Tag Archives: legibility

A Timely Post from Five Years Ago re: Font Smoothing and the new iPad

With the new iPad (formerly known informally as the iPad 3) in my hot little hands, I can testify personally that the screen is gorgeous. What’s more, the near print-quality resolution has a real possibility of reshaping an old debate between Mac and PC users–namely, which platform made the right decision when it comes to font smoothing.

As Joel Spolsky nicely summed up here, the two platforms made some stark choices when it came to the algorithms they employed to render type on LCD screens. Microsoft, with their ClearType technology emphasized harder “snapping” to the physical pixel boundaries, resulting in a generally chunkier, but crisper look. Apple, however, hewed closely to the original type designs, resulting in a stylish appearance with type styles clearly differentiated from one another–but at the cost of a certain blurriness to the rendered text.

On a typical 100-ish pixel-per-inch (PPI) desktop screen, it’s easy to make either argument in light of the trade-offs involved. After all, style matters, but so does the raw human mechanics of line and edge sensing which make up so much of readability. If one switches back and forth between a Mac and a PC on the same monitor, it’s common to be left with the feeling that the Mac looks better, but that the PC involved less effort to read.

With the new iPad’s stunning 264 PPI screen, however, the legibility compromises that Apple forces in the name of faithful typography largely vanish. Ars Technica has a nice set of blown-up images which demonstrate the effect.

In the example above, pay particular attention to the edges of straight verticals such as the “t” in “these”: although a subtle anti-aliasing shadow appears on the right of the stroke on the retina display, the pronounced smudging of the left side of the stroke that so degraded the letterform on the original iPad is replaced by a faithful, dark rendering on the new iPad, changing the legibility dramatically.

After a weekend spent playing with the new iPad, I honestly haven’t been able to detect an earthshaking difference in network speed, overall performance, battery life, or virtually any other technical aspect vs. my trusty first-generation model. But to my eyes, at least, the screen alone has been well worth the upgrade price.