Apple’s challenge to monitor makers

By Bob Raikes
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SID this year saw some really interesting innovations and developments in resolution and in OLED development and also in autostereoscopic S3D. One which stood out was the new 5 megapixel Retina display on the Macbook Pro from Apple.

There are still some technical barriers to be overcome in introducing Oxide TFTs to large area displays, but the industry is clearly committed to producing some fantastic looking products. I also agree with the view that the innovations in very thin flexible glass will lead to some so far unseen new products.

In the longer term, I’m still confident that innovation will be one of the keys to getting out of the economic mess that we’re in. Apple is to be applauded for, once again, challenging the industry to make really great products that will encourage buyers to get back into the market again. Although the new Macbook Pro will suffer in terms of power consumption for a year or two, the new high resolution OLEDs that we saw at SID should help sort out that problem.

Just as the Macbook Air forced Intel to develop the Ultrabook, I believe that the Macbook Pro will force PC vendors to create a new category of Windows-based notebooks.

So, now Apple has revolutionised the displays on smartphones, tablets and notebooks. The next display to be subject to ‘Retina’-isation should be the monitor. Now, the ppi for each display needed to meet this level of performance is less as the display is viewed from further away. Apple has set the notebook display at 220ppi. Monitors are viewed from further away – perhaps about 75cm against around 50cm for notebooks. That would mean that around 2/3 of the ppi needed, so to make the maths easier, let’s assume that’s 150ppi.

A quick calculation gives us a specification at 24″ of 3072 x 1920 resolution (6 megapixels), or 3500 x 2200 at 27″ (7 megapixels) if the aspect ratio was the same as the Macbook Pro at 16:10. The good news is that this is not that far away from the 27″ 2560 x 1440 displays 16:9 (4 megapixels) being sold already (and which are 108ppi) and which I have been promoting for the last couple of years.

Now, Apple already has its Thunderbolt display at 27″ and 2560 x 1440 which is 16:9 format. It’s not impossible that Apple would use a different aspect ratio from the Macbook, after all, it uses 4:3 for the iPad. So let’s assume that it will stick to just a 27″ monitor with 16:9 – that would suggest a resolution around 3200 x 1800 (but it could be 3072 x 1728).

I wouldn’t anticipate a problem making that class of display – it could even be an OLED as this level of dot density shouldn’t be a problem. However, Ray Soneira has pointed out that Apple has tried hard to get all of its displays to look the same. In theory, an OLED could be made to match the IPS displays in the iPhone, iPad and Macbook, but it would seem to make more sense to introduce an IPS panel now (there are multiple suppliers available, apart from anything else). That would allow Apple to introduce a whole range of OLEDs, with better colour, later.

Anyway, such a display would, by my reckoning, be supportable using DisplayPort 1.2 or Thunderbolt, which gets over one of the historic barriers to such display resolutions, that is, interfacing. The other is fonts and scaling and, of course, Apple has control of its own operating system environment and experience of shifting to high resolution already, so that is not a real barrier.

So, I expect to see a real challenge to monitor makers from Apple. Will they respond? I hope so, as this kind of innovation is the only way to offset the declining revenues in the business.