Apple hasn’t really had a hand in manufacturing or engineering display technology – but they have had a major influence in how that technology is innovated and utilized now and in the future. With the introduction of Retina displays, Apple had a large influence in raising the bar on mobile displays that pushed the mobile industry to adopt high pixel density displays to their devices. Now-a-days you’re hard pressed to find sub 720p HD displays in even the cheapest of smartphones.
Now that the industry has reached a climax of display resolution, a new frontier of color accuracy in displays has exposed itself. Currently, the number of colors your display can render is limited to what the display can support and what the background software can process. This limited amount of available colors is referred to as a “Color Space” or Color Gamut which is basically a nice way of stating the amount of color that is available to display. Not all color spaces are made equal – in fact, there are many color spaces that far surpass the sRGB standard that is used in many smartphones today. In the image below, it is evidently clear how little space is covered in sRGB compared to other standards such as Adobe RGB.
So what happens when a device tries to display a color outside of its color space? Simply put, it goes to the most similar extreme. For instance, lets look a simple 1-axis number line that goes from 0 to 10. If you were trying to plot the number 12 on this line you would have no luck because 12 does not exist. Instead, you could opt to choose the number 10 because it is the most extreme point on the end of the number scale. This is how our devices work when choosing a color to display. This often takes away the ‘pop’ people see with their eyes versus what is displayed on their computer screens at home. Something that was a vivid bright cyan in person may appear to be flattened and extra detail is lost when viewing the image on a monitor limited by the sRGB color space. A great example of this loss from an article on Webkit about color improvement can be seen below.
To many users the image above appears as a totally uniform red square. If only the red square is visible, it is because your display is running with sRGB settings. If you were using a wider color space like DP3 (a marginally larger color space than sRGB) or Adobe RGB a logo would be visible. The reason it’s not visible on sRGB displays is because the more vivid red (that is outside of the sRGB color gamut) is flattened to its closest extreme within the available color palette – which happens to match the rest of the image.
So what does this mean for the average mobile user? Well, it won’t change much in terms of usability or functionality and it probably won’t even be noticed by most people when implemented. But it does mean that the displays on our devices are still getting better! The colors are becoming that much more accurate and we have yet another display race on our hands. In the next year or two expect to see each smartphone manufacturer tout their device has supporting the ‘widest color space’. This inevitably is good for consumers as it drives more innovation into the industry and forces suppliers to improve upon the currently accepted standards used today.