The best thing about the next iPhone’s screen may not be its size.
In recent months, several news outlets have reported that Apple may use a technology called quantum dots to enhance features of their next-generation display.
Quantum dots are nanocrystals made out of semiconductors. When working with objects measured in billionths of a meter (that’s what “nano” means), you tend to get weird “quantum” effects — the physical rules you have to work with change.
Quantum dots are interesting to display manufacturers because their weird effect is that they can be tuned to emit very specific frequencies of light — in a screen, that means colours can be reproduced more accurately than with traditional materials.
Back in December, AppleInsider’s Mikey Campbell wrote up a summary of an approximately 18-month-old patent filing Apple made describing how it would use quantum dots in displays. Apple thinks it could significantly improve colour reproduction in its Retina display by emitting light through a thin film of quantum dots.
Two weeks ago, Patently Apple summarized four new Apple patents related to the use of quantum dots in displays. Together, the techniques Apple describes would let its screens not only show colours more accurately, but also show a wider gamut of colours.
Amazon used quantum dots in its Kindle Fire HDX tablets, and while its display offers a high resolution and fantastic colour reproduction, it has a fairly narrow colour gamut and a distinct light-bleed issue. Apple’s patents suggest it has seen similar issues in its R&D and taken significant strides to address them.
(Of course, Amazon’s quantum dot display already produces a wider gamut than the current iPad mini with Retina, so I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t also a top-tier screen. The bar is simply rising.)
There’s reason to believe that we’ll see quantum dots in Apple displays this year.
Forbes contributor Haydn Shaughnessy recently spoke to Jason Hartlove, CEO of Nanosys, a company that holds many patents involving quantum dots. According to Hartlove, Apple’s designs build on Nanosys tech. He also claims that the first phone with a quantum dot display will launch by mid-year.
Apple CEO Tim Cook also made it clear that screen quality is a major concern for Apple i
n an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Here’s the response he gave when asked if he was against a bigger iPhone screen:
What we’ve said is that until the technology is ready, we don’t want to cross that line. That doesn’t say we’ll never do it. We want to give our customers what’s right in all respects — not just the size but in the resolution, in the clarity, in the contrast, in the reliability. There are many different parameters to measure a display and we care about all those, because we know that’s the window to the software.
Just as a camera isn’t automatically better than another that can snap fewer megapixels, a bigger, higher resolution screen isn’t automatically better than one with a smaller, less dense screen. Things like colour reproduction and contrast are huge factors too, and Apple seems to be focusing on that for whatever follows the Retina display we’ve all gotten used to since 2010.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.