Everything You Need to Know About Apple Retina Display

When you hear the word retina, the words that come to mind are vivid, colorful, sharp, and clear but not apple. But did you know, specifically for non-Mac users, that surprisingly Retina is a widely-used and highly associated word to Apple because of the term Retina Display?

What is Retina Display?

Retina display is directly associated with the pixel density of Mac’s screen. Pixel density is what gives the screen its sharp quality. The Apple Retina display was introduced during the launch of iPhone 4 in June 2010. It was the first Apple product to had the Retina display. Steve Jobs described the screen as having too many pixels that are packed so closely together that it was difficult to see with the naked eye from 12 inches away. You won’t be able to see the pixels themselves.

For a device to be considered using Retina, two elements need to be accounted for, the density and the distance determining whether or not the pixels will be perceptible to the naked eye. This means that the longer the distance between your eyes and the screen, the lower the pixel density necessary to make the pixels disappear. So if you have a bigger screen, the farther your eyes will be from it and the lower the pixel density required for it to qualify as Retina.

Generally, mobile devices that are held close to your face like (iPhones and iPod Touch) require higher pixel density compared to those that are used farther away from your eyes (like MacBooks and iPads). To convert a device’s screen to Retina, Apple doubled the number of pixels horizontally and vertically. This means that there are four times more pixels in a Retina display compared to its non-Retina counterpart.

A Brief History of the Retina Display

The iPhone 4, the 1st Apple product that used Retina display, had a resolution of 326 ppi (pixels per inch) and when a screen has more than 300 ppi, per Steve Jobs, it falls under Retina display because the pixels seem to run together and create a visually smoother finish. The final visual resolution is especially useful for gadgets that have small screens. It makes it easier for users to read small text and makes photos and videos appear sharper.

After the iPhone 4, Apple released many other products using the Retina display – from iPhones to iPads and Macs. Some of the devices had 326 ppi, while others had less. The iPhones (iPhone 4 and later models), iPod touch (5th gen and onwards), and iPad mini (2nd gen) had 326 ppi while the 3rd gen iPad mini had 264 ppi, the 13″ MacBook Pro had 227 ppi, and the 15″ MacBook Pro had 220 ppi.

Retina vs Non-Retina Display

The biggest difference between a Retina and a non-Retina screen lies in the way text and images are presented to the users. A device with Retina display makes everything look crisper and sharper compared to their non-Retina counterparts. For example, text characters with curves look smoother on a Macbook retina display instead of having jagged edges such as on the non-Retina screens. This improves readability for users, especially for those with no 20-20 vision.

Retina HD and Super Retina HD

The Apple Retina display was a groundbreaking technology for Apple and most of its products after iPhone 4 carried this feature. But how do you describe the improved version of this feature? Apple has found the solution in borrowing terminology from the video industry, specifically the word HD or High Definition.

The standard resolution for HD video is 720 pixels and Apple’s iPhone 6 released in 2014 had a vertical resolution of 750 pixels while iPhone 6 Plus had 1080 pixels. So, Apple has used the Retina HD label for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and used it for the succeeding iPhones up to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus in 2017.

The Retina feature experienced another upgrade with the release of iPhone X this year. Sporting a 5.8 inches, 2436 x 1125, 458 ppi screen, the iPhone X was labeled with the latest Retina branding called Super Retina HD.

However, you’ll notice that these improved versions of Retina are not defined by the usual pixel density and distance variables that apply to the previous versions of Retina. Retina HD iPhone 6, 7 and 8 have the same 326 ppi screen as with the basic Retina iPhone 4, 5 and 5S. The HD and Super HD labels come from having a higher resolution, just like videos.

Retina 4K and 5K

The hottest concept in the world of video today is 4K and 5K. This means that screens with 4K display have 4,000 pixels horizontally and 5K has 5,000 pixels horizontally. So when Apple launched the 27-inch iMac with 5,120 horizontal pixels in 2014, it followed the concept of 4K displays and named it Retina 5K. The same thing happened with their 21-inch iMac with a horizontal resolution of 4096 pixels, which was called Retina 4K.

MacBook Retina Display

Most Macs are equipped with Retina display except for MacBook Air. MacBooks equipped with Retina display make streaming videos and movies more enjoyable because of the sharp screen. It is also easier to edit high-quality versions of your videos. However, make sure you clean your device from junk files with a 3rd party cleaning tool like Outbyte MacRepair to boost your MacBook’s performance.

What Apple Products Have Retina Display?

Most Apple products with a built-in display are labeled as Retina, Retina HD, or Retina Super HD. The only exceptions are the MacBook Air and the non-Retina version of the 21.5-inch iMac.

Here is a list of Apple products and their screen resolutions.

  • iPhone 4 & 4S – Retina 960 x 640, 326ppi
  • iPhone 5, 5S and 5C – Retina 1136 x 640, 326ppi
  • iPhone 6 and 6S – Retina HD 1334 x 750, 326ppi
  • iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus – Retina HD 1920 x 1080, 401ppi
  • iPhone SE – Retina 1,136 x 640 pixels, 326ppi
  • iPhone 7 and 8 – Retina HD 1334 x 750, 326ppi
  • iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus – Retina HD 1920 x 1080, 401ppi
  • iPad and iPad 2 – non-Retina
  • iPad 3,4, Ipad Air 1 and 2: Retina 2048 x 1536, 264ppi
  • iPad Pro 12.9 inches (2015 & 2017) – Retina 2732 x 2048, 264ppi
  • iPad Pro 9.7 inches (2016) and iPad 9.7 inches (2017) – Retina (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)
  • iPad Pro 10.5 inches (2017) – Retina 2224 x 1668, 264ppi
  • iPad mini 1 – non-Retina
  • iPad mini 2, 3 and 4 – Retina (2048 x 1536, 326ppi)
  • 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation iPod Touch – non-Retina
  • 4th gen iPod Touch – Retina 960 x 640, 326ppi
  • 5th and 6th gen iPod Touch – Retina 1136 x 640, 326ppi
  • MacBook – Retina
  • MacBook Pro – Retina
  • MacBook Air – non-Retina
  • iMac 21in – non-Retina and Retina 4K
  • iMac 27in – Retina 5K
  • iMac Pro – Retina 5K

Retina Display Competitors

There are many devices out there that exceed the specifications of a Retina display. For example, Sony’s Xperia Z5 Premium has a resolution of 3,860 x 2,160. That’s a whopping 806 ppi on a 5.5-inch screen. Samsung’s Galaxy S6, on the other hand, has 1440 x 2560 resolutions called Quad HD or QHD. This gives the S6 a pixel density of 577 ppi on a 5.1-inch screen. But, does having a higher ppi really make a difference? If what Steve Jobs said was true and 300 ppi is enough to make the pixels disappear, wouldn’t adding more pixels on the screen be redundant?

(Photo Credit: Apple)

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