Reader Editorial: Should New iPads Keep Or Lose 4:3 Aspect Ratios? | iLounge Article


Reader Editorial: Should New iPads Keep Or Lose 4:3 Aspect Ratios?

If you’ve been following all of the rumors and counter-rumors regarding the screens in Apple’s upcoming second-generation iPad, your head may still be spinning from the claims that Apple will either keep the 9.7” display at a lower resolution than any of its computers, or switch to a crazy high-density display better than any HDTV on the market. We still think the latter is far off (2012 at the absolute earliest), but here’s a related question for you: should Apple keep or lose the current iPad’s 4:3 aspect ratio?

The claim that Apple will eventually shift from a 1024x768 screen to a 2048x1536 screen without any intermediate steps is based upon three primary assumptions. First, that the 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad is truly ideal for Apple’s vision of tablet computing, and second, that once Apple selects a specific aspect ratio, it preserves it so as to minimize disruption to third-party developers. Third, it assumes that Apple would sooner wait to use a custom, 10”-ish screen that most likely does not yet exist (apart from prototypes) than make even one incremental change between now and whenever such a part becomes available. Supporting this theory is the fact that the iPhone and iPod touch kept nearly the same 3:2 aspect ratio, 480x320 screens for three years before moving to a identical 3:2 aspect ratio, 960x640 screen. So while all of the aforementioned assumptions might prove to be true, there are other possibilities, and it’s worth noting that Apple has generally been pragmatic rather than dogmatic when making screen upgrades.

Historically, Apple has changed screen dimensions whenever a new and better part (a) offers what it feels is a valuable improvement to the product’s overall user experience and (b) becomes available in sufficient quantities to meet its needs without compromising its pricing structure. For instance, Apple didn’t care one bit about making major changes to the iPod nano’s screen and UI, literally once per year after the second-generation model. It did whatever it felt was right for a given year, sometimes in response to consumer demands, other times on its own whims. One year, the screen shot up dramatically in resolution to accommodate video playback. Next year, it flipped on its side and the entire UI did, too. A year later, it grew taller by just enough pixels to make a new video camera easier to use. Then it shrunk and the entire aspect ratio changed for the “multi-touch” display. Of course, the full-sized iPod shifted multiple times to move from black and white to color for photos, then to a better screen for videos, stabilizing only at a point when Apple deemed it “classic” and effectively stopped caring about updating it. And Macs have shifted from 4:3 to 16:10 or 16:9 aspect ratios over time, with inconsistencies even within product families: the 11” MacBook Air now has a 16:9 screen, while the 13” MacBook Air has a 16:10 screen. Apple’s desire to improve Macs’ suitability for video playback and games was one key motivator behind the move towards wider aspect ratios; the increased availability and popularity of wider screen components was another.

While the first-generation iPad shipped with a 1024x768, 4:3 aspect ratio screen, there’s nothing to say that this particular part was Apple’s top choice, or that its old TV-style aspect ratio is ideal for tablets in general. It’s possible that Apple went with the best part it could when it was designing the iPad back in 2009, and knew there would be issues as a consequence—black bars around upscaled, wider-screen iPhone and iPod touch apps, a need for developers to use a different ratio when making their art native to the iPad, and of course, big black bars when playing back movies and current TV shows. It could stick with these issues going forward, asking consumers and developers to just live with them, or it could address them by widening a new iPad’s screen. It’s perhaps notable that the first-generation iPad has just a little more black border on the top and bottom of the screen than on the left and right, hinting that there’s room for the screen to grow without increasing the device’s footprint; some extra pixels there wouldn’t hurt, and depending on whether Apple went with a 3:2 or 16:9 screen, could bring either all of the iOS devices or iPads and Macs into conformity.

Of course, there’s no evidence that Apple is going to do this, and the argument against it—that Apple will keep the iPad’s aspect ratio the same to keep tablet apps looking the same on all of its iPad-branded devices—is compelling. Probable, even, as it hasn’t hinted at a change. But this company has surprised people by making incremental aspect ratio and resolution changes numerous times in the past, and the idea that it needs to jump from the current iPad directly to a better-than-1080p HD display, complete with plenty of extra pixels that a 9.7” screen certainly doesn’t need, doesn’t make a lot of practical sense. A move from 1024x768 to 1280x800 or a similar resolution with iPhone/iPod touch-like 3:2 aspect ratio would be possible with currently available parts, and ready the iPad line for wider-screen videos and games. Then, a subsequent jump to 1920x1080 would achieve Retina Display-like levels of detail without requiring the nearly 500,000 additional pixels a 2048x1536 display would add.

What do you think Apple should do? Will do? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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IMHO if Apple will change the aspect ratio of the iPad it will be to 3:2 or 16:10. And if it’s the latter it will be an iOS-wide change: iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

Posted by Mike11 in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 11:59 AM (CST)


I think Apple will ultimately make the move to a Retina Display level of detail, but whether that happens in the next iPad iteration or in 2012 and beyond remains to be seen.

Apple will need to preserve the current price points without jeopardizing the healthy margins they’re earning on each unit, so a move to a very high density display might not be in the offing just yet.

IPad 2 will need to include features that don’t exist in the inaugural iPad while maintaining the price structure Apple’s set. Most likely that means the addition of front and rear cameras to support the Facetime standard, and perhaps some cosmetic changes like a thinner and lighter shell or a rumored SD card slot.

I don’t think Apple’s really going to significantly muck with the device’s dimensions and I don’t believe what the company’s done historically with the iPods will give us a lot of indication of what they’ll do in the future. Because iPods were of limited purpose, Apple could afford to mess with the screens. With the iPad, there’s a bit of wiggle room but going with a 16:9 screen so quickly could be too radical of a departure. I think it would detract from the iPad’s utilitarian quality, that it could be an e-reader one minute, a music player another, then a word processor, and then a movie player. I don’t deny that there would be benefits, especially in creating and playing games, as well as watching TV shows and movies, but carrying around a 16:9 device doesn’t seem, well, practical. I think it works great for TV screens and computers, but as a tablet it could be problematic.

Posted by cxc273 in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 12:13 PM (CST)


In my opinion, apple will keep the aspect ratio of the iPad.

The change in resolution of other Apple products may not have a significant bearing on the iPad. 

Since apple laptops run OS X, a windowed environment, changes to aspect ratio do not have a large impact on developers. 

Making changes in aspect ratio to products like the ipod classic and nano also would have no effect on third party software, since it doesn’t exist.

I would guess apple wants to avoid large changes to the aspect in order not to impact iOS applications too significantly. 

For, say, game developers, a change in resolution (which is still a headache) has much less of an impact on the app than a change in aspect.

Posted by Nick M in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 12:45 PM (CST)


A 16:9 or 16:10 ratio would mean that portrait mode is less useful for many things, in particular web browsing.  4:3 web browsing is pretty comfortable in both portrait and landscape, but losing that extra width in portrait mode would mean you are doing a lot more sideways scrolling or a lot more zooming, depending on what effective pixel size is used to render the web page.

The impact on apps would be large as well.  They could do something like 1366X768 in 16:9 format and run existing apps in the 1024X768 center portion, but some touch input schemes would be more difficult because there would effectively be a wider bezel in two dimensions for those apps (171 blank pixels).  Obviously new and updated apps would need to be designed specifically for the 16:9 ratio.

I expect Apple will maintain the aspect ratio at least through this year and next.  After that they can judge the consumer preference since there will be lots of different-shaped tablets out there and they can see what shape is selling best.

Posted by BrennerM in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 1:22 PM (CST)


A 4:3 ratio just seems to “look right” on a tablet, as weird as that is considering how everyting’s going widescreen now. Rather, BEEN going that way for about 5 years now! Anywho I’d say Apple stays with this current ratio for awhile. The iPad looks anything BUT outdated.

Posted by Clint in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 3:21 PM (CST)


16:10 works extremely well for documents. In landscape orientation, viewing documents two 8.5x11 pages at a time nicely fills up the screen with little waste. In portrait orientation, a single 8.5x11 page also fits well - there is some “waste” on the sides, which can easily be filled with on-screen reading tools (e.g. highlighter, bookmarks).

16:10 is also decent for widescreen video content. (Not all such video has the 16:9 aspect ratio, and files that do will leave minimal black bars on the top and bottom.) 4:3 standard-definition video also plays acceptably.

If the above were not the case, I doubt Apple would have adopted the 16:10 aspect ratio for iMacs, Cinema Displays, and larger MacBook Pros.

Posted by Farnsworth in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 3:48 PM (CST)


I definitely see them going wide screen. The ability to make more functional apps would be greatly served by such a move (think of something like Photoshop with its 4:3 work space, but all your toolsets and everything neatly out of the way). Games would have the real estate to get the controls out of the view.

I’ve been using a wide screen monitor since 2005 and it’s just so much better for getting things done.

Posted by Code Monkey in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 7:41 PM (CST)


When I first opened my box (day one) I thought “isn’t this old-school?”
But shortly after I realized it was the right move.  While I never use portrait mode - unless an app forces it on me - I would not think the widescreen hardware would feel as right to me.
I was somewhat backed up by this when I got my hands on a new MBAir 11” model.  it’s more what we’d see in a widescreen iPad, and honestly, I don’t care for it as much.
I think it’s tough to say without a lot of time in your hands with both setups.

Posted by sb in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 7:55 PM (CST)


I think it should stay 4:3. The iPad is primarily a reading device (books, magazines, newspapers, pdf’s, etc) and 4:3 is the right ratio for all that. It is NOT primarily a movie viewer. It’s also the right ratio for photo viewing, album covers, content creation and so on. Steve’s got it right.

Posted by David Lee in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 9:27 PM (CST)


@9: Your answer shows the problem. For *you* it’s primarily a reading device. Out of the many, many hours the iPad in our house has been used, not one second was for reading anything other than a website. Conversely, it’s been used to watch many, many hours of movies and television, where wide screen would have been much better.

So, no, as an eReader, widescreen wouldn’t make much sense. But for video, for actual work, for gaming? I’d much prefer the widescreen format. The iPad is pretty much a high tech Rorschach, and what aspect Apple settles on as they move forward is going to decide what more people see it as (or don’t see it as).

Posted by Code Monkey in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 20, 2011 at 10:17 PM (CST)


If you want to make predictions, just look at Steve in keynotes. His default for iPad seems to (anecdotally) be holding it portrait. I think he sees the 4:3 as necessary to keep a tablet usable in portrait (and I tend to agree with him). I think this is the reason we won’t see it change too much. Steve, that is. Not me.

Posted by Aphillippe in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 21, 2011 at 2:00 AM (CST)


4:3 all the way. I have briefly tried out a couple of the wide screen tablets and just didn’t like the ratio - I found me only using them in landscape as portrait was uncomfortably too narrow. Wide screen landscape works well until you pull up the on screen keyboard and yet again your point of view seems very constrictive - this time when trying to view what you are typing when replying to a forum post as an example. I genuinely think the iPad has the ratio for a tablet just right even if they do have other design choices wrong.

Posted by Donka in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 21, 2011 at 10:33 AM (CST)


I hope they keep the existing format, it just seems right for me in both landscape and portrait modes.
A widescreen device would not seem right when used in portrait view, too narrow!
For me the current format seems good when viewing magazines and books in portrait view, and films and TV look good in landscape mode.

If the format was a ‘narrower’ widescreen display then typing would have less space in landscape and books and magazines would seem odd when viewed in portrait mode.

But my view is based on using my iPad for work and a mixture of media types. I don’t think apple will make a decision based purely on video as that has other implications.

Be interesting to see how things turn out.

Posted by Cyberman in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 21, 2011 at 11:31 AM (CST)


Seems the majority here like the 4:3 ratio.
Based in sales, I’d say it’s basically a good call. I have yet to hear a clamoring for 16:9 out and about.
It could change, but I doubt it any time soon.
Looking at the widescreen Droid tabs, I am happy with this choice. It looks odd, and I would personally stick with a 4:3 design as my choice. It seems the best of both worlds.
Also, 16:9 is less structurally sound. It’s easier to flex that form factor, and that important with mobile devices.

Posted by Sb in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 21, 2011 at 6:14 PM (CST)


Personally, I’ve never minded letteboxing in videos, and 4:3 is much more natural when reading in portrait mode.  I don’t just mean books, either; I tend to use Safari in portrait the vast majority of the time as well. I hope they stay 4:3.

Posted by Xeem in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 22, 2011 at 3:03 AM (CST)


My only complaint about reading on the iPad is that even on the lowest brightness level, it’s still too bright in dark or low-light situations.  I don’t understand why they don’t allow you to dim it further than you can.  Otherwise, no complaints.

Posted by WindyCityD in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 22, 2011 at 11:34 AM (CST)



While I agree 100%, it has nothing to do with this topic!  :)

Posted by sb in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 22, 2011 at 5:39 PM (CST)


Geberally speaking, I agree with most who say the 4:3 aspect ratio works for a tablet…there’s more to this device than video and once we get our heads around that, we’ll all feel a bit more “settled” on the form factor.

For what it’s worth…those 16:9 droids just feel plain weird in the hand…and totally unbalanced.

Posted by Handsomedan in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 23, 2011 at 2:16 AM (CST)


Compromises in tech products rarely work very well. But the iPad’s 4:3 resolution is one of the very rare exceptions.

In portrait mode, it works very nicely for reading text. Landscape mode does photos, games, and video very nicely.

Going to a 16:9 aspect ratio would tend to push the product towards a dedicated “portable media player” niche - and would damage a lot of the product’s attractiveness for all the other fantastic uses people are putting it to.

Posted by vrDrew in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 23, 2011 at 3:51 AM (CST)


They’ll stay with 4:3. It’s the right format for a tablet. Sure there are black bars watching certain movies but so what?  I only watch video a limited percentage of the time anyway and 16:9 wouldn’t work very well for web browsing. Also all the apps would have to adjust, again.  Far more likely they’ll retain 4:3 and switch to double the resolution when it makes sense (probably v3).

Posted by Fanfoot in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 23, 2011 at 4:40 PM (CST)

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