Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

iPhone, Embiggened

I don’t trust most analysts, but KGI Securities’ Ming Chi-Kuo has ridiculously good sources. While his word is not as golden as that of some other pundits, he’s usually reasonably accurate with product details. So, when he provided previously undisclosed details on the next iPhone, my ears perked up a little:

In line with previous rumors, Kuo believes the new 4.7-inch model will come with a 1334×750 Retina display at 326 pixels per inch, while the 5.5″ will see a 1920×1080 screen at 401 ppi. Both devices will have the same aspect ratio to the iPhone 5, meaning apps will not need to be redesigned for the second time in three years.

As far as I know, this is the first time anyone has mentioned a precise display resolution — other reports have merely guessed at display size. That difference gives me a smidge more confidence in Chi-Kuo’s report.

Now, let’s talk scaling. Apple has been emphasizing the use of auto layout and PDF assets where possible for a couple of years now, but what about bitmap assets, or apps that don’t use auto layout? Barring a ridiculous idea of Apple simply barring the installation of those apps until they get updated, there are two ways scaling could be handled:

  1. Apps could be letterboxed, like when you run an iPhone app on an iPad. That mans that everything stays the same pixel size, and, if the 326 PPI density on the 4.7-inch model is true, the same physical size, too. But, while that looks passable on an iPad, it’s probably a lot less nice on a phone.

  2. Apps could be stretched to fill the display. This seems much more likely, given that it’s what occurred when the iPhone 4 was introduced. But, while scaling non-Retina apps to the Retina display looked gross, scaling Retina apps up by a little bit will probably look a helluva lot better. Consider the scaling options available on Retina MacBook Pros, for example: while non-panel-native resolutions make everything look a little bit blurry, it’s largely masked by the high-density display.

I’m still very skeptical of the 5.5-inch model, though. That seems gigantic, even by crazy huge Android phone standards. It’s going to be an exciting 2014.