Retina Display

It’s that time of year again, when rumors about the next iPad are in full swing. This year, there are already rumors circulating concerning the display, stating that Apple has moved to Sharp and Samsung from LG for production of their screens. It’s also rumored to be an HD display. I cannot help asking myself, could it afford not to be?

Last year, a high resolution display for the iPad 2 seemed to be almost a sure thing. The iPhone 4 had arrived over half a year prior, stirring up the desire for high-resolution panels with its high-density retina display.iPad 2 Scattered evidence appeared to lend credence to the notion. However, when Jobs revealed the tablet in March, it was apparent that the focus was thinner, lighter and faster, but not less pixelated.

What we may seem to be forgetting is that Apple is often keen to leave out key features, and then incrementally tack them on. Unless a feature is ready and absolutely necessary, there’s a good chance it won’t be making it into the product. We didn’t see an iPad retina display one year ago because Apple didn’t need to put a retina display into the iPad 2. This year, that need has arisen.

While Apple still dominates tablet market share, that large market share belies the reality that hardware competition is quite intense. Regardless of OS preference, or your opinion regarding trade dress, other OEMs such as Samsung and ASUS are putting out great hardware. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and more recently the Transformer Prime are two such examples. What initially set the iPad 2 apart, a thin profile, light weight and speed, are being undermined by the competition. The latest and greatest Android tablet, the TransformerSamsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Prime, is both thinner and lighter than the iPad 2, and has – depending on if you exclude the companion cores – two more cores in its processor. While Apple does not need the iPad to be at the very top of the heap to survive, it cannot afford to fall too far behind its competitors.

And that is exactly the problem with the display technology. Samsung already demonstrated an HD display prototype in May of this year, shortly after the iPad 2 debuted. Whether or not PenTile will be suitable for tablets is yet to be seen, but there is a belief that Samsung will release an HD tablet next year. If Apple does not respond with with own HD display, they would risk getting passed over by the the competition.

All things equal, the display is the most important part of the tablet. If a company must place a bet on a differentiator, the screen must be it. Its the first and most poignant element of interaction. It forms the preliminary reaction a consumer has to the product. Aesthetics aside, it’s also the most functional. Although tablets are used for video, games and pictures, the majority of time spent on tablets is dealing with text. This makes high resolution displays that much more desirable. While an HD screen does improve gaming, video watching and pictures, the greatest benefit will be displaying those 26 little characters with less pixelation.

Perhaps just as importantly, an HD display would give Apple the “wow” factor that it has been missing. The iPad 2 and iPhone 4S were worthy successors, but both lacked a certain punch that the forerunners had. Despite a number of hardware changes from the 3GS to the 4, the iPhone 4’s retina display was the highlight of the phone, the HD display of the iPad 3 could be a similar milestone.

While most of us in the tech industry were wrong when we predicted that the iPad 2 would have a high resolution display, it seems increasingly likely that the iPad 3 will fulfill those hopes. With the competition nipping so closely at its heels, how could it not?