New iPad's HD display: The future of killer mobile visualization

New iPad's HD display: The future of killer mobile visualization

Summary: The High-Definition QXGA "Retina" display on the new 3rd-generation iPad will usher in a new generation of sophisticated mobile visualization apps.


The new iPad is here, and legions of consumers are ready to line up to purchase one as soon as it goes on sale on March 16th. The new tablet's ability to render super-crisp fonts, high-resolution graphics as well as play HD video content is going to be the device's main draw for the majority of the buying public.

But what about applications for the device in business and vertical markets?

The new iPad is unique in that the display that the device is equipped with has an even greater pixel density than any high-end 17" laptop computer currently on the market or even the 1080p (1920x1080) widescreen displays used on graphical workstations for creative content design.

This bests even the HD television in your living room, when playing Blu-Ray DVDs or on-demand 1080p content. Broadcast television in the United States is limited to 1080i (interlaced) or the more common 720p resolution.

In fact, the only computer displays that exceed the QXGA 2048x1536 9.7" Retina on the new iPad are extremely expensive, $1000+ large 27" and higher 16x9 displays as well as Apple's own "Thunderbolt" and Cinema Displays which have 2560x1440 resolutions.

Anything higher than that, and you get into the super-exotic "4K" (2160p) projector and medical diagnostic/engineering monitor territory, and those cost tens of thousands of dollars if not more. And the only people messing with those are either the super-rich hollywood types with actual theatrical-class media rooms, scientific and medical researchers, CGI FX companies like ILM, PIXAR and Weta or aerospace firms like Boeing.

Let's face it though, these super high-res display units were never designed to be equipped on a mobile device. But now we have a $500.00 9.5" 1.5lb tablet computer which is very much capable of showing extremely detailed graphical content that could only be imagined in science-fiction movies only a few years ago and was limited to desk-bound and highly specialized types of apps.

So what exactly can you do with the new iPad screen, then?

It opens up a whole new class of applications for highly detailed mobile visualization that weren't possible before.

The first thing that comes to mind is medical imaging, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and X-ray computed tomography (CAT) type of 3D visualizations which could permit a doctor, say, with a specialized skill set, to remotely diagnose a patient undergoing scans at a far-away hospital.

It could also be used to make field diagnosis of certain conditions possible that were not doable previously, such as acting as a display fo detailed medical ultrasonagraphy, or used in conjunction with HD fiberoptic cameras for internal medicine (colonoscopies, neurosurgery, heart surgery) or even dentistry.

Medical students who don't have access to high-end visualization desktops will now be able to use the iPad for anatomical education as well. The potential for use of the device in higher education disciplines where visualization needs are in high demand is staggering.

Beyond medicine, there are field applications for forensics and archeology, where the iPad could be used in conjunction with extremely high-resolution cameras to review detailed photographs of a crime scene or a dig site.

Mobile aerospace CAD/CAM is an obvious application, particularly in the military where detailed schematics for aircraft and other complex mechanical diagrams and visualizations are required. Similarly, the device could be also be applied to architectural design and engineering as well as structural mechanics and ergonomics.

The iPad could also be used to review very high-resolution satellite and aircraft imagery in civilian geospatial applications (such as Google Earth or a GIS) or even for military reconnaissance purposes where viewing real-time imagery might be required.

The petroleum and natural gas industry, as well as others working in the various geoscience disciplines (Vulcanology, Seismology, Geophysics) make heavy usage of geologic data modeling using supercomputer clusters. iPads could be used in the field to review this data instead of heavy workstation-class laptops.

In addition to looking at detailed images of things on (and under) the ground, the iPad could also be used by astronomers to review detailed images from ground and space-based telescopes, from anywhere in the world.

Besides the medical, earth, aerospace, engineering and astronomical sciences, there is of course the need to visualize data in high-energy physics, such as in the experiments that are being done at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Instead of needing a big desktop or laptop display, a physicist can now review the output of those experiments anywhere.

There may also be a need for advanced mobile data visualization technology in the IT disciplines of Big Data, data mining, business analytics and business intelligence, although nobody has come up with a compelling need for apps to take advantage of such high resolutions yet.

Still, that doesn't mean that when the device is put into the hands of developers we won't see them, however.

Some of these applications may be able to make use of the localized dual-core/quad GPU A5x and run natively on the device, but it's likely that the new iPad and its successors may have to act as a smart terminal/thin client where rendering and processing actually occurs on the server side or in the cloud.

One of the ways this can be made possible is through VDI applications using server-based GPUs. Currently, the only way you can implement this is through RemoteFX technology in Microsoft's Hyper-V, which is built into the Windows 2008 R2 Server OS and will be improved for longer network latencies in the upcoming Windows Server 8.

Presumably, server-side GPU rendering will come to other OSes and hypervisor stacks that employ VDI technology, such as Linux's KVM and Redhat's RHEV for desktops using their open source SPICE protocol, as well as VMware View. But you can guarantee Microsoft and Windows developers will get there first, because their server OS already supports it.

This also begs the question of whether the other tablet players are going to be able to get these types of displays on competing devices (Android, Windows 8 ARM tablets) anytime soon or affordably or in volume.

There has been some recent announcements of forthcoming 1080p (1920x1080) devices running on Android, such as the quad-core Asus Transformer Infinity Pad 700 and the Huawei MediaPad 10 FHD.

However, Apple has boasted twice the GPU performance of the nVidia Tegra 3 (Kal-El) SoC that many of these devices will be based on, and we have no idea what sort of battery technology and life the new generation competing Android and Windows tablets are going to have, and there's no word on prices or availability yet.

Still, you can bet that any sort of very high-res mobile apps, whether they are true mobile or client-server in design are going to appear on the new iPad first, and developers will be rushing to get their existing HD desktop-based applications on iOS well before they get seen on Android and certainly Windows on ARM.

What sort of exploitive applications do you expect to see on the new iPad's QXGA display? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Software, CXO, Mobility, Laptops, iPad, Hardware, Enterprise Software, Data Management, Data Centers, Tablets


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • It has 1 real problem...

    4:3 Aspect ratio in a 16:9 world!
    • The world still reads text primarily on 8.5 by 11 inch paper sheets

      As you are aware, Peter, the 4:3 aspect ratio of a 10 inch display mimics a standard sized sheet of paper.

      Viewing HD video is a secondary concern for the iPad. (Which, by the way, I don't mind viewing in a letter box format on my iPad.)

      Looking at Web pages and ebook pages are a primary concern while static digital photo images view quite nicely in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

      Besides, if one wishes to view 16:9 HD video in an Apple ecosystem, an iPad, an Apple TV, a WiFi network or HDMI cable with adapter and an HDTV can provide that type of experience under more ideal conditions.
      • Nice Try

        I guess this explains the 4:3 Monitors on all the Macs right? Yeah, that is what I thought.

        I don't care, what they say it emulates, the new standard is 16:9 or 16:10 and that is what a lot of things are being built for...

        Now let me ask you this... Why put a top of the line GPU in a tablet, if you don't intend for people to use it for graphics, gaming, and movies?

        As for viewing web pages and such, seeing that many are written well aware of the 16:10 monitors out there, they look very natural on my tablet and most photos are 3:2 and that is a closer fit for the Galaxy Tab 8.9".
      • Likewise.. Nice try..

        @Peter Perry.. Could get into it, but putting a 16:9 screen on a multi-purpose device is just dumb.. last time I checked laptops and desktops didn't have on screen keyboards..
      • Well, since you asked about an iPad and an iMac display design connection

        The 4:3 aspect ratio of an iPad screen does NOT conform to an Apple desktop iMac or display monitors. Why would it - except to satisfy your world view on how all computer displays should conform to the same arbitrary standard.

        As you know, Peter, an iPad was designed to be a different tool and to be used for different purposes than a desktop or computer system have been used for in the past. It is reasonable, then, to accept that it's design parameters would differ from traditional computer desktop systems.

        To put it in another way, it is reasonable to expect that a helicopter and a fixed winged aircraft would have different designs. For example, helicopters usually eschew fixed wings in their designs while most aircraft have them. Both aircraft designs are intended to travel in the atmosphere but each device is optimized for the particular flight parameters desired.

        Likewise, an iPad screen dimension is designed to mimic a standard sheet of paper. The iMac monitor is not. (To be fair, when I open a browser window on my 27" iMac, the browser window much more closely conforms to the 4:3 aspect ratio than a browser window with a 16:9 aspect ratio. I don't think I'm unique in that regard.)

        The 4:3 screen display aspect ratio has had ZERO influence upon the design and acceptance of games and graphic programs sold for the iPad - as your argument would imply.

        As for viewing movies, as I stated before, resolution and color fidelity are far more important than 4:3 aspect display dimensions. Viewing HD movies in Letter Box format is quite acceptable. Indeed, Letter Boxed HD movies would be viewed over a larger screen display area on an iPad than shown "naturally" on any seven inch 16:10 or 16:9 tablet screen.
      • Nice try

        @Peter Perry

        I don't know if you're aware of the fact that a tablet can be used in both landscape and portrait mode, while desktops, for the most part, are fixed in landscape mode.

        How does that book you're reading look in a 9:16 aspect ratio?
      • What standard?

        @Peter Perry

        How can 16:9/10 be a standard for tablets when Android tablets are a tiny fraction of the tablet market?

        Unless you meant it's a standard on desktop PCs and Macs, and Laptops where Widescreen is more suited. But tablet devices or iPads are meant to be used comfortably in any position, any direction, any location, standing up, laying down etc. They are not stationary [b]Desk[/b]tops or [b]Lap[/b]tops which are used only in one orientation (landscape). This is the mistake Android OEMs are making. Holding a 16:9/10 tablet in portrait mode feels too elongated, and holding it in landscape feels to wide for everything else but watching movies. 4:3 is the perfect balance.
      • Pardon?

        >As you are aware, Peter, the 4:3 aspect ratio of a 10 inch display mimics a standard sized sheet of paper.

        which standard of paper?. Letter.. no, legal... no.
      • Keyboard

        The insistence on restricting a screen to 16:9 for a handheld device is completely short sighted, restraining all activities to a screen ratio designed primarily for watching HD movies. Movie watching is only a fraction of what you will do with a tablet.

        How does 16:9 work out for you when you want to use an on-screen keyboard in landscape mode? Can you even see the words you are typing?

        It's just unbelievable how people just can't think these things through!
      • The world?? Correction - the USA still reads text primarily ...

        Europe no longer uses the curious paper sizes based on imperial measurements and ancient tradition. Moreover, 11 x 8.5 is not 4:3. European paper sizes are in the ratio 1.414 : 1 (= square root of 2 : 1) which has the advantage that if you cut such a piece of paper in half, you get 2 sheets with exactly the same ratio of their sides which makes scaling of posters etc. very simple.
        On aspect ratios, I never understood why computer displays went 'widescreen' which in actual fact should more accurately be described as 'reduced height' since many displays are limited in width by physical space as in laptops so the 'widescreen con' persuaded people that a smaller display was more desirable!!! Letter writing and web page browsing are both preferable in portrait mode or, at the very least, increased height mode. A friend of mine has a 'widescreen' display with the wide axis vertical to make web page browsing easier with less scrolling (he also has a 16:9 and a 5:4 display). So the iPad having a squarer display is good. Another point is that on a rectangular display, the greatest area is when the sides are equal, i.e. a square, so a 4:3 display has a greater area than a 16:9 display with the same diagonal measurement.
        I have an iPod touch 4 with a retina display and what annoys me is that it won't stay zoomed at greater than 1:1, i.e. one photo pixel mapped to 1 display pixel. With a retina display, you have to have very good close vision to see the fine detail so zooming shouldn't be restricted to a 1:1 maximum. I hope the iPad 3 doesn't have a similar restriction.
    • It is a 4:3 world

      95% of tablets are iPads so I guess it's a 4:3 world after all.
      • No its not

        Other than my iPad, EVERYTHING else is 16:9 or 16:10
        Pcs, mbp, tvs, phones, other tablets, etc.......

        Biggest reason I dont do the iPad stream or Apple tv thing?
        It looks like crap on my nice big HD tvs.

        I use my Transformer or pc for that.
      • ??


        What's the aspect ratio of a magazine or a book? What's the aspect ratio of most websites?

        You seem to be focussing on hardware without any thought as to its use.
      • Say what?

        msalzberg - Books I generally read in hand, kindle or phone. Magazines in hand. While nice (ipad), I do a lot of my reading outside.

        Now that said - wtf does that have to do with all my other electronic devices? as for the web pages, very very few are in a 4:3 ratio. more like 4:a crap load ratio - scrolling is normal.
      • you just made that statistic up didn't you

        Yep you did.
      • @rhonin: proff you have never even used an iOS device.

        [i]"Other than my iPad, EVERYTHING else is 16:9 or 16:10
        Pcs, mbp, tvs, phones, other tablets, etc.......

        Biggest reason I dont do the iPad stream or Apple tv thing?
        It looks like crap on my nice big HD tvs.[/i]

        Thanks for the laugh.
      • It's just cheaper

        The reason most other tablets are 16:9 or 16:10 is that those screens are just cheaper than an 4:3 screen. Those other manufacturers die to compete with the iPad, but could never, ever match the price for the same spec.
      • Actually, it's more in the neighborhood of 60%.

        Since Apple thinks 95% of us are idiots, does that make you one?
    • Strange.

      Last night I watched at 16:9 movie on my iPad on my train ride home.

      How did I do that?
      • Simple

        Either you have black bars above/below the movie or the left/right edges are cropped.

        btdt - tshirt shop is closed.