highest among popular smartphones
HTC J Butterfly 441ppi (57.59 microns)
Sony Xperia Z 441ppi (57.59 microns) Upcoming Sony Xperia smartphone, announced in this year’s CES.
BlackBerry Dev Alpha 10 356ppi (71.34 microns) Latest BlackBerry phone (only for app developers), sporting BlackBerry 10 OS
HTC Windows Phone 8X 342ppi (74.26 microns)
Sony Xperia S 342ppi (74.26 microns)
Nokia Lumia 920 332ppi (76.5 microns)
LG Optimus P935 (LTE) 326 ppi (77.9 microns) The same as Apple iPhone

Also, the technology used on Apple iPhone display is simple LCD IPS, which has its own advantages.

In essence, you don’t have to be very concerned about Retina Displays. It is not anything special. It was an innovation in 2010 when Apple first introduced it. But now, the other manufacturers have joined in and have come up with competitive offerings.

However, there is only one real concern in this. The richer the display, the more power it will consume. Hence, you are better off with a ppi ratio between 250 and 300, rather than the unnecessary extreme ppi ratios offered on those HTC phones.

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