The Display: In Numbers

Apple is very big on maintaining a consistent experience between its products. We see this a lot in our Mac reviews where it's not unusual to see similar white points across virtually all Apple products. It's no surprise that the with the move to the Retina Display Apple wanted to retain as much of the original iPad's display characteristics as possible. We'll start with an analysis of brightness and contrast, both of which remain relatively unchanged from the iPad 2:

Display Brightness

Display Brightness

Display Contrast

Apple is expected to have triple sourced panels for the new iPad, so you can expect to see variation in these results but for the most part you can expect the new iPad's display to perform similarly to the previous model.

Despite similar brightness and contrast to the previous model, the new iPad offers remarkably better color gamut and color reproduction than its predecessor. Relative to other tablets, the iPad's display is spectacular.

Display Color Gamut (sRGB)

As we mentioned in our Retina Display analysis, Apple delivered on its claims of a 44% increase in color gamut. The new iPad offers nearly full coverage of the sRGB color space and over 60% of the Adobe RGB gamut:

Display Color Gamut (Adobe RGB)

Below is the CIE diagram for the new panel with an sRGB reference plotted on the same chart so you can visualize the data another way:

Color accuracy has improved tremendously if we look at delta E values for the primary and secondary colors:

Remember from our display reviews, lower delta E values indicate greater color accuracy. Values below 4 are typically considered good and you can see that the iPad 2 as well as the Transformer Prime both fell short in this department. With the new iPad Apple has clearly focused on color accuracy, which makes sense given it was used as the vehicle to introduce iPhoto for iOS.

Apple still has a lot of work ahead of itself to really put forth a professional quality display in a tablet, but for now the Retina Display is easily the best we've seen in a tablet and a tremendous step forward.

What's most absurd about the iPad's Retina Display is that you're able to get this resolution and panel quality in a $499 device. While we must be careful not to give Apple too much credit here as Samsung, Sharp and its other display partners clearly make the Retina Display, it's obvious that Apple has really been pushing its partners to develop solutions like this.

The biggest problem in the production of any commoditized component is the primary motivation for innovation is to lower cost. For years I argued with notebook PC makers to use higher quality LCD panels but no one was willing to commit to the quantities that would lower costs enough. I was also told that as soon as you put these notebooks on shelves at Best Buy, users wouldn't really care whether they were getting a high quality IPS display or not—all that mattered was the final price.

Apple, under the leadership of Steve Jobs, had a different mentality. Steve's pursuit was quality and experience, cost was a secondary concern. Through slow and steady iteration of this approach, Apple was able to build up a large enough customer base and revenue to be a significant force in the industry when it came to driving costs down. Apple can easily fill your fabs and eat all that you can produce, but you'll have to do whatever it wants to get the order.

Apple's behavior since it got rich has been to drive down the cost of higher quality components, LCDs being a perfect example. Unfortunately other companies don't benefit as much here as Apple tends to buy up all of the production of what it has pushed to create. That's one reason why, although ASUS was first to introduce a 1080p Transformer Pad, it won't launch until well after the new iPad. From what I've heard, the panel makers are all busy servicing Apple's needs—everyone else comes second.

Eventually the entire industry will benefit and all indications point to Apple doing something special for "pro" users in the notebook space next. As I've said previously, Apple has raised the bar with the iPad's Retina Display. The time for average display quality in a $500 tablet is over, the bar has been raised. It remains to be seen whether or not Apple will be able to maintain this quality across all suppliers of its Retina Display. On the iPhone Apple has been entirely too lax about maintaining consistency between suppliers. If it wants to be taken seriously in this space Apple needs to ensure a consistent experience across all of its component vendors.

The Display & Retina Enabled Apps The Display: In Practice
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  • antef - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Yes it's nice, no one will argue that. But I don't see it as the huge advancement the authors indicate. Using it in the store it seemed fine, but honestly just walking right up to it, I wasn't even sure if I was using the new or old iPad. I had to go over to the iPad 2 to recognize the difference. And even then, after being back at the new iPad for a couple minutes, I completely forgot about it. If you are looking for pixels, sure, you'll notice. If you're just using your device and thinking about other things, probably not so much. Reply
  • PeteH - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Eh, I think it depends on what application you use the iPad for. Web browsing and Tweeting? You're probably right, you wouldn't notice the difference in displays. But if you use it to view images I could see it being a big deal. Reply
  • zorxd - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I am pretty sure extra resolution is more noticeable when reading text than when looking at images Reply
  • PeteH - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I didn't mean "notice" as in you couldn't tell the difference, just that the difference wouldn't be something that you would constantly be aware of if you were simply web browsing.

    If you were reading an e-book? Absolutely, but if that's your only use case I'd get a Kindle and save the money.

    Regularly viewing quality images is something that can't be done on an e-ink reader, but for which the improved display would make a huge difference.
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I would say this is a perfect example of why it's better to use "I"" statements than say "YOU won't notice, YOU won't care, there isn't that much difference" - those kinds of statements. "I didn't notice much of a difference, it wasn't a big change in MY experience. . .)

    Displays can very very personal in experience, and things that bug the heck out of me may not be a problem to someone else. For example, a pixel pitch of around .270mm is just too big for me, in a monitor, and it bugs me. Always.

    Frame rates are a good example of something I'm not consciously aware of all the time, but I can sure tell the difference on some level, and some displays are more effected than others. There are extra factors in LCD screens that can make the problem worse for some of us - others don't notice so much, or it's just not a problem for them.

    One thing I believe, is that as more people use really better screens, they'll understand more why some of us call for them every chance we get.

    ;)
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I can *immediately* notice the difference in web browsing, which is primarily focused on reading text... Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I found it a noticeable difference, just not neuron melting like some reviews led me to think. For 100 or more less I'd still be plenty happy with an iPad 2, especially given the CPU and battery life performance are about the same. Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately the iPad 2's camera is a disgrace. It should've had the iPhone 4 camera, which was already out by that time. Reply
  • repoman27 - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    The iPad 2 was also thinner than the iPhone 4. Now that it is the same width, it has the same camera. It's not really Apple's style to add thickness to a device just to support one feature that isn't heavily used anyway (tablets are not a very good form factor for a camera.) Reply
  • zanon - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Human vision varies significantly from person to person, as do use patterns for machines. Someone who is more near sighted or simply has better vision in general, and/or uses their system at a closer distance, may see a truly dramatic change. To take my personal example, I have excellent color vision and am also near sighted, and tend to hold my devices relatively close (or use glasses at my machine). I can see the pixels on the iPhone 4 screens (326 ppi) if I focus a bit, and for the older screens (or old iPads) they're massively pixelated to me (not that that made them useless). The High DPI screens are a night/day difference personally, making all types of reading in particular (be it on a terminal session, the web, PDF manuals, ebooks, or whatever) massively more functional (and everything else more beautiful).

    But that's just me, and is that awesome? No, it's kind of meh, I'd love it if I didn't need glasses to use my desktop without being hunched over the keyboard to drive. But understand that you'll see raves about the screen that are completely justified, just not for you. 20/20 vision puts the critical distance around 13" I think, but in the end everyone will need to take a look for themselves.
    Reply

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