Revisited: Larger iPhone @ 264 PPI

Perhaps Apple could call a larger iPhone “Retina” even if it was “only” 264 PPI. The problem with a 264 PPI display is that it seems to be a dead-end resolution. There’s no obvious upgrade path for that display. The iPad mini, introduced at a relatively low 163 PPI,  does have an upgrade path: Apple just has to move it to the standard 326 PPI display resolution.

Yes, Apple can have a 264 PPI product while others are in the 300+ range, because when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is if that 264 PPI display is beautiful enough, on an absolute scale (or relative to iPhone 5) to be able to stay there for a good while.

So, I now believe, Apple will have given the 264 PPI 4.9″ display a trial run on some prototype devices, and if it looked superb despite the lower number PPI, that would be grounds to make the appropriate compromise (lower PPI, but easier for developers) and release at 264 PPI. If it doesn’t look superb, then they’ll go to my previously predicted 326 PPI and force developers to do more work.

[Edit Feb. 22 2014: Competitors are announcing smartphones with 500-600 PPI screens, and while it seems to be overkill, they’re still doing it. Perhaps it is just another form of the “megapixel race” camera manufacturers participate in, but still, we’ll have to see these screens before dismissing them outright as “marketing”.]

My take on the larger iPhone’s resolution

My favorite Apple bloggers (DF, RR, MA) seem to have come to a consensus on what they think a larger iPhone’s screen size and resolution would be. Their money is on 4.94″ @ 264PPI with the same 1136×640 resolution of the iPhone 5.

The argument looks good because this has a lot of similarities with what Apple did with the iPad mini. The iPad mini has the same resolution as an iPad 2, but with 163PPI instead of 132PPI. The touch targets on the iPad mini still work because they are exactly the same size as those of the iPhone’s. It is great because apps run as-is on an iPad mini. Developers have nothing to do.

But the iPad mini’s 163PPI has a clear upgrade path: good old 326 PPI retina. Super obvious.

However, a 4.94″ @ 264 PPI iPhone would be a dead-end. There’s nowhere for it to go but 528 PPI, which is overkill even by skate-to-where-the-puck-will-be standards. Furthermore, a 4.94″ @ 264PPI iPhone with a resolution of 1136 x 640 would not be retina. It also wouldn’t be competitive. That’s 3 important negatives right there.

Consider a 5.0″ iPhone at 1420×800 though. That’s exactly 326PPI. It happens to be 1.25X the iPhone 5’s resolution in each dimension. Same aspect ratio. If bezels get thinner, this size seems to make more sense. Here are the considerations:

– It is retina. It won’t need to get any better.
– It is a competitive resolution.
– It uses the same panels as the iPhone 5.

The downside I read that is being argued, is that apps need to be modified to use this new resolution. Well, guess what, we iPhone devs already have to support 1136×640 in addition to 960×640. That means we’re already trained for arbitrary extra rows of pixels. Having one more of those (with extra rows and columns) isn’t that much worse. It might be a good idea for us devs to take one for the team, to avoid our apps being letterboxed on the larger iPhone.

I’m going to go out on a limb and put my money on a nice-sounding 5.0″ @ 326PPI retina display larger iPhone 🙂