Everyone can agree that the new iPad has a drop-dead gorgeous display. I fell in love with it a nanosecond after I unpacked it from the box and powered up the amazing tablet. The purity of colors, specificity of detail and especially, for me at least, the totally non-pixelated new look of iBooks made it very hard for me to even look at a lesser display without feeling slightly nauseous.
If this makes me a snob, then I’m a snob and proud to be one. But I was also there and just as amazed at the beauty of the 8-bit graphics of the Apple II+ back in 1979. In both cases the displays were the state of the art of their time.
My Apple II+ came with a massive 48 kB of memory and the first disk drive called Disk II which cost $US595, held a whopping 143 kB. Yes I’m talking about kilobytes, not megabytes, or gigabytes or terabytes.
This was so much storage, at the time, that I knew that it would hold every program I ever bought and there would be room to give it to my kids to hold all their programs.
Fast forward 33 years and 143 kB is laughable. A calculator probably has more in it. The reason for this background is that we are in the midst of the next quantum leap in the need for far more storage, both for developers and users.
Looking at it from a developers perspective, a non-retina display universal application screen of artwork with a resolution of 1024×768 pixels takes between 600 and 700 kB of storage not even counting the space needed for the programming to make anything happen. Bacciz’ Old MacDonald Has a Farm, a non-retina display app, comes in at a hefty 56 MB. This is six MB larger than what Apple allows to be downloaded without an Internet connection.
If the same program were coded for iPads with a retina display the graphics would jump to 2048×1536 pixels and take up over two MB of space each, fattening the app considerably. It would take between 150 and 200 MB of space to hold the app, and forget about downloading it without an Internet connection. This is not a very complex app, but still the storage need of each image nearly quadruples.
Look at enhanced textbooks. E.O. Wilson’s “Life On Earth”, which isn’t even a retina display application but is chock full of videos and interaction is 147 pages long and weighs in at 1.10 GB.
1080p movies or TV shows are 15 – 20% larger and so are pictures taken with the 8 megapixel camera on an iPhone 4S. So the need for more storage isn’t just a function of the resolution of the retina display, it’s just about everything. A year ago there were no enhanced textbooks, and not expecting future innovations to need an increasing amount of storage is akin to those who believe the myth that it was proposed that the patent office should be closed in 1897 since everything was already invented.
So what is a developer to do? Can you get away with non-retina display coding anymore? Should you just forget about the potential of enhanced books or adding great looking video to your app or game?
Let’s take a look at recent history. When the iPad first came out only two years ago, developers wanting to get into the action with existing iPhone apps coded HD versions for the iPad and charged more for them. That paradigm was quickly rejected for coding Universal apps that had the iPad and iPhone code in one package and sold at the HD price.
I see the same thing happening again. Bigger is better and the sooner that developers get comfortable with embracing big, the less trouble they’ll have. At first it will hurt. Most everything will have to be recoded at great expense. But I can see another tier of apps appearing that should be at a slightly higher price point, that are both Universal and retina display ready.
A good example of this is Al Gore’s “Our Choice” which was revised for the retina display but only takes up 52.7 MB to download. It’s full of interaction and videos among many other things, but it was accomplished it in a unique fashion. When you get to a new chapter, the chapter downloads over the Internet. This may be a great solution for linear interactive apps, but really doesn’t solve the larger problem of huge apps, it’s just an option.
Regardless, I suggest that developers jump on this bigger bandwagon right now. Technology never moves backward and retina display support will be needed to be competitive.
What about the consumer? Which iPad is the right one? 16, 32, or 64 GB? I’m in the camp that is waiting for a 128 GB iPad. To me, a 16 GB tablet is pointless, even for casual users. Let’s say all you want to do is keep a small amount of music on it, maybe a playlist or two, stream video which takes no real storage, browse the web. handle your email, read a few books and subscribe to a few magazines? That to me, would be the most casual of users. No gamers allowed, and forget about making it useful for kids.
If you don’t delete magazines, and I have years of them piled up, that alone will tilt out your storage in short order. But what about iCloud and iTunes Match where you can always delete music and apps and download them again any time you want? Yes that’s true, but how long will it be until that idea gets really old and time consuming? The assumption of iCloud is that Internet is pervasive and you’ll always have it. That just isn’t true. At least not yet. If you buy a 32 GB iPad you can do a lot more, but don’t count on keeping much video, music or gaming apps on it since the headroom, with larger and larger apps looming on the horizon, is getting lower all the time.
If you have a cellular iPad you are still out of luck due to the 50 MB limit for cellular transfer and the size of the apps. And even with pervasive Internet, there’ll be much thumb twiddling while you’re waiting for over a GB of Infinity Blade II to download again.
With a $200 differential between the 16 GB and the 64 GB iPads, I feel that it’s money well spent to go for the size. Over the two or three years you’ll own the tablet, the hours spent waiting while deleting and re-downloading will surely add up to more than $200 of value. If you’re a music lover, you’ll find that even 64 GB can be tight. iTunes Match is a great help, but it’s sure no panacea. I would think the next iPad will offer a 128 GB option, and if I were in the market, I’d grab it.