The science behind the new iPad’s display

Written on:March 9, 2012
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You might still be deciding whether the brighter, crisper Retina display justifies upgrading to the new iPad — in addition to smoother graphics and the option of 4G connectivity. Having seen it with my own eyes, I can attest that it is much brighter and far more pleasing to the eye than the iPad 2. But beyond noting the improved resolution (2048 × 1536 and 264 pixels per inch versus 1024 x 768 resolution and 132 pixels per inch), I can’t explain how Apple’s display engineers have managed to make the new iPad’s resolution so much better.

Luckily, the display experts over at DisplaySearch can explain what exactly Apple did to pack four times the amount of pixels onto the new iPad screen compared to its predecessor’s (none-too-shabby) display. According to DisplaySearch, Apple did it using a pixel-design technique called Super High Aperture, or SHA, which has a highly technical explanation:

SHA is a method of increasing aperture ratio by applying approximately a 3 [micrometer] thick photo-definable acrylic resin layer to planarize the device and increase the vertical gap between the [indium tin oxide] pixel electrodes and signal lines. As we explained in our TFT LCD Process Roadmap Report, this reduces unwanted capacitive coupling and enables the electrode to be extended over the gate and data lines without causing cross talk or affecting image quality—thus increasing aperture area.

If that wasn’t completely clear to you — and you’re not alone — here’s a graphic DisplaySearch put together showing what this design looks like in cross section:

But to achieve the proper effect, the new iPad also needs more backlighting. And DisplaySearch says it’s found that the new iPad has “at least twice as many” LEDs lighting the display as the previous version, the iPad 2, which had 36 LEDs. That, of course, would suggest higher power consumption, but Apple says the battery life (for Wi-Fi use) in the new model remains unchanged. So Apple has clearly figured out a way to compensate, likely with a bigger battery.

What’s interesting to note also is that DisplaySearch says this technique isn’t new, nor did Apple invent it. Rather, engineers at Sharp and JSR, a Japanese display materials manufacturer, came up with it. Just as with Gorilla Glass, the super-tough-to-crack glass from Corning that Apple brought to the mainstream with the original iPhone, with SHA Apple again shows its knack for seeing the potential of — and successfully integrating — other company’s products into its own by packaging them in a compelling way.

Related research and analysis from GigaOM Pro:
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