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

The High-Definition QXGA "Retina" display on the new 3rd-generation iPad will usher in a new generation of sophisticated mobile visualization apps.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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 Wetaor 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 700and 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.

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