Pushing Pixels: Will The iPad 2’s Screen Be Insanely High-Res?

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Of the myriad iPad 2 rumors making their way across the internet so far, there’s one in particular that’s both fascinating and unbelievable. And I say “unbelievable” not in the sense that it’s impossible to believe, but more in the sense that if it’s true, it’ll be unbelievable in a “that’s amazing” kind of way.

Several reports are now circulating suggesting that the next version of the iPad may have a screen with a 2048×1536 resolution. The current iPad’s screen resolution is 1024×768, by comparison. So this new screen would be double the pixels tall by double the pixels wide, for an overall multiple of four.

Why is this unbelievable?

Well for starters, the resolution of the computer screen in front of you is probably something like 1280×800 or 1280×720. It might be 1366×768—maybe even 1440×900. If you’ve got a true 1080p LCD monitor, it’d be 1920×1080. All of the resolutions I just mentioned are less than the screen resolution of the next iPad, if the rumors end up being true.

I have a 22-inch monitor in front of me with a 1920×1080 resolution. I can’t imagine shrinking it down to 10 inches and pushing the resolution up to 2048×1536. I’ve never heard of a 10-inch screen with that high of a resolution and the monitors that sports 2048×1536 resolutions tend to be at least twice that size, and are often sold for medical imaging with price tags in excess of $5000—like this one right here. Apple itself sells an iMac with a 2560×1440-resolution screen but the panel size is a whopping 27 inches.

So Apple is going to somehow stuff medical-grade resolution into a 10-inch screen and sell it in a new iPad that should theoretically cost the same or less than current iPads? This, I’ve got to see. Literally. I want to look at it with my eyeballs because it’d be gorgeous.

Before considering such a screen impossible, consider this instead. Apple stuffed a 3.5-inch 960×640 screen into the iPhone 4. Nothing like that had been done with a commercially-available product at the time. Even next-generation Android phones with 4.3-inch screens—like the Droid X, for instance—have resolutions of 854×480 or lower. So it wouldn’t be the first time Apple worked some pixel magic with a display.

Retina Display on the iPad?

Apple pitches the iPhone 4’s screen as the “Retina Display.” It’s little more than a marketing term, but the basis behind it is that a 3.5-inch screen with a 960×640 resolution has such an enormous pixel density—also known as pixels per inch (PPI)—that the human eye can’t even process all of the detail.

Anything above 300 pixels per inch is just icing on the cake, as far as the human retina is concerned. The iPhone 4’s pixel density is 326, so we’ve got some bonus pixels for good measure.

Now if the iPad 2 keeps the same 9.7-inch screen size as the first version but manages to cram 2048×1536 pixels into it, it’d have a pixel density of 260. It wouldn’t quite meet the 300 pixels per inch required to max out the human retina but the idea would be that you typically hold the iPad farther away from your face than you hold the iPhone, so the difference in detail as far as your retina is concerned would be negligible.

Believable yet?

Adding fuel to the fire is evidence that the latest version of Apple’s own iBooks app contains graphical elements suited to fit a 2048×1536 screen resolution. The current iPad version contains a screen background with a resolution of 768×400, though AppleInsider reports that background images with resolutions of 1536×800 have now been unearthed.

Such a jump in screen resolution would be the same multiplier as the jump between the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 screens, too. App developers would be able to either upscale or easily tweak the resolutions of their iPad apps to fit a 2048×1536 screen.

A screen with that high of a resolution would require a fair amount of additional processing power, too. AppleInsider notes in a separate report that rumors are beginning to indicate a newer processor and video chipset will be used in the iPad 2. It’ll apparently be a dual-core setup “said to offer around twice the processor power at the same clock speed.”

And finally, there’s the lucrative digital magazine and newspaper market that’s just beginning to take shape. If Apple wants to compete with other tablets and e-book readers when it comes to newspapers and magazines, a screen with a pixel density of almost 300 pixels per inch would be pretty astonishing. It could basically look as detailed as actual paper to the human eye if the technology gets implemented correctly.

Amazon could continue to tout the low price and simple user interface of the Kindle and Android tablets could tout their open development systems and varying form factors, while Apple would be able to say, “Yeah, but books, magazines and newspapers on our tablet look just like the real thing.”

More on TIME.com:

Is Apple Killing Off The iPhone And iPad ‘Home’ Button?

Next iPad to Connect to More Networks?

Will We See the iPad 2 in April?

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