As much as I love my iPhone, its screen is starting to look just terrible compared to the displays on other phones.
The screens on Samsung’s flagship Android phones leapfrogged the iPhone’s years ago and continue to scoop up gold medals for best smartphone displays. The company’s new Galaxy Note 7 was just declared the best smartphone display by DisplayMate’s Raymond M. Soneira.
Apple may maintain that its “Retina-resolution” displays are sufficient enough for general use, but they’re not aging well.
When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone 4 in 2010, it was revolutionary for several reasons. It had a metal antenna band, ushered in MicroSIM cards and a FaceTime camera.
But most importantly, it had the Retina display the sharpest smartphone display ever at the time. To introduce this feature, Jobs really turned up the reality distortion charm.
“The Retina display has 326 pixels per inch,” Jobs announced to applause. “There’s never been a display like this on a phone. People haven’t even dreamed about a display like this on a phone.”
Jobs really sold the Retina display. But he didn’t stop with his pitch.
“But there’s more than that. It turns out there’s a magic number right around 300 pixels per inch. That when you hold something around 10-12 inches away from your eyes, is the limit of the human retina to differentiate the pixels. Text looks like you’ve seen it in a fine printed book.”
Jobs single-handedly introduced “pixel density” to laymen. I’m sure the uber tech geeks already knew all about pixel density, but I didn’t. Most of the general tech press didn’t, either. Yet, he kickstarted this arm’s race for phone displays.
Indeed, the Retina display on my iPhone 4 looked extraordinary compared to every other smartphone screen available at the time.
But what was cutting edge six years ago is no longer cutting edge anymore. Android phones got 720p HD screens, then 1080p full HD and then 1440p Quad HD screens. Last year, Sony released the world’s first phone with a 4K display with a whopping 801 pixels per inch (ppi).
The iPhone’s screen has fallen behind.
Even Apple fanboys can see the iPhone’s screen has fallen behind.
The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are still stuck with HD and full HD screens with 326 ppi and 401 ppi, respectively. The 6S is saddled with a weird 1,134 x 750 resolution.
Every competing high-end phone has the same resolution and ppi (or higher) than the more expensive iPhone 6S Plus.
Hell, even Motorola’s $199.99 Moto G4 has the same resolution and pixel density as the iPhone 6S Plus.
It’s embarrassing when a budget phone has the same screen specs as best iPhone.
Now, I know there’s more to phone displays than just resolution and pixel density like brightness, viewing angles and color reproduction.
As a whole, the Retina display on iPhones is fine. It’s more than adequate. But I notice the fuzziness around the letters and on the corners of iOS’s squircle icons. And I know a bunch of people who were perfectly content with the iPhone’s Retina display before, but now want something better.
At this point, you may be thinking: If most people can’t even discern the pixels, who cares?
We want the best.
The same reason why everyone is buying a 4K TV, but sits at a far enough distance where they can’t even see a difference compared to full HD.
The same reason why people buy TVs that tout a billion colors that you’ll never be able to appreciate because the human eye has a limit to how many colors it can actually recognize.
The same reason why people buy high-res audio that they may or may not be able to really hear the benefits of.
The same reason why people buy cameras with lots of megapixels even though they’re just posting the photos to Instagram.
We want the best.
The iPhone is Apple’s best product. It should have the best tech specs. It should destroy Samsung’s phones from 10 miles away. Yet it doesn’t. At least not on the screen (and battery, and cameras and water resistance, etc.).
Raymond Wong (@raywongy) February 21, 2016
Moreover, the iPhone’s screen will really look like a laggard as virtual reality takes off. For a great mobile VR experience, you need a phone with lots and lots of pixels that are packed really tightly at least Quad HD or higher. It’s the very reason why Google created Daydream: to help standardize phones for VR.
But wait a second. Apple hasn’t announced any plans for VR, nor has it shown any real interest in competing with Samsung’s Gear VR and the myriad clones now coming out of the woodwork.
The most we’ve heard from Apple in regards to VR was from CEO Tim Cook. “In terms of virtual reality, I dont think its a niche,” Cook said during the Q1 2016 earnings call. “I think it can be… its really cool, and has some interesting applications.”
And maybe Apple will never be interested in VR, but that puts it at a disadvantage because it seems like every industry is embracing VR.
There’s a rumor that Apple is planning to increase the resolution on its iPhones once again. But it’s unlikely it’ll happen this year. We’re more likely to see sharper screens next year when Apple is expected to switch to OLED screens for the iPhone 8.
Looks like another year of waiting. By the time Apple ups the iPhone’s screen to Quad HD, every other high-end Android phone will have a 4K display. Lameee.