Early this year, we heard from a source that Apple had been testing multiple resolutions for the iPhone 6’s larger display, including a resolution of 960 x 1704. As we outlined, the benefit of that resolution is that it allows both developers and consumers to smoothly transition to the new display without losing high-quality imagery and graphics found in many applications from the App Store. At that density on both a 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch display (the two larger screen sizes for the next iPhone), all content would display larger in comparison to the current, 4-inch iPhone, but there would not be more actual screen real estate. Now, we’ve discovered another potential iPhone 6 screen resolution by way of iOS 8 files inside of the latest Xcode 6 Software Development Kit (SDK) betas for developers.
As you can see above, the new resolution is found inside of a file within iOS 8’s “Springboard” application. Springboard is another word for the iPhone’s Home screen (where icons are displayed when you tap the Home button). This particular file outlines for the system where icons, by default, will be placed on an iPhone’s Home screen. This particular file, which was added in Xcode 6 beta 5 earlier this month and still exists in yesterday’s Xcode 6 beta 6, is optimized for an iPhone with a resolution of 414 (width) x 736 (height). The iPhone SDK parses hardware resolutions via “point values,” so the actual “Retina” resolution is in fact double (or potentially triple) whatever numbers the SDK presents.
For example, the 4-inch iPhone 5, 5s, 5c and 5th generation iPod touch display resolution is 640 x 1136, but the SDK presents it as “320 x 568.” This can be seen above on the iPhone file listing a “DefaultIconState” for an iPhone with a pixel height of 568 pixels.
Back to the new 414 x 736 file, this iPhone resolution would be slightly sharper (on the 4.7-inch model) than the current iPhone resolution and this new pixel density would actually bring more screen space to the iPhone, allowing Apple to unlock more software-based functionality for its flagship smartphone lineup. Unlike with previous iPhone resoluiton changes, moving to 414 on the width and 736 on the length would add pixels to both the height and the width of the iPhone.
Like the previously discussed 960 x 1704 resolution in testing earlier this year and the iPhone 5/5s/5c’s 640 x 1136 resolution, this new 414 x 736 resolution comes in at a 16:9 ratio. The benefits of Apple sticking to the 16:9 ratio, which seems likely based on the part leaks thus far, include an easier developer transition and consumers continuing to be able to watch widescreen video on an iPhone.
To make sense of what this other potential iPhone resolution could mean for the iPhone 6, we’ve calculated what this resolution would mean at a Retina “2X” scale on new 4-inch (just for completeness, there has been no indication that a revamped 4-inch model is coming) , 4.7-inch, and 5.5-inch screens:
@2x: 828 x 1472 on 4-inch display:
@2x: 828 x 1472 on 4.7-inch display:
@2x: 828 x 1472 on 5.5-inch display:
As you can see, the pixel density on both the new 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models would meet Apple’s self-imposed Retina threshold. The 4.7-inch model’s sharpness would also surpass the 326PPI density of the iPhone 5/5S/5c, and the 5.5-inch model would be above the 300PPI threshold that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs discussed upon introducing the iPhone 4’s Retina display in 2010.
The benefit of such a display, beyond the additional screen real estate, would be how many icons Apple could fit on each Home screen. The previously discussed file from the iOS 8 SDK indicates that Apple is still planning to include 20 icons per Home screen (excluding the dock), but the additional pixels on the top and the sides of the new display could open up the door for additional icons per screen. Based on calculations, Apple technically has room (at the current iOS icon sizes) to add two additional rows and one additional column.
In our report from earlier this year, we noted that Apple has also been experimenting with moving away from @2x resolutions in favor of rendering the operating system at @3x. For completeness, here are the same calculations at 1242 x 2208, which is 3x the original point values found in the SDK of 414 x 736.
@3x: 1242 x 2208 on 4-inch display:
@3x: 1242 x 2208 on 4.7-inch display:
@3x: 1242 x 2208 on 5.5-inch display:
As you can see, these 3X pixel densities are extraordinarily high, so it seems unlikely that Apple will be able to reach those numbers while keeping the iPhone 6 thin and light (and of course with proper battery life). Of course, with the new phones already in production, Apple has decided what the resolution will be. At this point, between the two potential variations that we know of, the 828 x 1472 sounds more likely solely based on the reference appearing in the most recent builds of iOS 8, the operating system that will come pre-loaded on the new iPhones. Of course, another potential option is that the iPhone 6’s resolution is another pixel ratio not yet discussed, and whatever it may be will be announced at an event on Tuesday, September 9th. The new devices will also include new sensors and improved camera systems.