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How super high-def displays change everything

Mike Elgan | June 17, 2013
Ultra high-resolution displays are suddenly possible for all screen devices. It's a great time to be an eyeball.

Technology is cool, and definitions are useful. But ultimately the mind-blowing thing about super high-resolution screens is the effect they have on your mind.

Suddenly you realize that all this time you experienced not only subtle eye fatigue, but also a subconscious psychological irritation at the fact that your brain has always wanted to see clean letters and smooth lines in photographs — to experience on-screen images the way you experience vision in the physical world — but what you were actually seeing was a digital impressionist painting that wasn't quite what it was supposed to be.

Suddenly, there's harmony. Your eyes actually see what your brain wants to see. It feels good to look at these screens.

Another interesting attribute of the super high-resolution screens is that it's a new technology without controversy, except perhaps its higher price.

Almost every user interface advancement has been something to argue about, a question of preference. Some people love touchscreens, others hate them. Some people love Samsung's new Air View (in which getting a finger or stylus close to the screen without touching triggers certain behaviors), others hate it.

We live in a world of controversial user interface cul de sacs, gimmicks and parlor tricks.

Yet super high-definition screens are a pure, unalloyed good for users lucky enough to enjoy good or corrected eyesight. They are just better.

And super high-resolution screens are making other things better, too.

Better interface design
Because all newer Apple phones have Retina-quality super HD displays with pixel densities of 326 ppi, Apple was able to create the first ever super HD-specific user interface.

When Apple unveiled iOS 7, some people said was a "flat" design devoid of skeuomorphism. Others said Apple copied other operating systems like Android and the Palm OS. Still others said iOS 7's bright, overly cheerful colors looked like some kind of My Little Pony theme.

There's vague truth to all these claims. But the most conspicuous attribute of iOS 7 is that it's a pure creature of the super HD world.

I've been playing with the developer release of iOS 7, and I've been struck by the purity of its vision for super high-definition displays.

For starters, Apple moved to a typeface called Helvetica Neue UltraLight, a super-thin font that appears in very small letters in iOS, such as under icons and for the display of the wireless carrier and time at the top of the screen. Top right on the main desktop view are location, alarm and "it's charging" mini icons that are microscopic, yet highly resolved. Many of the lines in icons and inside apps are incredibly thin.

All this adds up to a very designy look that would have been impossible on lower-resolution displays.


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