The Biggest Change In iOS 6 Will Be Resolution Independence

Okay, I may as well hop on the rumor mill myself. We’re less than a month away from Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, where they will almost certainly announce iOS version 6. Given how much of an improvement iOS 5 was in terms of features (it now includes pretty much everything I switched to Android to get in 2010), folks have had to get creative in coming up with what iOS 6 is going to bring to the table.

But most of the speculation I see out there revolves around software features. Widgets on the home screen, or a completely new home screen altogether, a la Windows Phone. More refined notifications. Lots of new stuff. But I think the biggest difference between iOS 6 and what came before will be something you don’t notice at all if you don’t switch hardware. I think an iPhone 4S running iOS 6 will look a lot like an iPhone 4S running iOS 5. But 6 will allow for something impossible under iOS 5.

A 7 inch, 16:9 aspect ratio iPad mini with a 1600×900 Retina Display.

Both current iPad resolutions are 4:3 aspect ratio, the same as IMAX movies and your old tube TV. The iPhone is 3:2, Retina display or not. Neither are especially good at playing widescreen video, which is becoming a much more common use for these devices. The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, is much closer to 16:9 and Amazon is selling and renting a lot of video for the platform. Apple needs to close this gap.

They also need to grow their phones. The iPhone has always had a 3.5 inch screen. This was fine in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced. Most smartphone screens were about that size, or even smaller. The gargantuan (for its time) screen of the Palm Tungsten X was only 3.8 inches.

Since then, Android pushed the “standard” screen size to 4 inches, then 4.3. My Galaxy Nexus has a 4.65 inch screen. HTC’s new flagship One X is 4.7 inches. Samsung’s new Galaxy S III is 4.8 inches. Apple’s 3.5 inch screen on the iPhone is starting to feel cramped and limiting, regardless of the aspect ratio.

If Apple changes iOS to dynamically stretch and rearrange itself to fit whatever screen real estate is available, the way Android already does, they can start experimenting with other sizes and shapes for their screens, without having to merely double what they had before (the iPhone’s Retina display is exactly double on each axis what the 3GS had, 960×640 compared to 480×320, same for the new iPad compared to the iPad 2). They can make a 4 inch iPhone 5 that’s no wider than the 4S, just taller. They can make a 10 inch, 16:9 iPad (also a widespread rumor). And they can finally make a Retina display 7 inch tablet to directly compete with the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, an iPad mini running at 1600×900 to the Kindle Fire’s 1024×600.

This will mean Apple will have to ask developers who just updated their apps to support the iPad’s Retina display to update their graphics resources again, but hopefully for the last time, as it will all scale intelligently going forward. I think it’s not only likely, but about the smartest move Apple can make if they want to keep their dominant position in the mobile market.

And if, a month from now, I turn out to be wrong, please disregard this article.

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