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Why the new ipad is revolutionary and all designers should love it

The new iPad resolution – not quite there, but a huge step in the right direction

Last week most of the tech-savvy world rejoiced in a massive “is that it?” as the new iPad was announced. Improved camera, better graphics processing and increased resolution – quite the anti-climax, right?

Not at all. In fact, the vastly increased resolution is a huge step forward for designers and an incredible continuation of Apple’s brilliant commitment to digital typography. Some, perhaps a lot, of people disappointed with the lack of features on the new iPad might question the value of a 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution on a 9.7 inch device, as “we can’t even see all those pixels anyway”. Well, that’s exactly the point – why the hell would we want to see pixels on our screens?

why the hell would we want to see pixels on our screens?

Open a book. Find a headline, a paragraph – any piece of type – and study it with your eyes. Now study it with a magnifyer. Can you see the pixels? Of course not, pixels don’t exist in real life (provided the type has been printed from a vector font, not a bitmap image, of course). Now open a web site or app on your Mac (Windows ain’t even worth mentioning) and do the same. Even without a magnifyer, and despite your state-of-the-art monitor, the pixels are visible – and if you can’t see the individual square edges, you’re sure to see the tricks (like anti-aliasing) we pull to hide them.

At 264 pixels per inch the iPad pixel density is getting very close to that of most printed material (300ppi), and the iPhone has already surpassed that at 326ppi. Although this doesn’t quite mean we will be able to produce typographic detail to match printed quality (our monitors will still convert vectors to pixels), our library of fonts will no longer be limited to current “screen-friendly” weights (ever tried rendering Helvetica Ultra Thin or even Didot on a monitor?). When the pixel density arms race takes off – which it will – we might even see the end to the increasing frustration with anti-aliasing, hinting and other screen font issues.

Considering the human eye can view a hypothetical 576 megapixels we’ve still got a fair distance to go

Considering the human eye can view a hypothetical 576 megapixels we’ve still got a fair distance to go, of course, but it’s a good start. My guess is in a few years most of us be sporting 300ppi monitors, and anything below that will be to typographic designers what IE6 and 7 is to developers. Or what all Windows machines are today.

The iPad just changed the game in terms of pixel density and, by extention, digital typography – and that’s why all designers should love it. Heck, I might even buy one some day!

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Author: Espen Brunborg

Espen can easily ruin conversations with questions about chimneys.




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  1. Chris March 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    ” Or what all Windows machines are today”. So a typographer, designer or general geek can’t be using Windows? Enjoyed the article until you said that. #fanboyfail

    • Gordon March 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Windows is atrocious at rending fonts so if you’re serious about typography, you really want to be using a Mac ;)

    • Espen March 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      What gordon said. Typographers and geeks can use windows as much as they like, as long as they accept the _far_ inferior font rendering. And it’s not just apple that’s better – even my android phone outperforms windows when it comes to typography…

  2. Alex March 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

    I’m actually really confused about how we are going to set the size for our web sites… how big should you make the logo if it could be on anything from a 326px per inch screen to a 72 pixel per inch screen. I looked at my company web site on the new iPad and yes, the font rendering looks incredibly sharp and easy to read… but all the image assets are slightly blurred as they have been artificially re-sized to match the new resolution.

    Interesting problems.

    I use a PC to design at work. I had the choice to use a PC or a Mac. I chose PC for the simple reason that most people still use PC’s and therefore, designing web sites on a Mac gives you false hope… then when you see your design on a PC it looks rubbish. I prefer to design on the PC and see my designs looking even better on a Mac during the testing phase.

    If I was a print designer I would use the Mac however, simply because they have the best screens.

    • Espen March 20, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      Alex, that is indeed an interesting problem, re sizing. I guess – and I’m hoping – that web will change to display images in a similar manner to inDesign; so html containers define the boundaries of images, but the file itself is/can be higher resolution, pulling only the resources needed for any given device. We shall see.

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