How Does the iPhone Super Retina XDR Display Impact Digital Marketing?

How Does the iPhone Super Retina XDR Display Impact Digital Marketing?

Apple released the newest iPhone on September 20. Dubbed the iPhone 11—with iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max versions available—it should come as no surprise that Apple continues to improve on their flagship phone. It should also come as no surprise that the masses are tripping over themselves to get their hands on it.

With new technology come new wrinkles and new opportunities for those of us that work in the tech and marketing industries. Always looking to exploit the hottest trends and best features that technology offers, many of us are wondering what the new iPhone means for our industries.

Perhaps you’ve had a lull in your marketing efforts. The same tried-and-true methods are becoming watered down as more and more marketers catch on. Maybe you’re looking to utilize the new iPhone features to get a leg up on the competition and ride the wave that Apple creates every year. Is there some new, groundbreaking feature that will unlock the next step in marketing excellence? Or is the once-exponential growth in smartphone tech starting to plateau? Let’s look!

New phone, new tech: an overview

While each version of the iPhone 11 comes with all-around improvements—most notably the innovative triple camera—for the purposes of this post we’re going to focus on the new Super Retina XDR display and its capabilities.

For starters, Super Retina XDR is only available on the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max; the base iPhone 11 has the same Super Retina HD Display found on the iPhone X models. Super Retina XDR is a marked improvement over the previous display, and we’ll break down the numbers so you can see how.

A super bright and sharp OLED display

The first thing you’ll probably notice about the new display is just how bright it is. The Super Retina XDR Display touts an impressive 800 nits of typical brightness and a max brightness of 1,200 nits. A “nit” is simply a unit of luminescence used to measure brightness on device displays.

For a frame of reference, a basic smartphone has around 200–300 nits, while most high-end smartphones will have 500–1,000 nits (the iPhone XS has a typical brightness of around 600 nits and a maximum of 725 nits). For an extreme example, the best OLED TVs on the market can top 2,000 nits. In practical terms, Super Retina XDR’s 800-nits typical brightness is more than enough to see your screen easily in direct sunlight.

Super Retina XDR also has incredible sharpness with 458 pixels per inch (ppi), though that remains unchanged from the iPhone XS Super Retina HD Display.

Crazy contrast ratio and color range

One of Apple’s strongest assets is their ability to spin existing technology into slightly different technology with a new, flashier name and sell the hell out of it. In the case of Super Retina XDR, “XDR” stands for Extreme Dynamic Range, which is a step up from High Dynamic Range (HDR) but more or less on par with HDR10—the current, non-Apple standard. It should also be noted that the Samsung Note 10 display features HDR10+, which is unsurprisingly an improvement on HDR10.

But enough about Apple’s branding shenanigans; XDR is still seriously impressive. Dynamic range, be it “high” or “extreme,” refers to contrast and color range of media. Super Retina XDR has both of those nearly perfected. Color contrast is measured by the contrast ratio, which is the ratio of the luminance of the brightest shade (white) to the darkest shade (black). Apple claims a contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1, which means that the brightest whites are 2 million times brighter than the deepest blacks—in theory, at least. How those numbers work out in reality is another matter.

When manufacturers advertise contrast ratios, the current trend is to list the “dynamic contrast ratio,” which is not a standardized measurement (like static contrast ratios, which are largely unadvertised these days), and it makes it nearly impossible to use for comparisons. Taken at face value, though, Super Retina XDR’s contrast ratio is double that given for the iPhone XS, and it definitely shows.

Suffice it to say that Super Retina XDR rivals the best displays on the market, and it’s as good as (and possibly better than) what the human eye can actually perceive with a 1,000:1 static contrast ratio.

Aside from the ridiculous contrast ratio, Super Retina XDR utilizes Apple’s True Tone technology and a cinema-grade color spectrum to offer the most accurate, natural-looking color representation to date. Taken all together, Super Retina XDR’s very bright and very sharp display, extreme contrast and vibrant colors make for the best iPhone display yet.

What does it mean for marketing professionals?

To be upfront: not much, sadly, but we’ve done a lot of research here, and it won’t be for nothing. At least you get your answers, right? Short of rapid advancements in web development, browser display capabilities or file compression, the media that Super Retina XDR excels with is simply too big and unwieldy for web sites. We had a hypothesis, though, which we’ll share here.

Web pages with High Dynamic Range Images (HDRI): a pipe dream for now

HDRI is nothing new. It’s been around in the photography game for some time, but HDRI-capable cameras and technology were introduced into new iPhone and some Android devices in the last few years. It has since become wildly popular with amateur photographers.

As you might have guessed, HDRI adds “dynamic range” to photos, adding a greater contrast between light and dark shades. With mobile devices, HDRI works by taking multiple shots (usually 3) with different exposures in rapid succession. The phone’s editing software then automatically merges the images into one image with greater contrast than would otherwise be possible.

The upshot of this process is a vivid and vibrant image that really catches the eye. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could add beautiful HDRIs to your site, or make an ad with an HDR video? Of course it would. Mobile users with HDR-capable displays would be in for a treat, and your site would stand out from the crowd. But there’s a problem: the file size is way too big for web browsers to support.

For years, the standard for web images has been JPEG and PNG files simply because they’re decent quality with a manageable file size. JPEGs are an 8-bit image file, which means that each color channel (Red, Green and Blue) uses 8 bits of data for every pixel to replicate a specific color. HDRI is a different beast; it utilizes 32 bits of data for each color channel per pixel.

With that information in hand, bear with us while we extrapolate a bit here: 32 bits versus 8 bits supposedly means that every HDRI pixel uses 4 times more data than a JPEG pixel to produce the same-sized image. What’s more, HDRI needs to be a higher resolution (meaning more pixels) to take full advantage of what HDRI offers.

When it’s all said and done, HDRI files are far too large. Even if you were able to upload an HDRI file to a webpage, the page speed would slow to a crawl as it struggles to load the huge image.

Lossless HDRI compression: not quite yet

Some of you might be wondering if it’s possible to convert HDRIs into a more manageable file format like JPEG. And while you most definitely can, there is yet another problem: your 32-bit HDRI file will then be an 8-bit JPEG file. As a result, the HDRI will lose all of the qualities that make it HDR. The converted JPEG file is now just a reasonable facsimile of the HDRI, and your image won’t appear any differently on an HDR display versus a standard LCD or LED display.

There may be hope on the horizon, though. There seems to be HDRI compression technology available, but we’ll admit we’re far out of our element when it comes to understanding what it all means—let alone explaining it back to you. There are three lossless image compression standards that we’re aware of: JPEG-HDR, developed by Greg Ward of BrightSide Technologies and owned by Dolby and JPEG XT, which is based on JPEG-HDR seem infeasible for most of us, or at least heavily involved. The third is JPEG 2000, which may be our best chance.

JPEG 2000 (JP2) is actually the oldest standard of the three—it was developed at the turn of the new millennium. JP2 supports any bit depth, including 32-bit floating point pixels that HDRI utilizes. HDR to JP2 conversion software exists, but most browsers do not support JP2. According to, nearly 80% of browsers don’t support JP2 images. The browsers that do support it mostly exist on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. You’re welcome to use HDRI converted to JP2 on your site, but 80% of your audience won’t see it.

2x graphics: a stop-gap

When Retina displays were first introduced, Apple gave web developers a workaround to serve up Retina-optimized images by uploading 2 versions of the same image: one “standard” image (1x) for the Regular Joes with their non-Retina displays, and one “high resolution” image (2x) for Retina users. The high-resolution image is the same as the standard image, but it has twice the height and width—hence the “2x”. When a device with a Retina display loads the page, it will load the 2x image. When a standard display loads the page, it will load the 1x image.

If you haven’t already done this to your site, it’s a fairly easy way to spruce it up for our friends with Retina and other high-resolution displays. Take this scenario for example: You have a 600x300 standard image coded into a 600x300 space on your page, but you’re pulling it up on your Retina display and it looks a little blurry. To fix that, you create another version of that image with 1200x600 resolution and prepend _2x before the file extension (e.g., file.jpg → file_2x.jpg) and add it into the same space as the standard image. The browser will automatically load the appropriate 1x or 2x.

Now, 2x is not XDR or even HDR, but it is definitely a step in the right direction for optimizing your web page for the future of super high-res displays. As XDR and its ilk become more widespread, you can bet that Apple will let us all know how we can best take advantage of it.

Where to go from here?

That’s about all the information we have for now. Until JPEG-HDR, JPEG XT and JPEG 2000 become widely available and easy to use, it seems that websites and ads will be stuck with JPEG, PNG and other similar file types for the time being. Our friends with Super Retina XDR, HDR10 and HDR10+ displays will have to make do with viewing stunning imagery in their native and 3rd-party photo- and video-viewing software. The horror.

We do hope you’ve learned something, though. At MAXtech Agency, we love to help wherever and whenever we can. Whether you need marketing, web development or IT Managed Services, you’ve come to the right place. Check out our blog to stay tuned in, or contact us any time with questions about our services.

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