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. So an industry rival exaggerated his criticism. A sensational magazine used exaggerated headline.

    Next thing you know they will claim that to call the iPhone thin is an exaggeration and false advertising since it is not as thin as paper.

  2. Guys, pixes per inch (PPI) and dots per inch (DPI) are not the same thing. 300 PPI looks better than 300 DPI. Look it up. (And, yes, I know that one refers to a computer screen and the other to print on paper–but the point stands).

  3. Can’t see a pixel?

    Most people can’t see…
    …your garage when they are chopping down their tree.
    …your car next to theirs in a parking lot.
    …you standing at the counter waiting for help.
    …school zone speed limit signs.
    …any of the warnings in the instruction manual.
    …the instruction manual.

    When other people start grasping the obvious, then I’ll begin to worry about pixels on my mobile phone.

  4. “Jobs’ words are marketing, but the bottom line is obvious: more pixels is better. Duh.”

    Actually, Jobs was pointing out that there is a major physiological improvement from reaching “around” 300 ppi. That being the point where lines start looking smooth instead of pixilated.

    It shows that Apple keeps an eye on the bottom line (user experience), rather than being caught up in features (“mine is bigger than yours”).

  5. @ John C. Randolph

    > I want a 300 DPI, 30″ Cinema Display.

    You were probably kidding ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />, but that would be pointless. Since the viewing (screen-to-eyeball) distance to something as large as a 30-inch display would be at least 24 inches (not 12 inches), the equivalent of the new iPhone’s 326 DPI would be about 160 DPI. The existing 30-inch Cinema Display happens to be about 100 DPI. If you placed it 36 inches from your eyes, 100 DPI is already the “magic number,” and the 27-inch iMac is about 110 DPI.

    Also, the resolution for a 300 DPI display at 30 inches diagonal is about 7680×4800 pixels. That’s 36,864,000 pixels to push around, or 9 times more than the current Cinema Display, which already requires a “dual-link” DVI connection. There is no commercially available graphics card that can come close to handling that resolution.

    Maybe in a few years, we’ll get a 160 DPI Cinema Display. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

  6. This is a situation where multiple “experts” can say seemingly contradictory things yet all be quite correct. Change a distance here, a category of eye there … it doesn’t take much. Heck … anyone reading this been to the movies lately? See any flicker there? What’s the frame rate, 24 FPS? Jump that to 32 FPS, or even 48 FPS, and you’ll still have “gamers” claiming it isn’t fast enough for them. Someone sold them a graphics card that can output 90 FPS and that’s faster so that’s “better”. Except … they can’t really detect any difference. Contrary statements are bull. You saw that at the movies.

  7. For some people any number of pixels on the new iPhone would not make its screen ‘clear’ enough. Most reasonable iPhone users can ‘see’ where Steve is coming from whilst the detractors will always be ‘blind’ to the truth.

  8. Never forget…this is Brian “Why the Japanese Hate the iPhone” Chen we are talking about here.

    You have to take EVERYTHING this “reporter” and his “sources” say with a HUGE grain of salt.

  9. “…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.”

    Overzealous Editor… Betcha didn’t see that one coming, did ya?

    At least we know where the New York Times can get up and coming “talent” these days!

    MDN magic word “trial” as in where ‘overzealous editors’ need to explain, why it is that they think they have the power to manipulate the truth?

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