Tunnel vision is a proven side-effect amongst OEMs when it comes to designing new smartphones. All it takes is one manufacturer to come up with a mildly successful handset and immediately everyone follows suit without even giving a second thought to what they are actually doing. The latest fad seems to be Full HD displays and leaks are coming in strong and fast from all directions as most of the top-tier OEMs are expected to showcase their brand new 1080p smartphones at CES and MWC. While it’s great to see an evolution in display technology, I have to ask, is this the area we should be really focussing on? Until we master the tech for powering phones using our body’s energy, the most crucial factor for any mobile device is battery life and that seems to be going nowhere.
1080p displays for a smartphone simply makes no sense for two very good reasons – there’s no discernable difference in image quality between 720p and 1080p on a screen size of 5-inches or below and second, the power required to run it comes at a huge cost. Simply doubling the number of pixels does not translate to better image quality. We long for higher resolution screens on a desktop because of the way the OS is setup. Increasing the resolution actually gives you more screen real estate to work with. If you apply this same logic to a phone, you’d have to roam around with a magnifying glass in order to use it. Some of upcoming displays boast of a pixel count of 400ppi, which again is pointless since the human eye cannot distinguish between pixels above 320ppi at the distance we usually hold a phone. A 720p display is more than adequate for even anomalies like the Samsung Galaxy Note II.
I don't see the point other than it being an engineering exercise
These displays are also going to need a lot more power to run. It won’t be that bad for LCD displays that rely on a backlight but AMOLED displays will suffer the most as it’s the individual pixels that switch on and off. Bundling a larger battery is one way to counter this but this would also mean making the phone bulkier, which OEMs will avoid at all cost. The CPU and GPU will also be used a lot more in rendering the UI and given how Jelly Bean renders everything at 60fps, they’ll now have to do the same with twice the resolution which means there are chances of the handsets running warm even without using an app. Speaking of apps, developers are going to have a real task on their hands as they’ll have to update their apps for the new high-resolution screens. Even the icons, menus, etc will have to be bumped up for this higher resolution and since Jelly Bean doesn’t officially support full HD, it’ll be up the OEMs to do the dirty work, until Google refreshes their OS next year.
Gaming is one area which will suffer a setback, after battery life. Games are only now being optimised for HD resolutions and even seemingly simple games like Angry Birds, is quite taxing on a dual-core phone. Now imagine boosting the polygon count in order to keep the game just as sharp and crisp for Full HD screens while maintaining the same, steady frame rate. This will require a good amount of processing power, which the new SoCs should be able to handle, but again at the cost of battery life. The same goes for video playback. You’ll now need at least HD quality videos on your handset for a pixel-free viewing experience. SD videos up scaled to 1080p are not going to be a pretty sight.
It seems as if manufacturers are focusing more on improvements that they know people will want but aren’t really giving us what we need and that is, better battery life. If you tell me HTC or Samsung is working on an Android phone that promises 2 days of usage, then I’m intrigued. Innovation for innovation’s sake is never a good idea and the sooner the OEMs realize this, the better.