An analysis of Apple's new iPhone 5 display

An analysis of Apple's new iPhone 5 display

Summary: Apple calls the iPhone 5 panel the "most accurate display in the industry" and claims that it has "44% more color saturation." A leading expert in display technology analyzes Apple's claims to see if they reflect reality or reality distortion.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, iPhone
iPhone 5 display analysis - Jason O'Grady

On Tuesday I analyzed Apple's iPhone 5 display based on leaked specifications. Now that it's official I asked Raymond Soneira, President of DisplayMate Technologies to give me his exclusive thoughts on the specifications behind the panel shipping in Apple's new flagship smartphone, the iPhone 5.

First, the specs:

  • 1136 * 640 pixels
  • 4-inches
  • Retina
  • 326 PPI
  • sRGB 44% more color saturation
  • Most accurate display in the industry

Soneira had this to say:

As analyzed in my Display News article on the iPhone 5 Display Predictions, that is pretty much what was predicted and expected. I was hoping for a True HD 1280x720 display for the reasons I indicated there.

When the Retina Display was introduced with the iPhone 4 in 2010 it was a major advancement that blew every existing Smartphone display away. The iPhone 5 display still looks like it will be a great display, but it has slipped behind the leading edge for Smartphone displays.

For example, the upcoming Nokia Lumia 920 has a 1280x768 IPS LCD display and the upcoming Huawei Ascend U9500 has a 1280x720 IPS LCD display. The Samsung Galaxy S III and Google Galaxy Nexus also have 1280x720 displays (but they are PenTile displays that aren't as sharp as standard RGB displays).

My upcoming Smartphone Display Shoot-Out (in about 10 days) will be an in-depth analysis and comparison of the displays on iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III - similar in scope to my new iPad Display Shoot-Out. When the Nokia Lumia 920 and Huawei Ascend U9500 launch later this fall I will expand the Smartphone Display Shoot-Out to include them. We'll see exactly how well each of these displays actually performs.

sRGB 44% more color saturation

Apple's Marketing SVP Phil Schiller made two subtle but very important announcements regarding the iPhone 5 display, which I doubt were fully appreciated by anyone in the audience (and may have been intended for me):

1. The iPhone 5 will have "44% more color saturation." This is exactly what was stated during the new iPad announcement in March with regard to the iPad 2. They are not technically correct statements in this context, but the new iPad has a virtually perfect Standard Color Gamut, and from Schiller's comment it seems that the iPhone 5 will have a similar virtually perfect Standard Color Gamut as well. This figure (below) shows the Color Gamuts for the devices.

Color Gamuts for the devices - Jason O'Grady

2. The iPhone 5 is the "Most accurate display in the industry." This remark echoes the conclusion from my new iPad Display Shoot-Out article: "the new iPad’s picture quality, color accuracy, and gray scale are not only much better than any other Tablet or Smartphone, it’s also much better than most HDTVs, laptops, and monitors. In fact with some minor calibration tweaks the new iPad would qualify as a studio reference monitor." It's clear that Apple intends the iPhone 5 to have state-of-the-art picture quality and color accuracy.

Why is the above really important? Because it points to why there will be an actual Apple Television in the near future. The following is from my Sherlock Holmes Predictions for the iPhone 5 and Apple Television:

Deduction Number 1: The iPhone 5 will have photometry and colorimetry that is identical to the new iPad 3 in the same way that the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 are identical. Again, this is not an accident, but will be the basis of a major strategic decision by Apple. Starting with the new iPad 3, images on all future Apple devices and displays will appear visually identical and with extremely accurate colors and images.

Why this is Important: The devices from every other manufacturer are not only inaccurate and different but also inconsistent from device to device and model to model. So all images look different on every Smartphone, Tablet, and HDTV. This is especially bad when people have multiple devices and are sharing personal photos with family and friends because everyone wants to be sure that they look just as good to everyone else as they do on their own devices. Right now that is definitely not the case... See my Mobile Shoot-Outs and HDTV Shoot-Outs for proof.

Why Apple will Introduce an Actual Television: Why does Apple need to introduce its own Apple Television with an actual TV screen as opposed to just relying on an Apple TV streaming box connected to some other brand of TV? Because all existing TVs produce inaccurate and inconsistent colors and images that will be poor matches to Apple's own iPhones and iPads. Photo sharing is especially important and convenient on WiFi and internet connected TVs.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPhone

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  • RE: The iPhone 5 is the "Most accurate display in the industry."

    Mr. Soneira points out the merits of the iPad 3 display and how he expects the display of the iPhone 5 to mirror those excellent display attributes. He goes on to state an opinion that Apple wishes a duplication of those display characteristics across all Apple devices.

    I was wondering if Mr. Soneira has tested the recent MacBook Pro with Retina display to see if that display matches the performance of the iPad 3 display and if the MBP display adheres to his conjecture about Apple displays exhibiting or matching the same quality as the iPad 3 display.
  • Just wait a bit; everything may soon have "retina," or better, displays

    First of all, it's not true that Apple "retina" displays have pixels that are more closely packed that all human eyes can resolve. However, and much more important that how retina displays look subjectively to other displays, it remains to be seen whether or not such resolutions and color depths. will eliminate the long documented, peristalsis problems with eyestrain and tension headaches that some users, who view color displays continuously for long periods, have experienced since the introduction of VGA, circa 1987 (the first two iPads had VGA resolution but not its color depth). But that is neither here nor there for the matter at hand: the significance of Apple's Retina displays being "better." What is important to keep in mind, is that in electronics, no competitive advantage lasts for long. I mention this because tt seems that a very significant announcement by the stellar US firm of Applied Materials got by all computer and electronics editors in the popular media. Without going into a lot of tecky detail, on big color LCD panels, there is an actual transistor right behind each pixel that, acting as an electronically controlled switch, turns that pixel on or off. Heretofore, all these transistors were made in a thin film of not particularly good, elemental silicon, resulting in not particularly good transistors. Applied Materials has perfected a new material that does two things better than silicon: the transistors can be packed closer together without interfering with each other and they turn on and off quicker. What those two characteristics mean is that if LCD panel makers were to use Applied Material's transistor-layer machines, they could produce big or small, color LCD panels with pixels that were closer together. And because there would be more pixels, they would have to be switched faster to achieve the same frame rates as silicon-based panels. Guess what? All of LCD panel makers in the Far East already use Applied Material's machines. Furthermore, one of them has recently issued their own press release, taking credit for Applied Material's development. So soon everything mightl have "retina," or even better, displays.
    • Erm

      you cant have better than Retina

      Retina display basically means the best your eye can distinguish...
      • Best your eye can distinguish?

        Sure, at an arbitrary distance as defined by, let me see, oh, Apple. The iPhone 3GS had a Retina screen if you held it 10' away.

        That's why Retina is a meaningless marketing term. Wake me when iPhone comes with a PureMotion HD+ screen.
        • In your eyes.

          Nothing will ever be as good as a Microsoft product, even though objective evidence says the iPhone 5 screen is superior, in your mind it will never measure up. The only thing that counts to you, is it's made by Microsoft.
          Troll Hunter J
          • Objective?

            We don't know what the iPhone 5 display will look like in color space. But, even if it is as good as the new iPad's display (reasonable to assume), that doesn't necessarily mean it is the "best." Other attributes make a display good, too, such as refresh rate, viewing angle, reflectance, outdoor readability, size, etc. Indeed, I think it is more-than-reasonable to assert that color accuracy is of relatively *little* importance compared to some of those other features for many people. Add in better touch sensitivity for touchscreens, and you really might begin to prefer other devices to the iPhone.

            As an aside, I think it is hard to describe the iPhone 5 as anything other than underwhelming. I am sure it will have a very nice looking screen, though somewhat low pixel density and rather small.

            Also, I wasn't aware the Lumia 920 (the only announced phone with "PureMotion") was made by Microsoft. In fact, I'm quite sure it isn't.

            But then again, I am feeding the troll.
            x I'm tc
          • Objective?

            I have no doubt the iPhone 5 will have an exceptionally good screen. However, can you point me in the direction of this "objective evidence"?
      • The retina display...isn't

        You can absolutely see individual pixels on the iPhone at 10":
        x I'm tc
      • Not again

        We've been told what the limitations of the human body are since before I was born. Each and every time they are discredited as complete nonsense with the passage of time and quite often these "facts" are simply smashed. So excuse me, if I do not believe for one second your claim that "you cant have better than Retina", just because you and Apple say so. Specialists STILL talk about the human eye being incapable of detecting more than 24fps - can you believe that? - this despite the fact our entire world has progressed from 50-60Hz displays all the way to 200 and beyond with PERCEPTIBLE improvements in display stability. Gamers would not consider anything less than 60fps these days and most would expect their rig to deliver more. So, to your 'Retina' so called point, I believe from some quick research there is believd to be scope for the eye to perceive improvments up to 900dpi. Lets talk again when we get there shall we? What are Apple going to brand that display - the Retina-X display? Please just stop while you are behind.....
  • Hahahaha

    You actually believe a marketing statement??? Retina display means whatever Apple says it means what kind of ****** believe such a thing. Lumnia 920 has more ppi whether Apple tells you that it matters or not. If you actually believe that why the screen of the new iPhone is bigger since last time I heard from Apple marketing, 3.5" was the way GOD intended the size of screen in a phone to be. Now all of the sudden the screen is bigger and what about the iPad Mini ......
    • Well when it comes to features on new

      products Apple does not make a habit of admitting anything even if guessed or leaked. So this is different how? Now as I understand it the human eye does have its limitations. So I assume that there must be a limit that can and or will be reached in terms of color saturation, and dots per inch type resolution. If I a, correct does anyone know what those limits are?

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Yes Jim

        Apple know what those limits are, so we can all stop worrying about it right now. Apple are the best. Hail Apple. Samsung, cancel that R&D and keep the money you saved for hosting a party in Apples honour, because it has been decided that 264 ppi is the shiznick. Puny humans can now concentrate their feeble minds on other problems, because this one is *swish* solv-ed for all time. In fact, if Aliens ever do come here to conquer earth, they will spare us, once they see the brilliant and perfect Apple screen. Apple have saved us all......
    • Read, then write

      Could we ask you to please read the article, and then comment? It would appear that you pasted in a boilerplate reply about pixels after making an incorrect assumption about the subject matter of the article. The article wasn't about pixels or claims concerning the 'retina' terminology except in passing. It was about color saturation and color accuracy.

      Your leap to the defense of the Lumia's pixel density was unnecessary, since the author had already done that. Had you read even the first third of the article, you would have known that.
      Robert Hahn
  • The iPhone 5 will have "44% more color saturation"

    Why? Because it needs it. Everytime someone comes over with an iPhone and I compare it to my Lumia 900 the colors on the 4s are horrible. Pale, dim, grey blacks and on, and on and on. Now the Lumia 920 adds higher res, more accuracy to an already superior screen. I am looking forward to the results of the display shootout when the 920 is added next month because on paper, it doesn't look good for the mighty Apple. I guess we'll see if Nokia has done their homework.
    • Yup, Apple has historically had the worst color accuracy

      Kudos to Apple for improving what was a HUGE blemish on their displays. And I also give Apple a disenguous kudos for citing that this new display is FOURTY FOUR percent better when compared to a 2 year old screen on a 1 year old phone that consistently came last in this respect.

      "Kudos to Steve Smith for being the best 100m sprinter in the world. While losers like Usain Bolt can only improve by a few hundredths of a second, Steve Smith improved his time by 5 seconds, completing his 100m sprint in an astonishing 30 seconds."
      • Don't you have to write anothe blog on how Wonderful the Nokia 920 is?

        Or how the "Surface is going to leap to the market leader in 3 months"? Or how about trotting pout some obscure spec, and claim how it alone should be used to judge the market? Like, for example, the only thing that counts is the OS was written by Microsoft, so other "smartphones" need not apply.
        Troll Hunter J
        • Bizare but true

          Matt Miller and Todd Bottom share a lot in common. Both firt names contain 4 characters, but only 3 letters. Both last names also contain 6 Characters, with a double letter in the middle. Coincidence? Maybe, but highly suspect, if you ask me.
          Troll Hunter J
  • "slipped behind the leading edge for Smartphone displays"?

    How come it "slipped"? iPhone's screen has 326 DPI and is of "Retina" quality. There is nothing better than that.

    Calling larger displays better is very, very weird. Of course they have to have higher resolution to fill up bigger space and still be of "Retina" class quality.

    There is no point in expanding iPhone's resolution from 1138x640 to 1280x720 since eye will not see the difference at 10" working distance.

    And there is no distinguishable artefacts of downscaling to 1138x640 form 720p resolution. There more so 720p is very weak HD, and true full HD films are 1080p and this is the only future. Scaling from 1080p to 720p is no better than to 640p.
    • Because as you stated, look at the DPI

      The iP5 has a 4-inch, 1,136 by 640 pixel touchscreen with 326 pixels per inch, The Nokia L920 has a 4.5-inch, 1,280 by 768 pixel touchscreen with 332 pixels per inch. Face it, the iP5 has fallen off the pace. It's still a great phone but it's just NOT the best anymore.
      • You can both be right

        Is is very clear that the iPhone is no longer a technology or innovation leader. Quite the contrary, the newest version is nothing short of a disappointment, lacking many innovations that other phones already on the market have and many more that presently announced ones are showing. This is true both for its hardware and for the software that it runs. That said, if the argument is to hinge on color reproduction, there is no question that one of the very best screens that can be had -- at any price -- is the new iPad's. The iPhone 5 may well share that screen's color accuracy.

        The issue to would-be buyers is, "Is that enough?"
        x I'm tc