∞ Apple's Retina Display claims are not false, says expert

Apple’s Retina Display included in the iPhone 4 has caused quite a stir this week, including claims that Apple is misleading consumers. However, a vision scientist contacted by The Loop says Apple has it right. A Wired article earlier this week quoted Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies, who said the Retina Display was a “misleading marketing term” and that Steve Jobs “pushed it a little too far.”

Not so, according to William H.A. Beaudot, Ph.D., a vision scientist who was a research associate at McGill University in Montreal and founder of KyberVision. “In my opinion, Apple’s claim is not just marketing, it is actually quite accurate based on a 20/20 visual acuity,” said Beaudot.

Beaudot explained that the magic number of 300 pixels per inch that Steve Jobs talked about in his keynote is closely related to the standard visual acuity (20/20). “A visual acuity of 20/20 means that a normal human eye can discriminate two points separated by 1 arc minute (1/60 deg). A visual angle of 1 arc minute seen from a distance of 1 foot corresponds to a dot size of about 89 micrometers or a pixel density of 286.5 dpi. Since the “Retina” display has a pixel density of 326 dpi (14% better than what we would expect from a 20/20 visual acuity at 1 ft), it would seem unfair and misleading to refute Apple’s marketing claim on this basis,” he said.

The optimal viewing distance quoted by Jobs is about 12-inches, but Beaudot says that viewing distance may be too conservative. He measured the comfort distance from his eye to the iPhone 3GS and found it to be around 18-inches. Even at this distance, Apple’s numbers hold up.

“At this comfort distance, Apple’s Retina Display would provide exactly the higher limit in angular resolution argued by Dr. Soneira (50 cpd). So Apple’s claim not only remains valid, but gets even stronger for any reasonable viewing distance beyond 12-inches,” said Beaudot.

Dr. Soneira also claims in the Wired article that the term Retina Display is more of a marketing term and is “superamplified imaginary nonsense.” Beaudot doesn’t agree.

“Since this display is able to provide a visual input to the retina with a spatial frequency up to 50 cycles per degree when viewed from a distance of 18-inches, it almost matches the retina resolution according to the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem,” said Beaudot. “As such, Apple new display device can be called without dispute a Retina Display. Could it get better? Sure, but so far this is the closest thing ever done in display technology for the consumer market that matches the human retina resolution.”

  • I bet this expert's opinion doesn't make it on other tech writers web sites.

  • Joe

    This just shows how shoddy Wired's reporting is nowadays. A good journalist does his/her research and doesn't depend on just a single source. They should have contacted other vision scientists and ophthalmologists to determine whether Soneira's claims to his 15 minutes of fame is legitimate or not.

  • Better yes, Phil Plait, of the Bad Astonomy fame, did a great – if thorough – analysis with the same conclusion at &lt ;http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/06/10/resolving-the-iphone-resolution/>

    • Eric

      Thanks for the link. It just occured to me as I was posting my comment there that the Apple haters are like the bozos in Salem Massachusettes who were running around persecuting witches. The accused could not offer proof that they were not witches, and the test to detect witches were rigged to prove they were. And that's what the Apple haters are doing. They're screaming about Steve Jobs being a witch. And any protestations to the contrary, and evidence offered is only twisted to prove what they believe about him in the first place.

  • Robert
  • "…so far this is the closest thing ever done in display technology for the consumer market that matches the human retina resolution."

    If these calculations are correct, there are already at least a few devices that meet or exceed the 300 ppi threshold: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_displays_by_

    …they do it with smaller screens (and therefor fewer pixels overall), but the density is the same.

    … …so all this talk of "first" can probably stop now.

    … … …not that it diminishes the value of such high resolution on the iPhone, but they weren't first.

    • honkj

      i'm not sure you know what you were looking at in that link??? you may want to look at it again.

  • been reading lots of anti Apple articles from Wired these days… used to be one of my favorite mags, these days they no different from any bloggers site…..

  • honkj

    high resolution also means citing high pixel count in total. none of those screens even comes remotely close to the iPhone 4 in pure numbers of pixels even…..

  • steffenjobbs

    You know why none of this matters? Because the consumers are going to take one look at the Retina Display and their jaws will drop. They're not going to get caught in a game of numbers. Any consumer that has fairly decent vision that looks carefully at the Retina Display will notice that it's very legible. I could understand if Apple said it was some great technology and it looked blurry, but it doesn't. So whatever that iHating Soneira said, it's not going to matter one bit when it comes to iPhone sales. All that dude wanted was some attention and get a chance to show off his stupidity. Like Soneira actually held an iPhone 4 in his hands before shooting off his mouth.

  • All these people who are up in arms about Steve's statement are wonderful. They love making comments and citing technical details and thundering pontifications about a display that they have never seen up close–one they've never held in their hands. My request is: Please SHUT UP until the damn phone is released, then use one for a few minutes, and THEN make your comments. Rationality anyone?

  • Hello, I'm the vision scientist cited above. Those not yet tired with this controversy can have a look at my full take on it from the perspective of a vision scientist: http://www.kybervision.com/Blog/files/AppleRetina

  • tewha

    I really wonder what was going through Chen's head. It looks like he's just a shameless attention whore.

  • Hi William, thanks for clarifying this issue, there's so much confusion about it. Just one little thing: the unit of pixel density is ppi (pixels per inch) – not dpi (dots per inch). Dpi is from the print world, for visual display units, it's ppi. Check out my blog on the topic: http://community.infragistics.com/blogs/ux/archiv

  • discussed

    > so far this is the closest thing ever done in display technology for the consumer market that matches the human retina resolution

    Any f*^&ing TV display, be it 1940s-vintage or the latest UHD behemoth, matches the human retina resolution when viewed from the distance it was meant to be viewed from.