All of those who know me, understand that one of my main hobbies is acquiring knowledge about technology. I am always updated on my tech news, and go through all rss news topics from all the main tech blogs. Since I started this blog, most of the topics have been about anything but technology. Well, I would like to change that and write a short post about something that has been bothering me as of late. This piece goes out to all the website and application designers, and I would like to use this opportunity to contribute to the beginning of a movement to change and solve the problem. This is about the resolution vs screen size dilemma. …

As with every piece of wannabe-legitimate constructive writing that is laid out, it is necessary to go through the explanation of the problem (hey, this is a blog, I can write whatever I want). The problem in this world at our current time is that we have moved from having computers, and mobile phones (now called smart phones) as luxury items to upgrading them to the ‘necessity’ category. So necessary that you CAN’T even imagine life without a computer or a mobile phone. And it wasn’t that long ago. Even I at my young age can remember the time when we didn’t have mobile phones or computers. Life actually was possible without them. People would spend their time not playing computers, but playing outside with each other, and if you wanted to know the whereabouts of a person you would call their home and ask. If they didn’t know, then tough luck. I don’t know about now, since we’ve gotten so used to being online 24/7. Being a tech enthusiast I am at the forefront of adopting new ways of living. Having mobile data enabled on my smartphone is something different. I have the information of THE WORLD at my fingertips, everywhere I go.

That’s where the problem starts. The invention of having stuff at fingertips. Because that was the time when other stuff started evolving as well. Computers started having multiple monitors, different sizes, connecting TVs to them and anything you can think of. Intel was on the forefront of this and developed its protocol of transmitting video wirelessly to TVs. What this means is that the stuff that comes out of computers and mobile phones started being displayed at different sizes and at different distances.

Now back when computers were starting out, this was not a problem, because there was no GUI (Graphical User Interface), just letters and numbers that represented lines of code or whatever application was being used.

Photo by: NASA
Photo by: NASA

Now we use computers for everything. And since having a Graphical User Interface is much more useful in consuming information, entertainment, and the production of said categories, (apart from Linux bash lovers) everything we do is graphically displayed on monitors. The problem comes when those pixies that make using a computer fool proof, they can only account for a number of variations of displays.

Now if we think about this problem, this can easily be seen as a hitch in the evolution of computing. Back when computers started out, they were big machines. You had to have a room to house one. Then they became much smaller. Although you still needed a desk to hold the monitor and the keyboard. Therefore, most of the early days of computing was designed as desk/sitting monitor+keyboard combination where the monitor was known to be not farther than 50cm from the eyes. Having this standard in mind it was easy to ‘design’ stuff.

Enter the mobile revolution. Laptops came into existence. Now screens started to vary in size and in distance. You could hold a laptop up close to your face, or at arms length. The screens of laptops started to range in size as well. Now we have smartphones and tablets. Even a greater range in screen size.

Ok, so what, there are different screen sizes. It’s easy. Have a couple of categories of screen sizes and design for them. Right? Well, it should be, but upon that variation of size, you have to account for the resolution as well. Now we have a problem.

Here is the problem for those not following. Let’s take an example of a now common resolution screen 1920×1080 otherwise marketed as FullHD. I have come across a 80″ TV, a 40″ TV, my laptop has a 15.4″ screen, also, the new Galaxy S4 with a 5″ screen, they all have the same 1920×1080 resolution. The new iPad 4 has an even bigger resolution at 9.7″. The problem is, that they are all viewed from different distances.

The lazy argument would be that, those devices are designed to be viewed at various distances so that the pixel size to distance ratio would be the same i.e. you watch a 42″ TV from 5m away, whereas you have the laptop at arms length. That’s the problem. That argument right there, is what is limiting us in computer graphical design.

Who said that there should be a standard of pixel size to distance ratio? Can’t I watch a 52″ TV from 4m away? Why do I have to squint every time I open up my laptop? Or why is the pinch to zoom feature necessary in phones when reading websites? Everything should be already zoomed and aligned.

This is not something that is really difficult to solve, that is what irritates me.

However, politics as always comes into play, and ruins everything. In their strive to market domination (or rather relevance) companies do not work together, and rarely standardise anything. They want everything done their way. In the worst case, if a company has a lot of market share, it even dictates things (MS with IE and Web Standards; Google with their WebM standard; iPhone with their Adobe hate). But all is not lost because standards can be achieved. Here’s one example: It’s because of that standard that most of today’s phones have a microUSB charger/connector. Now was that difficult? Now that title was misleading, because Apple, being the jerks that they are, think that they can make everyone use their standards. Hence no microUSB in their phones, always coming up with different SIM Card sizes, trying to change the 3.5mm audio jack standard. Come on! Work TOGETHER!

Now what kind of solution would there be in a utopian world? Well, you could gather all the players (Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Lenovo, HP, etc), sit them down, and come up with a unit that implies screen resolution+screen size. Or, just communicate the screen size in addition to the resolution. Then the designers and app makers can produce accordingly. This is easily done. Just like the way that your computer knows how much and what kind of RAM memory it has, or just like the browser has a user agent it’s a really small addition of information and seemingly easy implementable from a hardware vendor’s side. Hardware vendors wouldn’t even dare not to add this information to their devices if the market requires it. They only have to get together and agree on a standard.

This way, designers can go in a vector direction instead of a pixel one.

Having the information of the screen size, would make it easier to design graphically, but would make the transition or the adaptation of different screen sizes as well. The lack of this has made our operating systems very cumbersome in their display of graphical content. I want to be able to ZOOM EVERYTHING by about 15% on my Laptop and have everything look good and smooth. That’s what higher resolutions are for. Making graphical content look good. Instead, I’m stuck with two choices: increase the size in ‘some’ designated stuff to appear larger and more crooked, and having to zoom in every time I open a webpage that has elements defined in pixels.

The situation we’re in at the moment is everyone trying to accommodate each other. Designers thinking for which devices to design for and building ‘fluid’ layouts, or just ignoring any struggling not relevant vendor, and the vendors trying to accommodate lazy designers and interpreting their ‘pixel’ designs to accommodate the screen.

How about going one step further. Today, almost all of our devices have front facing cameras on them. How about using those cameras to adjust the zoom of the screen? I mean, they’ve been trying to simulate 3d using those cameras ( why not zoom level as well? I mean, if I sit at my desk my laptop is usually farther away from my eyes than when I have it on my lap. That would be radical. Setting a size level that is comfortable with your eyes, and then have the camera track your head, and measure how far from the screen you are, and adjust zoom level accordingly. Now that would be really nice! It would maybe move into the world of ‘augmented’ as well, immerse you in the operating system, have it be an extension of your personal space! Why hasn’t anyone thought if this before, or why wasn’t it implemented!? Hmmm….
Let me just stroll down to the patent office.

The problem is that the ‘pixel’ is not an accurate measurement for graphics, because of different ppi on various screens. Those display pixies (Samsung, LG, Sharp) are going to keep improving screens in the future. Pixels are going to become microscopic, and screens so dense with them, that you won’t be able to tell the difference between a screen and real life! But achieving that wouldn’t be possible without a notion of actual ‘size’ of the display. You know, the good old measurement unit known as a ‘metre’. It’s not the engineer’s or inventor’s job to design for the various uses of those high density, perfect colour reproducing displays. It’s his job to invent it and produce it. Designers are to design stuff for it.

Now, what needs to be done is for those kinds of people to get together: designers and engineers. There is less need for people/companies to think that they’re better than everyone else and just not agree with anyone and go on their own way (looking at you Apple), and more need for people that collaborate for a greater good. Although engineers and designers look at the world differently, they can get together and help each other out. So this is me wishing that in the near future things will be displayed better. Not clearer, or sharper, or dynamic, or retina something, or vibrant, or stunning, or immersive, or vivid, or whatever marketing term you can find. But BETTER! I would much more gladly take a moderate resolution/color reproduction display over a premium one if it displays the content better on it. (E.g. when the iPad came out people liked using Skype much more on their iPhone, instead of the scaled up version on the iPad). So engineers and graphic designers have to stop throwing the ball on each other’s court and realize that the ball is on both of their courts! Pick it up and get to work.