Phil Plait, Ph.D: Apple iPhone 4’s Retina display is indeed as stunning as Steve Jobs claims

“With much bruhaha, Steve Jobs and Apple revealed the new iPhone 4 yesterday. Among other features, Jobs said it has higher resolution than older models; the pixels are smaller, making the display look smoother,” Phil Plait, Ph.D. reports for Discover Magazine’s “Bad Astronomy” blog. “To characterize this, as quoted at, Jobs said, ‘It turns out there’s a magic number right around 300 pixels per inch, that when you hold something around to 10 to 12 inches away from your eyes, is the limit of the human retina to differentiate the pixels.'”

“In other words, at 12 inches from the eye, Jobs claims, the pixels on the new iPhone are so small that they exceed your eye’s ability to detect them,” Plait writes. “Pictures at that resolution are smooth and continuous, and not pixellated.”

“However, a display expert has disputed this. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate Industries, was quoted both in that Wired article and on PC Mag (and other sites as well) saying that the claims by Jobs are something of an exaggeration: ‘It is reasonably close to being a perfect display, but Steve pushed it a little too far,'” Plait reports.

“This prompted the Wired article editors to give it the headline ‘iPhone 4’s ‘Retina’ Display Claims Are False Marketing.'” As it happens, I know a thing or two about resolution as well, having spent a few years calibrating a camera on board Hubble,” Plait reports. “Having looked this over, I disagree with the Wired headline strongly, and mildly disagree with Soneira.”

Plait reports, “The headline used by was clearly incorrect; Jobs wasn’t falsely advertising the iPhone’s capabilities at all. I’ll note that I like Wired magazine quite a bit, and what we have here is most likely just an overzealous editor. But a lot of people read the headlines and it taints their view; someone reading that article may be more likely to think Jobs, once again, has overblown a product to excite people. He didn’t.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The iPhone 4’s Retnia display has to be seen to be appreciated. It truly is stunning and elicits gasps when first seen. No amount of FUD can obscure its clarity.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “jax44” for the heads up.]


  1. History repeats itself once again. Dumbasses who have not yet seen a newly announced Apple product are quick to pass judgement and soon after live to eat crow when the product gets into the hands of the consumer. IPod, iPhone and the iPad all went through this.

  2. The more people rush to deny Apple’s claims without even seeing the product, the more stunning it appears when people see it for the first time – “It really *is* as good as they claim!”

    These naysayers only help make Apple’s products look even better than they already are.

  3. For those who followed the discussion between me and “MapMaker” on the previous post about the limits of the human retina, here’s the conclusion from this new author, Mr. Plait:

    People with “perfect” eyesight can resolve objects at somewhat higher than 300dpi, while people with “normal” or “average” eyesight are limited to 280dpi or so.

    If Steve Jobs had specifically said the limit of a “perfect” retina is 300dpi, he would have been wrong. But he referred to “the limit of the human retina”, and most people would interpret that to mean a “normal” or “average” retina, so a reasonable person would not say he was inaccurate or exaggerating.

    But all that is a technical matter having nothing to do with the display itself. Given that anti-aliasing is undoubtedly used to smooth curves (perhaps even sub-pixel anti-aliasing), there is simply no way that even a person with perfect eyesight will be able to see “the jaggies” on the iPhone 4.

    I can’t wait for the iPod Touch counterpart!

  4. Astonishing breaking news!

    “Steve pushed it a little too far…”

    Let’s see – everything Apple can be found nowhere else on the planet, it’s magical, it’s revolutionary, it’s amazing, boom, it just works, it’s phenomenal, there’s nothing like it, boom again, and every other superlative known to Webster.

    And, it’s all absolutely true because Steve says it.

  5. @Varth Dader: “…the vast number of average consumers WOULDN’T KNOW WHAT A “PIXEL” IS, IF IT BIT THEM ON THE ASS.”

    True, but that’s not the point. The point is that the average consumer can easily tell the difference between the old iPhone screen and the new iPhone screen. They won’t use terms like “pixels” and “dpi”, but they’ll use terms like “sharper” and “easier to read.”

  6. Slow news day requires something fun.

    Remember the Glass Bead Game? Bach, Escher and Gödel would love to play if they weren’t dead.

    Funny how the universe winds down . . .

  7. My Ph.D was in human vision and thresholds are notoriously difficult to measure and will vary between individuals, but it sounds like Phil Plait is right and Wired isn’t.

  8. @Mr. Obvious,

    For which lame-oid cell phone manufacturer do you process returned and malfunctioning cheap-ass hardware? And isn’t it distracting for your fellow workers when you’re glowing bright green with envy?

  9. Who is paying Wired and PC Mag to write their fud? M$ used to but they don’t have a mobile presence anymore. Perhaps Wired and PC are just used to the old days. Too bad the check won’t be in the mail.

  10. Ah, I just looked at DisplayMate Industries web site – they don’t make anything that I can find for Macs!! Perhaps it is because Macs don’t need calibration? Nevertheless, I suspect the bias of their fearless leader who tended to minimize the new iPhone display.

  11. @amazing

    Wired’s over-zealous editor found a contrary opinion. How hard can that be? It begs the question, was Mr Displaymate paid for his opinion?

    Anyone who has worked with Photoshop for any length of time knows 300 dpi/ppi is the sweetspot for most people’s eyes, especially printing to paper.

    However, that’s not to say printing at 1200 dpi to film is unnoticeable, which is what we find in those costly high-gloss magazines and brochures.

    Wired’s editors, of all people, can appreciate that fact. To print anything over 300 dpi, even for a glossy magazine, is a terrible waste of time, money, and ink.

    Jobs’ passion for Apple products is indisputable, and he can lay it on a little thick at times, but that pales in comparison to the way I tend to evangelize their products!

    Can I get an amen, from the choir?

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