iPad Display Shoot-out: Apple Air 2 and Mini 3

One of Apple’s latest tablets is pushing the display boundaries once again, this time with display screen reflection in the Apple iPad Air 2 which cuts the record holder (Samsung’s) number by half with a meagre 2.5% overall reflectance, the lowest on record. Yes “One” not both of Apple’s new flagship tablets, for the iPad Mini 3 display is nothing less than an intentional Dud, to put it mildly, according to display metrics recently published by DisplayMate labs. We have characterized this report as the good, the bad and the ugly of the new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 flagship displays from Apple. The ‘good’ is the anti-reflective cover glass in the iPad Air 2; the ‘bad’ is how many of the top display innovations that went into making the iPhone 6 display were simply ignored when it came to migrating them over to the iPad series of tablets; and the ugly is Apple’s failure to include a color gamut upgrade and the anti-reflective cover glass in the iPad Mini 3.

Here are the details and our concluding thoughts.

First the Good

The ripple effect of the iPad Air 2 achievement of lowest screen reflectance is huge, according to measurements made by Dr. Ray Soneira’s DisplayMate Labs. The new Apple 9.7″ 2048 x 1536 pixel display showed 2:1 gains in virtually all display metrics including screen readability, image contrast and color saturation in high ambient light. Soneira states in his shoot-out article published this week: “A major innovation for the iPad Air 2 (that is not fully appreciated) is an anti-reflection coating on the cover glass that reduces ambient light reflections by about 3:1 over most other tablets and smartphones (including the previous iPads), and about 2:1 over the very best competing tablets and smartphones that include the new iPhone 6”. Interestingly, the boost from the anti-reflective coating used in the iPad Air 2 was measured by DisplayMate at 62% (decrease in reflected light glare) compared to previous generation iPads, while Apple, to its credit, claimed a more conservative 56% reduction. Earlier, the company characterized its iPad Air 2 as “the least reflective display in the industry”, and DisplayMate now confirms that claim – hands down.

The Bad

What Apple failed to do in its new iPad Air 2 was keep up with its own display innovations and upgrade path pioneered in the iPhone 6, according to Soneira’s iPad Display shoot-out. The iPhone 6 displays were rated by DisplayMate as “…the best performing smartphone LCD display that we have ever tested”, in the report. This was due in part to Apple’s use of a host of new technologies that pushed the mobile LCD industry forward in new and exciting ways which we all hoped to see duplicated going forward. The only problem is, the company failed to implement these hard won technologies in its new flagship iPad Air 2. The new technologies found in both the iPhone 6 panels were covered in our Display-Daily piece on October 13 and omissions from the flagship tablets include:

* Negative IPS (in-plane-switching) liquid crystal mode (used to enhance contrast)

* A thinner color filter with new green elements (used to enhance color gamut)

* Slimmer light guide plate in the backlight unit (used to drop thickness)

* 2-chip-in-1 LED backlight package (used to boost brightness)

* New brightness enhancement film, that DisplaySearch said combines two films in one (used to boost brightness and reduced thickness)

In addition, the new flagship tablet display actually loses ground in both brightness (8% lower) and power efficiency (a whopping 16% lower) than the original iPad4 that was introduced in 2012. Most of this latter issue is due to design constraints related to thinness and backlight performance, Soneira noted. In short, the iPad Air 2 flagship is “A Good Display with a Major Innovation”, according to the report. That innovation being the anti-reflective coating that makes the display the lowest reflectance one in the industry.

The Ugly

The iPad Mini 3 was characterized by Soneira as a “Major Disappointment” that he calls the “runt of the litter”. This display performs very close to the previous iPad mini 2 with Retina display including a 2048 x 1536 pixel LCD with 326 ppi. But Apple omitted a much needed color gamut upgrade (still at 62% color gamut, the same as the last gen) and failed to implement its innovative new anti-reflective cover glass. “So in addition to washed out, under-saturated and distorted colors (red tomatoes, fire trucks, and Coke cans look a bit orange rather than deep red, for example) it continues with a moderately high screen reflectance of 6.5%, almost triple that of its favored litter-mate, which further washes out its image colors in ambient light”, Soneira writes in his report. It is worth remembering that Apple wants up to $729 for the high-end (128 GB/cell) version of this 2012 display technology. – Steve Sechrist

Display Daily Comments

So there you have it, the good, bad and ugly from Apple’s latest offerings, complements of the iPad display shoot-out from DisplayMate. Suffice to say, Apple could have gone much further in its display offerings with both tablet products. Some (including me) will say that perhaps if the company were run by a visionary rather than an “MBA suit” (OK, ouch but true) we would not be writing this up, quite this way. And perhaps that’s what’s missing from those million dollar product announcements given by Apple lately. All the glitz is still there, rock stars, loud music and fancy slides, but the truth is the company is not producing the absolute best it can, as it did in the previous era. That simple truth comes across as the company is sacrificing its commitment to delivering top flight technology to bottom line optimization, and in the long run this will limit the unlimited future of any great company – even Apple. And even if the general public “feels” something’s not quite the same, the internal groups know this to be the case, and the best and brightest will lose heart, for they (and Apple customers) are not simply motivated by what the suits are after. (SC)