Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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562 words

Drunken Batman put in a serious rant on Mac zealots and Apple's display and resolution developments.

I have had my issues about Safari's and OSX's handling of screen resolution, the bottom line being that neither really cares, and recently engaged in much tamer commentary about Apple's new displays and their 100 ppi 'ideal resolution. And while I fully see that basing UI on pixel graphics is asking for trouble in the long run, I don't think the situation is as bad as outlined in drunk's rant above.

Why? I'd give two reasons there. One is for usability and æsthetics: We have yet to see a UI that is scalable, yet works well and looks good at all permissible scales, particularly those not used by the person who designed the UI. Good and good looking UI often needs to be 'pixel perfect', leading quite naturally to the pixel approach.

Well, this isn't quite true. I guess in a far away future with extremely high resolution displays UIs could really be vector graphics in the sense of doing vector graphics in a graphics program – Perfect scaling, with no little changes whatsoever. But as everybody who used graphics programs will tell you somethings graphics just looks strange on screen because you have a 'wrong' magnification. Vertical lines may just start between pixels and so on. These effects are reduced at higher resolutions but I don't think we're quite far enough in the resolution game yet to disregard this aspect.

So, I agree in principle that we may want to have vector graphics based UIs one day. With positions of UI elements specified in centimetres and adjusted to your display's resolution. But that day hasn't come yet. The lowest available resolution is far too low for this kind of thing these days.

Which leads straight to my second point: The increase in screen resolutions has been rather slow. We started at 72ppi in 1984 and remained there for long. Something around 90ppi looked like being standard for a while and Apple now officially moved to 100ppi. Let's assume everybody else runs at 110ppi then. This means that the number of pixels per square metre has perhaps tripled in twenty years. Not quite the scale of increase we've seen with transistors, MHz or storage. Resolution seems to increase at a glacial speed. And hence UIs have plenty of time to adapt to these increases.

Whether or not Apple are dealing with this gradual adaption sensibly is another question. Their larger icons and so on suggest they do. Yet their comparably small sizes for the menu bar and other UI elements suggest they don't.

I know that using the traditional Mac toolbox you could count on certain sizes for UI elements and particularly the menu bar. Those sizes were sacrosanct. But that may have changed when the Appearance Manager was introduced. When programming OSX in Cocoa, I never encountered those numbers, as Cocoa handles all the window placement and so on – but I have absolutely no idea what people have to do in the Carbon world. When building an UI in Interface Builder, however, everything suggests that the design is pixel based.

Conclusion: I don't think the situation is dramatic for Apple. Yet I do hope they've put a few people on coming up with a good solution for this. My dad's eyesight isn't going to improve.

July 17, 2004, 18:50


Comment by drunkenbatman: User icon

Yeah, that was kind of a rant eh? I actually hope I’m wrong about this one, but the resolution problem has been building for a long time and is about to hit critical mass with Longhorn. But there were some interesting comments on the blog that hopefully will pan out. :)

July 19, 2004, 23:04

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