"Apple ripped us off again": where is the 4K iPhone with a 40-megapixel camera?

"Apple ripped us off again": where is the 4K iPhone with a 40-megapixel camera?
The new Apple iPhone 6s family is out and this will likely be the biggest launch of 2015 and most of 2016: biggest in terms of sales, revenue, profits and influence on the state of smartphones.

Nonetheless, the critics are more vocal than ever in the comments section of various websites. It’s okay to be critical and we ourselves have a few areas we find Apple could have improved in, but at the same time, for someone who’s been following the industry for a while, it’s a bit tiring and really just sad to see short-sighted criticism repeated time and time again as an endless mantra.

We can do better than this.

In this article, I pick a couple of features - but it’s really an attitude of blind picking numbers - that iPhones are often criticized about. Would they really make the iPhone 6s better, had Apple included them? And did 'Apple rip us off again'?

4K display

The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium was recently unveiled as the first handset to feature an ultra high-res 4K display with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, resulting in a pixel density of more than 800ppi.

As a matter of fact, even earlier this year Samsung went on to include a Quad HD (1440 x 2560-pixel) resolution on a 5.1-inch display, making for a resolution of 577ppi.

At the same time, Apple’s iPhones stubbornly stick with a resolution as low as 750 x 1334 pixels and are constantly hammered about this.

And yes, sure, a higher resolution on the iPhones would in fact result in a sharper display, but here is the catch: most research points out that at regular viewing distances your eyes cannot actually perceive much of that increase in sharpness, even if you have 20/20 vision. You can see the difference between a 720p display and a 1080p display when you stare at the screen from an uncomfortably close distance, while the improvement from a Quad HD to a 4K is even less visible and practically impossible to notice on a smartphone screen.

Don't believe the maths behind this? Well, we actually did a blind test showing people images on a Quad HD and 1080p display, and they could not see any difference between the two.

The only truly practical benefit of a super high-res screen would be in virtual reality applications where each pixel is magnified and less pixels result in a noticeably pixelized picture.

If we were to assume, though, that virtual reality is not amongst the prime uses of a phone (at least, not yet), it would make no sense for Apple to make a 4K or even a Quad HD phone. Quite the opposite - such a screen would unnecessarily tax the processor and slow down the iPhone.

Super high-res camera

When I speak about cameras, the first thing that we usually mention is how many megapixels are in the sensor: the iPhone 6s made the jump to 12 megapixels from the 8-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 6, while the Samsung Galaxy S6 has a 16-megapixel camera, the Sony Xperia Z5 has a 23-megapixel camera, and the Nokia Lumia 1020 features a 41-megapixel camera.

Ha! That must mean that the Lumia 1020’s camera is about four times better than the iPhone and about two or three times better than the Samsungs and Sonys out there?


Maybe it’s us, the media, that paint a bit of a wrong impression as we mention the megapixel count every time we speak about a camera, while often ignoring to give details about its color reproduction, how it measures white balance and exposure, how fast it focuses and takes pictures, how easy it is to access commonly requested features like tune-ups in exposure, HDR, etc.

At the end of the day, megapixels tell nothing but a sheer size of an image. It would be ridiculous to compare two photographs by their sheer size: it is what is inside the frame that matters, not only the details.

And when it comes to megapixels, established photographers agree that even 6 megapixels is more than enough for large photo prints. Sure, there are conveniences of more megapixels - details are more plentiful, allowing you to crop parts of the picture and still end up with a decent photo, but such use cases are markedly niche.

Conclusion: We need to start looking beyond the numbers in the specs

It is this obsession with specs and number crunching that really draws attention away from what’s really important: how smooth your phone runs regardless of the number of cores in its processor, how accurate the colors of the screen are in this era of sharp-enough displays, how well it takes pictures in various lighting condition and not just how big and detailed those pictures are, how much it lasts in real-life use rather than how big its battery is, and the list goes on and on.

No, specs are not dead and they never will be: they are the building blocks of a good device, but just throwing around specs while completely ignoring the way they are put to use is no good either. It results in blind praise for devices that often don’t deserve it. 

And we can do better than this.

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