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Future Apple Displays — Should they change aspect ratios?


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Future Apple Displays — Should they change aspect ratios?
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
awesome
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2019-07-29, 02:34

With the new MacBook Air, Apple has virtually completed the transition to Retina displays, with only a single circa-2017 iMac SKU still using a pre-retina display. But on the iPhone and iPad, Apple has already started their transition to edge-to-edge Liquid Retina displays. With a new MacBook Pro with a larger display rumored to be on the horizon, I think it'd be fun to start thinking about the implications of this transition for the Mac, and for the rest of the iPad line.

The new MacBook Pro is rumored to have a 16-inch display, which isn't worlds apart from the current 15.4-inch display. What that suggests to me is that this new MacBook Pro, while potentially a higher-end premium SKU initially, will eventually become the next generation of the 15-inch model, as opposed to existing as a separate high-end model, like the old 17-inch line. To me that suggests that the size of 16-inch MacBook Pro as a whole will be similar to the 15-inch model, with the larger screen being made possible by smaller bezels — a Liquid Retina display. If it's the replacement for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, Apple isn't going to want it to be dramatically bigger, despite the bigger screen.

The most likely scenario is that Apple keeps the same 16:10 aspect ratio. But honestly, I think that's a mistake. I think Apple should move to 3:2 displays, on both MacBooks and iPads.

I think it would be difficult to fit a 16-inch 16:10 display on the current 15-inch MacBook Pro form factor — the bezels on the left and right are already quite small. The MacBook body would have to get wider. There's much more room for the display to grow on the top and bottom. (A key point of the "Liquid Retina" design is that the bezels on all sides are equal, which creates the illusion that it's pushed right up to the edge — that you're just holding a magic screen. The bezels on the left and right side of the Liquid Retina iPad Pro actually could be smaller, as could the bezels on the sides of the iPhone XR, but that would destroy the illusion.) But this isn't even the most important thing.

Apple does something weird with the current retina MacBook Pros: they run them at scaled non-native resolutions. The 1600-line 13-inch model isn't running as a 2x "Retina-ized" 800-line display, as it used to with the first Retina models. It's now emulating a 900-line display with more screen real estate, even though this non-integer scaling makes things less crisp. Likewise, the 1800-line 15-inch model isn't behaving as a 2x 900-line display, as it used to, but as a slightly blurry 1050-line display.

I detest this. (Thankfully, you can change it in settings.) But I understand why they do it: it's nice to have more screen real estate. 800 lines isn't a lot, on a 13-inch display. The old 11-inch MacBook Air had 768 lines. I'm emphasizing lines because honestly, I think the vertical height is where you feel the space crunch the most. The 16:10 aspect ratio is already wide and narrow, and by the time you take out the default position of the Dock along the bottom, the menu bar along the top, and the window chrome and toolbars or tabs for whatever app you're using just below that, the space for your actual content is narrower still.

I think a 3:2 display would help address this. By adding vertical height, I think there would be enough of an increase in real estate where Apple could get back to running them at 2x scaling at default, even if they don't make the pixels dramatically smaller (as I don't expect them to). If the 16-inch display runs at 3072x2048 instead of the rumored 3072x1920, that's 1024 lines at 2x scaling, which is a stone's throw away from the current 1050 (less crisply scaled) lines. If a future 14-inch replacement for the 13-inch models runs at 2688x1792, that's 896 lines at 2x — essentially the same as the current 900 lines. Everything would be slightly bigger, of course — the same size it was on the original Retina MacBook Pros — and, more importantly, crisper, since there would be no messy non-integer scaling. (If a user wanted more screen real estate, they could of course change the scaling in the settings, as now.)

There are other computers that use 3:2 displays — such as Microsoft's well-regarded Surface products — and reviewers and users seem to love them. Because honestly, height is what you want when you are browsing the web or writing code, not more width on an already wide display. I think 3:2 displays just makes sense for the MacBooks. If you look at the shape of the MacBook Pro itself, it's far closer to 3:2 than 16:10. That's an important thing to consider, as we move closer to edge-to-edge displays without dramatically changing the shape of the product. (Strictly speaking, MacBooks are a little more square than 3:2, but if you took a 3:2 rectangle and added an equal bezel to each side, the resulting rectangle would also be a little more square than 3:2.)

•••

But I don't just think that MacBooks should move to the 3:2 aspect ratio. I think iPads should move to a 2:3 aspect ratio, as well. (To eliminate confusion, I'll refer to the iPad's aspect ratio in portrait orientation.)

In the past I've thought the iPad's 3:4 aspect ratio was an asset. 10:16 and 9:16 tablets are awkwardly narrow when held in the portrait orientation. The 7.9-inch iPad mini has 40% more screen area than a 7-inch 9:16 tablet, yada yada yada. That extra width (in portrait) was necessary to enable it to feel like a book.

But as we move to edge-to-edge displays, 3:4 doesn't make as much sense any more. It would feel weirdly squat. We're used to carrying iPads that are taller. If an iPad is supposed to feel like a book, a 3:4 all-screen iPad doesn't; almost no book has a 3:4 aspect ratio. What we really want is an iPad that's the same size but fills in the top and bottom bezels with more screen. This means a taller, less square aspect ratio. Like 2:3.

Apple's already started moving to taller aspect ratios on the iPad. The 11-inch iPad Pro has a bizarro 139:199 aspect ratio — about 7:10. They arrived at that ratio by taking the 10.5-inch iPad, keeping the overall dimensions about the same, and extending the screen vertically, filling in the thick top and bottom bezels until the bezels on all sides were equal.

In a way it's sort of a pity that they did that first with the (then) one-off 10.5-inch iPad. Because if you do the same, but with the familiar 9.7-inch iPad profile that we've known since the iPad Air, you arrive virtually precisely at a 2:3 display. (The aspect ratio is slightly different from the 11-inch Pro, because the top and bottom bezels are bigger percentage-wise on the 9.7-inch iPad's face.)

I think this is what Apple should do, for the "iPad X" or whatever. The 9.7-inch model is, honestly, the one that matters the most — it's far more familiar than the 10.5-inch or 11-inch models. Put a bigger 2:3 edge-to-edge screen on that form factor, give it Face ID and the works, and you have a real winner, I think. (A 2:3 display with the same width as the current 9.7-inch 3:4 display, but more height, would be about 10.5 inches along the diagonal — not to be confused with the current 10.5-inch 3:4 display on the iPad Air, which would actually be slightly larger in area. A 2:3 display with the same width as the current 7.9-inch iPad mini display, but more height, would be about 8.5 inches along the diagonal.)

Apple is not currently rumored to do this. They are rumored to be introducing a 10.2-inch iPad, which is honestly a pretty bizarre size — but it's about what you'd get if you took the 9.7-inch display, keep the width the same, and give it that bizarro 139:199 aspect ratio. But it seems that 10.2-inch iPad is supposed to replace the $329 cheapie iPad, and it's probably too soon for that product to go Liquid Retina or edge-to-edge? So I have no idea what to make of that rumor. Maybe it's just a bigger 3:4 screen. But I don't think we need another new size of iPad, between 9.7 and 11-inches, if it's not in the service of unifying the iPad line on a new aspect ratio that will eventually make things simpler. (An interesting thing about the iPad is that every single screen size that has ever been introduced is currently part of the line.)

•••

iPads are moving toward taller, less square aspect ratios. MacBooks should move to less wide, more square aspect ratios. I think it's natural that they'd meet in the middle, at 3:2.

I could get into all the weird ways these resolutions happen to line up, like how a 3:2 wider version of the current iPad display, keeping the short side the same, would have the exact same pixel count in both dimensions as less wide 3:2 version of the 12-inch MacBook display, keeping the long side the same. But this post is already too long, so I'll stop here.

One final thought: iMacs. They're overdue for a redesign, and by building a system around flash and eliminating the bulky hard drive, they could maybe finally get rid of that chin, on at least the non-Pro models (the Pro seems to need all the room it can get). Or...they could switch to a 3:2 display and cover the chin up with screen. Because the rectangle of the iMac is the exact aspect ratio for a 3:2 screen with a narrow bezel. And if you take that 14-inch 2688x1792 display, double each dimension, and decrease the ppi slightly from the MacBook standard to the iMac standard, you'd end up with...a ~30-inch 3:2 display that would fit perfectly on the current 27-inch iMac case.

Just a thought.

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
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chucker
 
Join Date: May 2004
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2019-07-29, 05:35

I don’t know if the aspect ratio needs to change, but I do wish they’d increase the physical ppi.

(Though honestly, I've been using this 1440x900 @ 2x display at a virtual 1920x1200 for half a decade, and the blur isn't really noticeable to me.)
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2019-07-30, 23:00

Today Gizmodo published an article about the benefits and drawbacks of the increasingly popular 3:2 display notebooks.

Gizmodo says 16:9 displays are the best for watching video. But Apple already uses 16:10 displays in its notebooks, because 16:9 displays are impractically narrow for things that aren’t video. In the MacBook’s case, if Apple kept the screen width the same but increased the height, it’s not like the resulting notebook would be any worse than the current one for 16:9 video. Everything would be the exact same size as it currently is, slightly letterboxed as it currently is. And the notebook would be better for everything that isn’t video.

Adopting a 16” 16:9 or 16:10 display might be better for video, but that would also mean increasing the width of the notebook. I think Apple takes the physical form of their products seriously. The MacBook doesn’t have a 16:10 shape, even now, and I think that isn’t an accident. The shape of the notebook is defined by the needs of the trackpad and keyboard just as it is by the display. I think the “bottom half” of a notebook with an edge-to-edge 16:9 or 16:10 display would look awkwardly wide and narrow.

I don’t think the MacBook Pro should get much wider, or any wider if they can help it. The screen does have space to get noticeably bigger, though — above and below the current screen, if they change the aspect ratio.

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
  quote
kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Boyzeee
 
2019-07-31, 11:03

I would guess that these screens may start drifting toward iPad Pro ratios. As the software begins to merge, similar display resolutions will be advantageous. Bezels will continue to get thinner, b ut there will be a continued need for a camera location. Laptops could adopt a "notch" or even a hole in the display to accommodate a camera, but I think Face ID will eventually find its way to the Mac, and the display will need to accommodate that. Those things have to be taken into consideration.

Who let the creeper in?
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
awesome
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2019-07-31, 17:59

I think there will be room for the cameras, no notch needed. I’m picturing something close to the bezel width of the iPad Pro, or maybe slightly narrower (I suspect the limiting factor for the bezels on the iPad Pro isn’t the size of the Face ID sensors but the depth of the USB-C port). It won’t be edge to edge the same way some of Apple’s laptop competition with bizarre camera locations are, but it will maintain the illusion of being edge to edge in the same way the iPad Pro does: by having the bezels be equal on all sides (so no “MacBook” logo) and by rounding the corners to match the curve of the case.

I think future iMacs will be like this as well. The Apple Pro Display XDR already has 9mm bezels; that’s already getting into iPad Pro bezel-width territory. Curve the corners just a bit to match a more rounded consumer product, stick a Face ID sensor on the top, and you’ve got a Liquid Retina display. (I think the challenge for getting Face ID onto iMacs and especially laptops isn’t going to be the height of the system, but the depth.)

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
  quote
kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Boyzeee
 
2019-07-31, 22:55

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robo View Post
(I think the challenge for getting Face ID onto iMacs and especially laptops isn’t going to be the height of the system, but the depth.)
Yep. Apple's laptop displays are something like 1/3 the thickness of an iPad Pro, or even an iPhone Xx. Those cameras are going to be tricky to squeeze in there, and I think it is going to be a while before it happens. Still, the bezels are going to get thinner over time, but I don't suspect the laptop is going to get thinner until Apple switches over to Ax processors, which will likely require far less cooling.

Who let the creeper in?
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chucker
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: near Bremen, Germany
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2019-08-01, 03:16

Quote:
Originally Posted by kscherer View Post
Yep. Apple's laptop displays are something like 1/3 the thickness of an iPad Pro, or even an iPhone Xx. Those cameras are going to be tricky to squeeze in there, and I think it is going to be a while before it happens.
The regular (photo) camera is way too thick, sure, but the "TrueDepth camera system" doesn't seem to be? (Unfortunately, there's no shot from the side.)

In any case, on the list of priorities Apple should have with newer MacBooks, ditching Touch ID in favor of Face ID doesn't… seem that high to me?
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