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Developer James Thompson has found an interesting behavior in the latest iOS 8 beta, giving even more weight to the reports that indicate the iPhone 6 will feature a new resolution, featuring a new ‘pixel-tripling’ scaling factor of 3. In May, 9to5Mac first broke news of Apple testing a new screen resolution for an upcoming iPhone, which used a 3x screen scale for content.

The behavior is inconsistent, as iOS 8 beta 5 does not always load these 3x assets. However, it reliably chooses the 3x image on 2x devices using the ‘initWithContentsOfFile’ method. After seeing Thompson’s discovery, 9to5Mac has independently confirmed that this is indeed the case.

2014-08-29 at 19.48

The code used to replicate the behavior.

Using a set of test images with @1x, @2x and @3x suffixes, the code will always load the 3x asset, even though — per documentation — it should select the image for the current device’s screen scale. For clarity, each test image is numbered for which scale it represents. Thus, the number 3 in the iOS Simulator shows that iOS has selected the image suitable for a 3x screen scale.

To get an idea of the relative sharpness of 1x, 2x and 3x sizes, see the image above for a reasonable approximation. The difference is rather striking. The 1x image is extremely pixellated, the 2x has imperfections with curves but the 3x asset is perfectly smooth.

Moreover, the code path does not accept any arbitrary scale. Testing with other sizes, such as 4x or even 8x, does nothing. The routine specifically chooses 3x image assets. This suggests this behavior is not simply a bug, but is representative of upcoming iPhone features. The implementation of the API specifically looks for @3x assets only. This likely foreshadows what Apple is readying for its new iPhones.

Therefore, this is strong evidence that the next iPhone (or at least, an imminent iOS device) will use a screen with a 3x scale. Unfortunately, this does not help pinpoint a specific resolution, aside from reaffirm that the new iPhones will have significantly more pixels than found in the iPhone 5s. 9to5Mac has reported on Apple testing both 568×320 and 414×736 logical screen resolutions. At 3x, the actual screen resolution of the device would be 1704×960 or 1242×2208. For comparison, the screen resolution of an iPhone 5s is 1136×640.

Apple will announce its new iPhones at its press event on September 9th.

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24 Responses to “Support for 3x image assets found in latest iOS 8 beta ahead of larger display iPhone 6”

  1. Shouldn’t it say “At 3x, the actual screen resolution of the device would be 1704×960 or 2208×1242?.”

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  2. That would be in line with the math that John Gruber did on his blog: http://daringfireball.net/2014/08/larger_iphone_display_conjecture

    He reached the conclusion that the 4.7″ iPhone6 probably will have a resolution of 1334 x 750 and the 5.5″ iPhone6 2208 x 1242 (with 3x retina scaling).

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  3. CRUD! This id gonna be a pain in the ass for developers like me…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jb510 says:

    Makes sense… Sidenote #1 would have been nice if you’d calculated the ppi of those various screens. sidenote #2 your editor really should know the difference between a prefix and a suffix.

    Liked by 2 people

    • latinoboyboy says:

      1704 x 960:
      4.7″ = 416ppi
      5.5″ = 356 ppi

      2208 x 1242:

      4.7″ = 539ppi
      5.5″ = 461ppi

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      • Well if they use the 2208 x 1242 on the 5.5″ then it becomes retina at or over 7″. Guess I am forced to get the 5.5″. Can’t tolerated seeing gaggedness anymore. The 4.7″ will probably be the Gruber reported 1334 x 750 which is 326ppi aka the exact same as it is, and that becomes retina at or over 11″. No thanks, that needs to be increased. It’s okay if you have poor vision though.

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    • Dunno what I was thinking when I wrote the word ‘prefix’. Nice catch.

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  5. latinoboyboy says:

    I think they may use the 1704 x 960 for the 4.7″ and the 2208 x 1242 with the 5.5″ because both would make the handsets surpass 400ppi.

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  6. latinoboyboy says:

    Oh and for the screen to be closer to a 16:9 aspect ratio, it should be 1707×960, not 1704×960. It only 3 pixels though.

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  7. valanchan says:

    I hope that Apple will stick to 2x and just add real estate.

    There are already good settings to adjust the size of text.

    Maybe they should tell developers to do 4x assets and have a “zoom in place” option.

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    • I’m with you on that.

      326 PPI is really only a problem when trying to look at a full webpage on a 3.5″ or 4″ screen without zooming (apparently a lot of people don’t like zooming and try to do just that, which of course shows the limit of the PPI as letters are so small that they’re only a few pixels wide).

      On a 4.7″, small letters on a webpage would get bigger be more defined and readable even at 326PPI because mobile Safari always builds the webpage layouts based on a virtual 1024 px wide screen, so the same Web content would be shown on 4.7″, but bigger and sharper.

      Maybe Apple could add a setting in accessibility for those who want a bigger interface that would make apps use the 4″ layout scaled up to 4.7″ (even on updated apps), much like they’ll probably do with unupdated apps by default (black bars all around would be ridiculous).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not true at all. I can EASILY see the gaggedness all over the UI especially with the release of iOS 7 and thinner UI elements. If you can’t see them, you have poor eyesight, it’s honestly as simple as that. 326ppi is 11″ and further = retina. It’s common to hold your phone closer than 11″ especially when laying down. It needs higher PPI and that’s all there is to it. It’s a scientific fact that you can see the pixels with perfect eyesight, so have fun disproving that. 6″ and up would be optimal PPI. Then they wouldn’t need to prove it again. That would be very high PPI to attain that though.

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      • valanchan says:

        o0smoothies0o said
        “It’s a scientific fact that you can see the pixels with perfect eyesight, so have fun disproving that.”

        When Steve claimed retina quality he was proved both correct and incorrect by scientists because retinas, like most human anatomy, vary. I do not have “perfect eyesight” yet I can see jaggedness in non anti-aliased lines quite easily but with good anti-aliasing they become smooth.

        As a student we would need to distinguish what screen was used to print coloured images in a magazine. Not many other people cared then and fewer do now.

        The bottom line is that the vast majority of people see the picture not the pixels.

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  8. equalizerthe says:

    Benjamin, what was the deal with the 1442 x 828 iPhone resolution that was found in Xcode last week? That is 2x. I am really hoping you are right because while I’m not crazy about 500+ DPI (waste of resources all around and really not very distinguishable), I would like the 4.7 to have a higher DPI than 326 (which would be the 2x resolution I mentioned). Basically, the John Gruber article disappointed me about the 4.7’s resolution. The 5.5 3x would be nice, but I want the 4.7″ phone.

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  9. By the way, James Thomson the originator of this finding followed with a Tweet saying that @3x images are also used on a 2x devices which is odd (it makes them uselessly blurry) so this feature is buggy and incomplete. Also, the “resizable iPad/iPhone” still assume a 2x screen and don’t provide any help dealing with this weird 3x resolution.

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  10. This is bad. Each device is meant to be used at a certain distance. So is the iPhone, at the distance which makes the display exceed the capabilities of our retina. Since iOS 7, there are great options to increase legibility and usability in general for those who need it at that distance.

    The benefits of increasing screen real estate could outweigh the downsides if done right, but increasing the density in addition to the size is a painful change for developers. And all existing @1x and @2x assets will appear blurry on a @3x display, unlike @1x assets on a pixel-doubled @2x display. Then there’s performance and/or battery life and/or display brightness that’ll take a hit, given that the relative density increase and size increase multiply to a huge difference in information to power by the internals and light up by the backlight.

    Trying to compete on specs isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but doing it only where it’s relevant results in much more perceivable improvements.

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