I started peeping at iPhone pixels under the microscope when Steve Jobs introduced the Retina Display. Why? Because then the concept of a retina display was new and I wanted to see if it was hype. It was decidedly, and scientifically not hype which delighted me to no end. Now, I’m just interested in some of the things on the small side of life and as display technology changes, its an interesting comparison to stick the latest gadgets underneath the microscope from time to time.
This evening, it was the Apple Watch display’s time to go under the scope. That and I promised Craig Hockenberry that I’d get these images for him, so here goes…
All these images were made on an Olympus stereomicroscope with an old Canon 1D Mk III camera used for imaging. Its also important to note that these images were made from the 42mm Apple Watch which has a resolution of 312 x 390 pixels, at approximately 326 pixels per inch which is at a slightly different resolution and pixel size than the smaller Apple Watch model.
Interestingly, the Apple Watch pixels look very different from the iPhone pixels. This may be because the Apple Watch display is an AMOLED screen, I don’t know. But what surprised me was the actual pixel imaging sites are quite small in comparison to previous pixels in say, the iPhone. This may have something to do with reducing the current load in a device that is very power sensitive. It seems that almost all conversations at Apple these days center around 3 things*, power/current, which relates directly to heat and this display seems to meet those issues by reducing the size of the power consuming light emitting components while preserving the resolution required to meet “Retina Display” requirements.
This image above was made at a lower magnification than the image at top to show better how the pixels blend to make a white display image. At high magification, it appears that there is quite a bit of black space around the actual sub-pixels, but this may also have something to do with contrast ratios which, for the Apple Watch, really are excellent. Blacks are black and colors are bright and easy to see. It is a very nice display indeed.
The other item of interest for me, and I think the biggest advancement for wearables aside from the Taptic Engine is the capacitive component or pressure sensitive, touch screen component of the display which I revealed through a bright indirect fiber optic light illumination. You can see the contact elements as orange dots over the red, green and blue sub pixels. I’m even less sure of how the pressure sensitivity works, unless it combines a different imaging modality like an IR backlight, but it certainly helps build the magic mystique of the device and it builds into the Watch a powerful new interface feature. If I had an IR sensitive camera handy or perhaps my old pair of NVGs, we could run a little experiment there. If anyone has a IR sensitive camera handy, take a look at the Apple Watch and report back on what you see in the IR range. I might have a colleague upstairs with one that if I get a chance this week, I’ll stop by and see if I can borrow it.
Regardless, the other interesting item is how close the capacitive component of the Apple Watch is to the pixels. The screen is bonded quite close which is a far cry from how far away the surface of the glass was in say, the first iPhone display.
*The other issue that seems to be bouncing off the halls at Apple everywhere is security, but that is another discussion entirely and quite interesting given the personal health information that this watch will be collecting. But here, I discuss pixels and leave the security discussions to those more qualified. That said, from my understanding of Apple and their security policies and practices, I am infinitely more comfortable with an Apple device collecting personal information than I am with some of the competing products from other companies.