Over the last couple of years, Apple has become synonymous with quality displays. Starting with the incredible revelation of the iPhone 4’s Retina Display, Apple has specialized in making their displays more beautiful than the competition. While Retina displays haven’t come to all of Apple’s products yet, it’s clearly the future: when you look at one of their devices, Apple wants the screen itself to look like what’s on it is more real and alive than the competition.
The iPhone 4 was the first step towards this goal. Like digital camera makers before them, Cupertino started by cramming the iPhone 4’s display with as many pixels as possible, doubling the resolution to a then-unheard-of 960 x 640 resolution. According to Apple, this meant that from 10-12 inches away, the iPhone 4’s Retina display matched the “resolution” of the human eye, making pixels too small to be individually discerned (this actually isn’t true, but there’s no doubt it was a vast improvement).
The iPhone 4 and 4S Retina display had some small problems, though. According to display expert and DisplayMate honcho Dr. Raymond Soneira, the colors tended to be undersaturated, with too much contrast. The display also reflected about 8.1 percent of the light that bounced off of it, making it harder to see in bright light. The temperature of colors on the display was a little too blue, while the color gamut was only about 64 percent of what it should have been, with small color shifts and large brightness drops when viewed from angles other than having been seen head-on.
In other words, just like in digital cameras, there’s more to image quality than just resolution. With the new iPad and the Retina MacBook Pro, Apple solved most of the above problems. For the iPhone 5, Apple has rolled all of these improvements into their smartphone. The result is a display that looks every bit as vivid and bright and inky and colorful as the Retina MacBook Pro, just in the palm of your hand.
The blacks feel as if they have been painted on, and the brights shine.
Look at an iPhone 5 display, then look back at the screen on an iPhone 4S. It’s enough to make you say “bleccch.” Compared to the iPhone 5’s screen, the iPhone 4S looks washed out, dim to the eyes, as if there were a thin layer of grimy dish water between the glass and the panel. I’m not an expert in display quality, so the scientific tests I’ll leave to the likes of Dr. Soneira, but the effect is profound: colors are more colorful without being luridly oversaturated, and there are more of them. (Phil Schiller claims that, unlike the iPhone 4S’s meager 64%, the iPhone 5 runs the entire color gamut.) The blacks feel as if they have been painted on, and the brights shine.
Perhaps all of this talk of color gamut and contrast misses the point, though. The starkest improvement in the iPhone 5’s display isn’t that it has better colors or brightness or contrast, but the fact that it no longer seems to be light just shining out from under glass. Instead, the effect of using an iPhone 5 is as if you are looking at the surface of a painting upon glass. It’s absolutely beautiful.
The effect isn’t imaginary, either: it’s the result of a couple of major technological improvements of the iPhone 5. The first is Apple’s use of Gorilla Glass 2 for the screen, which is 20% thinner than its predecessor. The second is the new In-Cell touch technology used in the iPhone 5, which combines the LCD and the touchsensing layer into one. What this all means is that what’s on your iPhone 5’s screen is actually closer to your eyes than it once was and separated by less glass.
We have no doubt that in the iPhone 6, Apple will find a whole new way to wow us when it comes to display quality. But if the ultimate goal of display technology is to make the screen in front of your eyes like looking through a window to another world, Apple has taken that window and flung it open.