If you were paying attention to last night's Apple live stream, where the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were announced, you'd have noticed that Apple has continued to forge its future by copying Android's past. Even as Apple finally increases the screen size of the iPhone it has done so in a way that gives me nostalgia for 2012 Android phones.
Under Steve Jobs, Apple was rigid about sticking to its guns as far as small screen sizes go. But the increasing dimensions of Android displays proliferated and it would appear external and market pressures finally got Apple to budge beyond a 4-inch diagonal (the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have 4.7 and 6 inch screens respectively). While this is big news for Apple fans, some snarky commenters have noted that the new iPhone 6 is basically a repackaged Nexus 4, as you can see below.
If you look at the display size and pixel density trends of the major Android flagships alongside the iPhone, you can see that it hasn't exactly been a linear progression, but rather that there tends to be a clump of higher pixel densities in the middle of the pack rather than at the large screened end, which traditionally don't push the pixel race as much as the mid-sized devices. Still, the overall trend has been toward larger screens and higher pixel densities across the board. Here's an infographic to demonstrate the point, starting at 2012:
As you can see, from the high 200 ppi range and low 300's in 2012, pixel densities increased through the 300's last year and in 2014 most of the major flagships are all sitting comfortably in the 400+ ppi range with a few outliers pushing beyond the 500 ppi mark. In 2014, you're hard put to find a major flagship with a screen below 5 inches and pixel density lower than 400 ppi.
The new iPhone 6 sticks with the magical 326 ppi we already saw on the iPhone 5, which is basically the same as the iPhone 4. Steve Jobs' influence is still holding sway at Apple, at least as far as pixel density goes, even if the iPhone 6 Plus has 401 ppi. Jobs famously claimed that anything over the ''magic number'' of 300 ppi is beyond the differentiation limit of the human retina. So is the iPhone 6 Plus a one-off or does it imply Apple will change its position in the future?
The new iPhone has a Retina HD display, which is just a smidgeon better resolution than traditional HD. Not Full HD, not QHD. It seems unlikely that Apple will go beyond 330 ppi for some time yet, at least in a smaller form factor anyway (the iPhone 6 Plus has 401 ppi, remember). Keep in mind that Samsung have already released the Galaxy S5 LTE-A with 577 ppi.
- Want to know the difference between LCD, AMOLED, Super AMOLED and Retina displays?
So why are things different in the Android world? Way back in 2011, Samsung announced the world's first HD smartphone: the Galaxy S2 HD LTE and six months later LG announced the world's first Full HD smartphone display. The first Full HD smartphone was 2012's HTC Butterfly. LG was the first to announce the first QHD display in 2013 but the first smartphone to ship with a QHD screen was the Oppo Find 7.
There is a constant debate about whether or not pixel densities above 330 ppi make a difference or not. Display technology companies clearly think they do, manufacturers of Android smartphones obviously think so too, and the market itself clearly supports these assumptions. But if the eye can't perceive any pixels in a phone with 326 ppi then what is the point of trying to double that figure? Why do Android OEMs and now Apple itself push beyond 330 ppi?
The science actually proves Jobs to be correct, given the exact parameters he provided for the ''magic number'' and yet many in the Android world claim you can spot pixels even when the science says you cannot. And so we return to the Nexus 4 and the iPhone 6. When I first unpacked my Nexus 4 I was blown away by the display. The prospect that I haven't seen anything better with my naked eye since then is an interesting thought to ponder.
What do you think of the ''magic number''? Where do you see the future of display sizes and pixel densities?