Opportunities for magic

The new iPad has arrived, most notably with a retina display with four times as many pixels as the previous display. The new iPad has 2048 by 1536 pixels, for an amazing resolution of 264 pixels per inch.

The increase in resolution, and thus the increase in file sizes, has some concerned. Stephanie Rieger wrote last week in “Not In My Best Interest,” that “Sure, the fonts are so crisp they could cut glass, but absolutely everything else on screen is fuzzy.

There are understandable concerns with delivering graphics with huge file sizes over limited mobile bandwidth. Even over home wi-fi, the graphics are large and will take time to load.

Despite the legitimate practical concerns, I think what some are missing is something easy to lose sight of:

The opportunity to create a magical experience.

I love Walt Disney World. I had been to Disneyland once as a child, and once shortly after we were married. Disneyland has its own wonder, and will always have a special place in my heart. But a few years ago, my wife introduced me to Disney World. It cast a spell on me. We have visited Disney World a number of times since then, and frankly, I hope to spend a lifetime returning there.

Why would I feel like that? I have always been one who wants to try new things, explore new places. What draws me back there time and time again?


I value quality, customer service and attention to the details that make user experience seamless. It should be no wonder that I love Apple… and Disney World.

Every moment you are in Disney World is an opportunity for something magical to happen. I am a grown man, but having Winnie the Pooh give you a hug and bouncing with Tigger? Priceless.

Cast members delight in creating magical moments. On a trip celelbrating our anniversary, Disney gave us buttons wishing us a happy anniversary to wear in the park. Dozens of times, cast members smiled and wished a very happy anniversary, which felt great. One cast member stopped us and told us we had a phone call. When we got to the phone, it was Mickey and Minnie on the other line, thrilled to wish us a happy anniversary, too.

Was it recorded? Has this happened to many other couples? Yes. But in that moment, it felt truly special.

Working with web design, it is so easy to become jaded. We have so many challenges to deal with, from browser inconsistencies, to mobile bandwidth issues, to different methods of input and a wide vareity of device capabilities. No wonder that we worry so much when something like a new iPad comes along that introduces a new set of challenges in delivering high resolution images.

Rather than fret about the practical challenges, which are very real, I humbly suggest that this is yet another opportunity for magic.

Yes, it will take extra work, but it is a chance to dazzle our site users with stunning photos, crisper than they have ever seen on a computer of that size before, nearly indistinguishable from a printed photograph.

Sure, there are a lot of pixels, but there are even more pixels in a 27-inch Apple Cinema Display, which is 2560 by 1440. If you have ever thought of delivering a full-screen photo to that size display, a full-screen graphic for the new iPad is comparable.

Will it be difficult to deliver large retina-quality graphics at the same time as delivering small mobile-friendly graphics? Absolutely. Thankfully, there are efforts underway to address that, such as the Picturefill project created by Scott Jehl, which delivers a new element that would more easily allow for graphics optimized for multiple display sizes as well as multiple resolutions. The Responsive Images W3C community is working on addressing these challenges.

The new iPad offers the opportunity for high-resolution graphics, and yes, until sites update their graphics, existing photos might look a bit blurrey. Although, after taking a look at an example or two, I don’t think the fairly slight fuzziness is the end of the world.

And after all, this isn’t much different than when HDTVs came to market. Yes, at first, TV channels looked fuzzy and slightly awful. Eventually channels went HD. People bought Blu-Ray players. Netflix started streaming HD. We survived. And now we can watch TV shows and movies that are much crisper.

When that conversion first happened, and I had my first HDTV, I remember seeing our local news in HD for the first time. It was stunning. A vastly different experience from before. Magical.

High-resolution graphics are a new challenge on our horizon. Thankfully the same techniques we have been adopting through responsive web design to deal with various devices should also be useful in dealing with various device resolutions.

This is not a problem that is going away. Yes, right now, retina-quality graphics are found on the new iPad, as well as on smaller screens, such as the iPhone 4 and 4S, as well as other smartphones, too. But this will not stop there.

Make no mistake, retina-quality graphics are coming to Mac desktops and laptops, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we see them within the next few months.

If the pixels are doubled, which seems likely, that means we could see a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a resolution that jumps from 1280x800 to 2560x1600. A 15-inch 1440x900 display could become a 2880x1800 display. 17-inch 1920x1200 to 3840x2400. A 21.5-inch iMac has a 1920x1080 display, which could jump to a 3840x2160 display. And the crown jewel, the 27-inch cinema display, at 2560x1440? Well there, pixel doubling may not be available, since the maximum resolution from upcoming processors may max out at 4096x2304.

Still, that could be stunning.

Incredibly difficult, yes, but stunning.

And this won’t just be Apple. You may have noticed, but every now and then, others tend to follow Apple’s lead.

I think back to watching a HD news broadcast for the first time. The channels that first took on that challenge delivered magic. The ones who fretted and waited? By the time they introduced HD, it was simply expected.

When a new technology comes out, we have a small window, to innovate, to try new things, before these innovations are simply a feature everyone assumes is included.

There will always be new challenges. HTML, JS and CSS will continue to change, evolve. I doubt there will ever be a time where everything is completely stable, because when that time comes, it will mean the web is no longer innovating, growing, evolving.

So just remember, this is not just a problem to overcome. Another burden on our shoulders. High-resolution graphics are an opportunity for magic.

Abra cadabra.