November 6, 2010

Display Technologies, Part 2: Mobile Display Decision Making

The mobile display landscape is where the shift in the importance of screen quality can be seen most drastically. Consumers use these tiny computers daily if not hourly or more per day and with the advent of the iPhone 4, display technology, resolution, and size have come to the forefront of the consumer mindset. Consumers should care about whether they can read small text on their mobile displays if in fact they can to read with them. The decision on mobile device is based on priority and Apple led the pack by setting an amazing display in front of their well-known and well-liked iOS to cloud the waters of consumer judgement. The rest of the industry has been playing the comparison game ever since, attempting to bring their other technologies into the limelight.

In the first part of this series titled, Display technologies can make or break consumer electronics, we discussed the technologies of displays in general, including LCD, OLED, and E-Ink to name a few. These three are the key players and the basis for the majority of screens in the world but present the only players in the mobile space due to their portable thickness and ability to conform to multiple different screen sizes and resolutions. These three technologies have been altered to come up with some of the better options in the marketplace today, but they are the basis still for the IPS and AMOLED technologies on which the market has placed utmost importance. No judgement will be passed as to which display technology is the best or worst because in the end the decision lies with the consumer and their priorities surrounding their uses for their mobile devices.

The mobile space is currently divided in what are the acceptable sizes of mobile devices. The available screen sizes range from 3.5 inches to 5 inches for mobile phones and 6 inches to 10 inches on e-Readers and tablet computers. There is also a difference in the pixels per inch (ppi) housed within these screens, with Apple leading the pack by reporting a record number at 326ppi. Apple has commented that this is a magic” number; the number at which the human eye can no longer differentiate between individual pixels. As such, reading text and seeing details within pictures and video is done with ease with Apple’s coined, Retina Display.” Using calculators readily available online, the general consumer can now check the pixel density count on any phone by entering in the screen dimensions and the recorded resolution. Yet another way to compare a mobile device and yet another way that it is merely the user’s priorities that should make the decision, not the numbers themselves.

Focusing more on mobile phones, consumers must now make a number of difficult and unclear decisions as to what phone technologies they want: screen size, screen resolution, and pixel density. The majority of the general consumer population will make decisions based on OS and user interface instead, but the fact that well read consumers will have there choices further obfuscated is a difficulty with which few can sympathize. It all comes down to priority since a fair majority of sources in the industry have rendered the fact that OLED and LCD have similar trade-offs. Reading? Research pixel density and resolution. Watching video? See resolution and video specific features, such as black levels. In the end, it comes down to what the consumer needs most and if the consumer can make that decision, they have made the hardest one yet.

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