When Apple outed the iPhone 4 with its 960×640 screen and 326ppi the retina display was born. Yet as Apple ponders whether to bring retina displays to other devices such as the new MacBook Pro line the question arises of whether we need more retina displays or whether 1080p is a sufficient resolution for screens under 24”.
The Case for Higher Resolutions
People will tell you that more pixels are always welcome as they allow you to see more on the screen at one time as well as making everything look crisper and clearer. Indeed the iPad’s resolution bump was met with almost universal claim, with critics and consumers alike declaring that the 2048×1536 9.7” screen to have both crisp images as well as great colour reproduction. Having a new iPad I can attest to the crispness of the image and upon using a friend’s iPad 2 the difference really is startling. Clearer text and clarity as well as more screen real estate is the huge benefit of higher resolution screens. Yet there seem to be problems for such high resolution and it could even be argued that they outweigh these rather significant advantages.
Battery Life, Tiny Icons and Gaming Woes
There are clear problems if retina type display resolutions were to become the norm in both laptops and desktop monitors. The first concern tends to what would happen if laptops were to have their resolutions bumped well about 1080p. According to a pcmag article this would mean that 15” laptops would now have resolutions of 2880×1800. With laptops becoming thinner and battery technology not moving as fast as needed surely the battery life of such high resolution devices would suffer. Teardowns of the new iPad showed that it was almost all battery with a 42.5 watt-hour battery replacing the 25 watt-hour battery of the iPad 2. That’s a near doubling at the battery capacity in order to maintain the iPad’s ten hours of battery life. Apple or any other company would not want to release a new laptop/MacBook/Ultrabook with a worse battery life than that currently seen on current 13” and 15”devices (around 4-6hours). If we were to see such high resolution laptop displays appear than we can also expect devices to become thicker and as well as the disappearance of optical drives, something we are not necessarily ready to see go just yet.
Another problem with having such a high resolution display on a device with a 13” screen for example is that icons will become extremely small and will cause eye strain. Indeed when small screens have high resolutions there can be severe discomfort to the user. One of the reasons that this does not happen on the iPad is because Apple has resized all the icons so that they do not appear too small. This would not be the case for a Windows PC, however, as the icons have a set pixel size for that resolution and therefore by putting such a resolution in a smaller display results in icons and much of the user interface becoming too small to view comfortably.
The final problem with such high resolution monitors, albeit one that won’t affect everybody, is the effect the it could have on gaming. PC gaming is an expensive past time without having to spend upwards of £400 on a graphics card, yet if resolutions were to receive the bump some people are expecting then we can also expect to see PC graphics getting worse in order to accommodate for the increased resolution or people will just go back to playing consoles. There is almost no chance that a MacBook Pro would be able to play a game at 2880×1800. Mobile gpus are just not up to that sort of pixel pushing performance yet. Indeed The Verge earlier this week wrote an article detailing how graphics effects had had to be scaled back even on iPad games due to the amount of pixels.
Not Yet but Feel Free to Prove Me Wrong
Personally I’m not sure we need to see retina display like resolutions come to laptops and desktops. It is clear that such high resolutions benefit tablets and phones but this is mainly due to the intimacy we have with these devices. That’s not to say that I don’t think we need to see higher resolutions on laptops however. The current trend of sticking 1366×768 panels on otherwise excellent looking pieces of hardware needs to stop. A 1080p resolution is probably the ideal sweetspot for laptops between 13” and 15”. I currently use a 1920×1200 24” display from Dell on my desktop and I have never once thought to myself that I wish it had a higher resolution. Maybe Apple or another company will show me just how great a retina display could look on a desktop but as things currently stand I’d rather enjoy having my 5 hour laptop battery life and gaming with all settings up at 60fps.