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New iPad Uses Retina Graphics When Running iPhone Apps

When the iPad was first introduced there weren't many iPad-specific apps yet available. As a solution, Apple allowed apps designed for the iPhone's smaller screen to run on the iPad in a form of emulation. The apps could be run as if they were on the iPhone, using only a fraction of the iPad's screen. Alternatively, those apps could also be run in a 2x mode, using a technique called pixel doubling to fill the iPad's screen. However, when in 2x mode, both artwork and text would look blocky and pixelated.

Since the original iPad's launch, both the iPhone and iPod Touch has been upgraded to high resolution Retina displays. While Apple could use the Retina graphics from apps that had been upgraded to work with the iPhone 4 and 4S's 960x640 display (nearly all iPhone apps nowadays), so far, they've chosen not to. Instead, the iPad 1 and 2 continue to just pixel double the 480x320 display from the original iPhone's screen. In fact, there is even a jailbreak app called Retinapad that enables the use of iPhone Retina graphics on the original iPad, filling this gap in functionality.

The new iPad, however, now displays the Retina graphics of apps designed for the iPhone in both 1x and 2x mode, resulting in a significantly improved visual experience, as pointed out by a user on the TouchArcade forums. The user experience issue still exists -- in 2x mode, interface elements are twice as large -- but it looks much better .
I just tested this with NBA Jam, which the iphone version looked like crap on my ipad 1, but looked great through retinapad when I had it jailbroken since it was tricked into loading the iphone 4's retina enable graphic assets. Now, on my brand spankin' new ipad third gen, it looks fantastic, without retinapad, just by enabling the 2X option at the bottom right of the screen.

Click to compare in full size to Native iPad version.

In this image above, the graphics of the iPhone version of Cut the Rope have been compared side-by-side on an iPad 2 (left) and iPad 3 (right). Note that while there is an iPad-native version of the app available, we used the iPhone version to illustrate the differences. The iPad 3 version uses the iPhone Retina graphics found in Cut the Rope for iPhone, resulting in a much sharper image.

In fact, the iPhone version now looks nearly identical to the iPad native version of the game:


Note that Cut the Rope HD has not yet been updated to support the iPad Retina display, so of course, native Retina iPad apps will look even better on the new iPad. In the meanwhile, iPhone apps running on the new iPad will also see a notable visual improvement, approaching previous iPad native apps.

Top Rated Comments

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34 months ago

This is a clear example of apple's stupidity. Why is this not enabled on older iPads???


There are a few reasons why the new iPad would do this and the old one doesn't. The most basic reason is that on Retina displays, apps run with Retina assets if available. Non-Retina displays never use Retina assets. In this regard, the new iPad is behaving exactly the same way as the old ones.

Second, if Apple did decide to use the Retina graphics for 2x mode on older iPads, it would introduce a few problems. One is that the original iPad is memory starved as it is. It came with 256MB and it wasn't until the iPhone 4 with it's Retina display did Apple bump up the RAM to 512MB. Second, should Apple use the Retina graphics for both the 1x and 2x modes? If they do, they are wasting CPU and battery to produce pixels that will only be scaled down. If they don't, they would need to come up with a way for apps to switch between 1x and 2x mode at runtime (they currently can't -- there is nothing in the API to even allow for that possibility). Also there is the issue of how the graphics would look when you take Retina graphics and scale them back down to 1x -- it's not nearly as nice as simply using the 1x graphics already.

One more thing to consider -- when the original iPad came out, there were no Retina display devices. All iPhone apps were 1x apps. The pixel doubling mode of the original iPad was just a way to allow iPhone apps to take up more of the screen than they would otherwise. Clearly Apple's goal was to have more iPad native/Universal apps. Spending engineering resources to make "legacy" apps run better is typically not a good use of time. Turning on Retina support on the new iPad for iPhone apps didn't require a large amount of engineering time. In fact, due to how the iOS APIs work, it may have not even required any time to get it up and running. Just the time required to verify that it did work okay.
Rating: 19 Votes
34 months ago

On the old iPad, a retina display game would have to load two sets of graphics. Since the app wouldn't be designed to change resolution at run time it would have to restart the app when you switch display sizes.


true, though does anyone actually use iPhone apps in 1x mode on their iPad? They should just have a "force 2x" mode and use Retina graphics.

arn
Rating: 14 Votes
34 months ago
So basically, Retina iPhone apps look like non-Retina iPad apps when displayed on a Retina iPad.

Aka, even tiny phone apps look as good as what people are used to on their iPad. Pretty cool.
Rating: 13 Votes
34 months ago

This is a clear example of apple's stupidity. Why is this not enabled on older iPads???


Such are the ways of Apple. Tho I agree, it sounds stupid they don't do it.

Anyways, I never use iPhone apps in my iPad. They feel just wrong.
Rating: 12 Votes
34 months ago
Makes good sense. Won't like to see 480 x 320 apps running on 2048 x 1536 pixels...
Rating: 8 Votes
34 months ago

Such are the ways of Apple. Tho I agree, it sounds stupid they don't do it.

Anyways, I never use iPhone apps in my iPad. They feel just wrong.


This decision by Apple was VITAL, and benefitted both them and we the users.

Without it, many (most?) developers would have taken the laziest approach and not created iPad-specific versions. By not giving developers a “sort of OK” easy way out, it forced them to give us REAL iPad versions or (practically) nothing.

Anyone who thinks we’d have all the same wealth of iPad-specific apps without that decision is ignoring the reality of human nature: enough developers would have taken the easy way out, and enough users would have tolerated it, to have harmed the new platform’s success and diminished its quality of apps on average.

Now it’s less important for two reasons: a) the iPad itself is now firmly established as a platform and b) there’s now one MORE reason to demand native iPad apps: iPad retina displays. Doubled iPhone retina apps are nice to have, but no longer nearly “good enough.” So Apple’s giving developers the easy way out at last. And for developers who never did bother supporting the iPad, their users have gotten a nice resolution boost. Ditto for developers who didn’t opt for Universal: users who already had the iPhone version and didn’t want to buy twice now have something a little better than they used to.


If Apple didn't enforce iPad apps, then you'll see the Android mess of nothing being optimized for tablets.


I will never get back the 3 minutes of my life I spent explaining what you explained in one sentence :p
Rating: 8 Votes
34 months ago

Apple decide not to take use of the retina graphics, until the release of the new iPad, because it would discourage developers from making native iPad apps.


This makes way more sense than any "technology" based reason.
Rating: 8 Votes
34 months ago

Your comment is an example of your stupidity.


why so, Sir ?
Rating: 7 Votes
34 months ago
Oh my!! This is actually really amazing!!
Rating: 6 Votes
34 months ago
Apple is clearly not running retina apps on older iPads because some developers would say "looks good enough!" and may not make iPad-specific apps.

And while they would LOOK better, the buttons would be huge. Apple wants to avoid this and thus makes those apps look worse on purpose. The message: Make your apps universal!

It's done on purpose to punish developers and that's why it's not going to change.

And I agree with it. One if the biggest complaints about Android tablets is that many of their apps are not optimized for larger screens. Apple is smart to attack this problem aggressively.

EDIT - Mrboult beat me to it. Same message.
Rating: 6 Votes

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