Retina Display is the name for the high-resolution screen technology that Apple uses on many models of the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products. It was introduced along with the iPhone 4 in June 2010. To understand what a Retina Display is, how it’s different from other screens, and also what products use it. In this article, we are going to talk about Everything you Should Know about Retina display – What is it. Let’s begin!
- 1 What Is actually a Retina Display?
- 2 Retina screens
- 3 Icon sizes
- 4 Retina HD & Super Retina HD
- 5 Liquid Retina HD
- 6 Retina 4K & 5K
- 7 How does it compare to rival products?
- 8 Apple products that have Retina displays?
- 9 iPhones
- 10 iPads
- 11 iPod touch
- 12 Current Mac range, as of Jan 2018
- 13 What about the Thunderbolt display?
- 14 Conclusion
What Is actually a Retina Display?
Retina Display actually gets its name from Apple’s claim that screens made using the technology are so sharp and high quality. That it’s impossible for the human eye to distinguish the individual pixels that actually make up the screen. A Retina Display smooths the edges of the screen’s pixels and makes images look more natural.
The advantages of the technology are visible in many uses but particularly with text. On a Retina Display, the curved edges of fonts are actually substantially smoother than on previous display technologies.
A Retina Display’s high-quality pictures are the result of many factors:
- A high density of pixels that also make up the screen.
- Also a high contrast ratio that creates brighter whites and deeper blacks as well.
- In-plane switching technology that actually improves the angles from which the screen can be viewed.
- Chemically treated glass over the screen and LED backlighting to improve the quality of the picture.
The first and most important criterion is pixel density: the statistic that actually gives the best idea of a screen’s sharpness.
When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone 4, and along with it the first Retina display. He says it as having a screen with so many pixels packed so closely together (it was rated as 326ppi – pixels per inch) that they were unnoticeable to the human eye at a distance of 12 inches. You would not see individual pixels: you’d just see the picture that those pixels created.
Since then, Apple has launched many more devices along with Retina displays. Some have pixel densities of more than 326ppi, but some with less.
It’s because there are two critical elements to whether or not pixels are perceptible: density and distance. The more your eyes are from the screen, the lower the pixel density needed to make the pixels ‘disappear’. Generally speaking, the bigger the screen, the further your eyes are likely to be from it and so the lower the pixel density need to ‘qualify’ as a Retina display.
So, such as the iPhone 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 all have screens with a pixel density of 326ppi, however, Plus versions have a higher density of 401ppi. The iPhone X, XS, and XS Max have pixel densities of 458ppi. Have a look at the 13in MacBook Pro, though, and its screen has a density of just 227ppi. But it actually qualifies as Retina because you sit further from a laptop screen.
So you see that it’s all a bit vague – however, the rough idea is that a screen is rated as Retina if it is sharp enough for the human eye not to be able to see the individual pixels at a typical usage distance.
In simple terms, Apple ‘converts’ a device’s display to Retina through doubling the number of pixels vertically and horizontal as well. That means it has four times as many pixels as its non-Retina counterpart.
If it did that and nothing else, but, there would be a problem. User interface elements just like menus and icons would look tiny. In order to compensate for this, Apple created what it calls HiDPI mode, where each interface element is doubled in size vertically and horizontally also. And so appears at the same size as it would on a non-Retina display as well.
Retina HD & Super Retina HD
Steve Jobs painted Apple into something of a corner when he says the pixels in the iPhone 4 as noticeable to the human eye. Where do you go from there then? How do you describe a screen that’s even better than that? Apple’s answer has been to borrow terminology from the video and broadcast industries as well.
When the iPhone 6 came out in 2014, it had a vertical resolution of 750 pixels, and a little more than the 720 pixels of vertical resolution that forms one of the standards for HD video. The iPhone 6 Plus has a vertical resolution of 1080 pixels, exactly the number of pixels that needed for the higher of the two HD video standards.
Never one to miss an opportunity for a catchy label, Apple labeled the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus that displays Retina HD. It continued to this label up to and that includes the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus in 2017.
But with the arrival of the iPhone X shortly after the 8-generation handsets, Apple actually took things one step further. With its 5.8in, 2436 x 1125, 458ppi screen, the X was actually deemed to deserve the latest version of the Retina branding: Super Retina HD. The same moniker applies to the iPhone XS and XS Max as well.
Note that these enhanced versions of Retina are not necessarily defined by the pixel density or distance equation in the same way as Retina itself: you will then note that the Retina HD iPhone 6, 7, and 8 all have 326ppi screens as well. The same as the plain Retina iPhone 5 and 5s as well. The HD and Super HD labels are earned by having a higher resolution as well.
Liquid Retina HD
New for 2018 is Liquid Retina HD actually. This name has applied to the LCD screen on the iPhone XR as well.
It has a resolution of 1792×828, and as it has a diagonal of 6.1in, this gives it the same 326ppi density just like many other iPhones. Then why the new branding?
There are a few reasons for that. This is now the first all-screen LCD in an iPhone and – unlike most ‘bezel-less’ Android phones. Apple has managed to prevent a thick bottom bezel on the iPhone XR (above, left). Apple says it’s the most color-accurate LCD screen on any phone, and it has high brightness and also contrasts ratio that allows it to display a wide color gamut for HDR video and photos as well.
Also, it has a True Tone which makes sure accurate colors no matter what the ambient lighting. Add in the pixel masking and sub-pixel antialiasing to help along with the curved corners, and we’d say it’s fair enough to give it a name that sets it apart from the normal Retina HD screens.
Retina 4K & 5K
HD is really old news in the world of video. Today, the highest-quality TV screens have 4K displays, that have 4,000 pixels horizontally.
So when Apple launched a 27in iMac with 5,120 horizontal pixels in 2014, then it used the same naming convention and called it Retina 5K. In October 2015, it launched a 21in iMac along with a horizontal resolution of 4096 pixels (and a pixel density of 218ppi) and called its display Retina 4K.
How does it compare to rival products?
No other companies use the Retina branding – Apple’s lawyers would soon have something to say if they ever did. But many makers of smartphones and tablets, in particular, have displays with pixel densities that are at least a match for Apple’s devices, and in some cases they far exceed it.
Examples include Sony’s Xperia Z5 Premium that has a resolution of 3,860 x 2,160 pixels – just shy of 4K – on a 5.5in screen. That gives it a pixel density of a monstrous 806ppi. And Samsung’s Galaxy S6 has a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels – that is known as Quad HD or QHD – on a 5.1in screen, giving it a pixel density of 577ppi.
Whether there’s any point in having 4K and QHD resolutions on a smartphone is arguable. If Steve Jobs’ assertion was right and 300ppi on a smartphone is enough to make pixels invisible, then squeezing in more pixels would seem to be redundant as well.
A Retina display, then, is not one with the highest resolution available but it maybe the optimal balance between image sharpness and the power needed to provide those images.
Apple products that have Retina displays?
As of January 2018, nearly every Apple product along with a built-in display is rated as Retina or better. The main exception is the MacBook Air, however, there’s also an older non-Retina version of the 21.5in iMac that remains available alongside its Retina 4K cousins.
For completeness, Let’s see the list of Apple’s macOS and iOS devices, and their screen classification.
- iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS: non-Retina
- iPhone 4: Retina (960 x 640, 326ppi)
- Apple iPhone 4s: Retina (960 x 640, 326ppi)
- iPhone 5: Retina (1136 x 640, 326ppi)
- iPhone 5c: Retina (1136 x 640, 326ppi)
- Apple iPhone 5s: Retina (1136 x 640, 326ppi)
- iPhone 6: Retina HD (1334 x 750, 326ppi)
- iPhone 6 Plus: Retina HD (1920 x 1080, 401ppi)
- Apple iPhone 6s: Retina HD (1334 x 750, 326ppi)
- iPhone 6s Plus: Retina HD (1920 x 1080, 401ppi)
- iPhone SE: Retina (1,136 x 640 pixels, 326ppi)
- Apple iPhone 7: Retina HD (1334 x 750, 326ppi)
- iPhone 7 Plus: Retina HD (1920 x 1080, 401ppi)
- iPhone 8: Retina HD (1334 x 750, 326ppi)
- Apple iPhone 8 Plus: Retina HD (1920 x 1080, 401ppi)
- iPhone X: Super Retina HD (2436 x 1125, 458ppi)
- iPhone XR: Liquid Retina HD (1792×828, 326ppi)
- Apple iPhone XS: Super Retina HD (2436 x 1125, 458ppi)
- iPhone XS Max: Super Retina HD (2688 x 1242, 458ppi)
- iPad and iPad 2: non-Retina
- iPad 3: Retina (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)
- Apple iPad 4: Retina (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)
- iPad Air 1: Retina (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)
- iPad Air 2: Retina (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)
- Apple iPad Pro 12.9in (2015): Retina (2732 x 2048, 264ppi)
- iPad Pro 9.7in (2016): Retina (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)
- iPad 9.7in (2017): Retina (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)
- Apple iPad Pro 10.5in (2017): Retina (2224 x 1668, 264ppi)
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2017): Retina (2732 x 2048, 264ppi)
- iPad mini 1: non-Retina
- Apple iPad mini 2: Retina (2048 x 1536, 326ppi)
- iPad mini 3: Retina (2048 x 1536, 326ppi)
- iPad mini 4: Retina (2048 x 1536, 326ppi)
- 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation: non-Retina
- 4th gen: Retina (960 x 640, 326ppi)
- 5th gen: Retina (1136 x 640, 326ppi)
- 6th gen: Retina (1136 x 640, 326ppi)
Current Mac range, as of Jan 2018
- MacBook: Retina
- MacBook Pro: Retina
- Apple MacBook Air: non-Retina
- Mac mini & Mac Pro: don’t come with screens
- iMac 21in: Available in both non-Retina and Retina 4K versions
- iMac 27in: Retina 5K
- Apple iMac Pro: Retina 5K
What about the Thunderbolt display?
Sadly, in spiite of having launched a 27in iMac with a Retina display in 2014, Apple has yet to upgrade its Thunderbolt display to Retina. Indeed, the product was discontinued in 2016, although it is now expected to make a comeback alongside the new Mac Pro, at which point we expect it to go Retina.
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