Retina Scanning My iPad

“I would tell you to get your eyes checked, but I know that doesn’t get us anywhere,” my wife chides me as I try to get her to find the irritating display anomaly on my new iPad that is bugging the hell out of me. And she is right, of course. An eye exam isn’t going to tell us anything we don’t already know. I am already famously monocular, with good sight out of only one eye.

“You know before we got married I don’t think I ever had to replace glassware…ever,” she says. In the year we have been together here I think I have seen half of our drinking glasses shattered in the garbage.

“Yeah, no depth perception.”

“Not too strong in the peripheral vision department either,” she adds. I knock into a lot of things I don’t quite see…like weight-bearing walls.

“Think of the upside. You don’t have to suffer through ‘Wrath of the Titans’ in 3D,” I offer. “I won’t be bugging you to replace the HD TV with a new 3D model?”



Since I am consigned to life in 2D, those flat planes mean a lot to me. I am a stickler when it comes to displays. I spent years finding the right HD TV for my tastes and I have returned numerous LCD monitors, smartphones and handheld game consoles for blown pixels, color shifting and flicker.

“But you know you are nuts,” my wife says hopefully. “Even I can see this is a really sharp display.”

But here is the thing about the much-hyped “Retina Display” on the new iPad. Once you get over the initial dazzle of the sharper edges, the technology not only recedes, but becomes less relevant. In fact, I have been moving back and forth between the first generation and this third-generation iPad now for a variety of tasks over the last two weeks, and most of the time I am unaware of the differences in everyday use. Sure, there is a peerless quality to playing back the latest "Mad Men" episode in HD on this thing. And the letter edges in the Nook and Kindle reader apps are finer since the two booksellers upgraded their apps. But unless I am focusing on the difference consciously, it really has no impact on my use.

What is impacting the experience of the new iPad is an anomaly that most people likely don’t detect (like my wife) but I and a coterie of others do –- discoloration and lighting unevenness across the expanse of the display.

While my wife isn’t seeing it, I know I am not fantasizing it. The first iPad I returned sent the Geniuses into a dark room with my iPad looking for the effect, and they all confirmed a yellow tinge affecting the left half of the screen.

And it turns out I am not alone. There is a growing Apple Support message thread on the issue, and some techie news sources are picking it up. ZDNet notes it. And MacRumors members have been writing about it for nearly a week.

For some the problem is a general yellow cast over the entire screen. For others like me, it is a real, noticeable shift that throws the color from cool on one half of the screen to warm and even dingy on the left side. Some argue that we simply are seeing the same issue with “glue” adhesive in the layers of the LCD needing to dry properly. Some even claim to have wrapped their iPads in a blanket and set a white screen to full brightness for 24 hours to cure the glue and eliminate the problem. Things get strange in Apple acolyte land.

Perhaps in some cases glue has something to do with this. But my first new iPad had two weeks of heavy use to “cure” and the issue was no better as time went on. I swapped it for the current one once the Geniuses agreed the problem was apparent. But the second iPad has precisely the same issue. And many serial iPad purchasers on the message boards are seeing something similar -- a discoloration or dimmer look to the left side (when the device is held in portrait mode, button side down).

I imagine that the vast majority of iPad owners never notice this sort of thing. And of course, message bases are the places where a disproportionate number of dissatisfied customers are found.

For me it is a frustrating deal-breaker because much of what I do is on the iPad: read books and Web sites. Assuring a relatively even, white background would seem essential in a device like this. And hyping the third-generation iPad for its peerless screen would seem to raise expectations and the quality bar even higher for Apple.

“You know this is a bit obsessive compulsive, don’t you?” my wife asks as she sees me get moody during my nightly iPad sessions.

“You say that as if it is a bad thing,” I mutter.

“I would ask if you might consider going on Zoloft, but I know I can’t even get you take vitamins.”

Funny -- even some of the fellows griping about this display issue in the message boards joke about having wives who don’t see it and that we all are showing “OCD-like” behavior. The word most often used in association with the display unevenness is “distracting.” It is the kind of thing you might never become aware of, but once you are it is all that you can see. And just to be clear, this is not restricted to the Retina Display. I and others have seen this problem on many LCDs over the year. It is a complex and imperfect way to display images.

But I think there may be a real and deeper point here. Let’s say it is not obsession, for the sake of argument. Let’s say the irritation I feel over this iPad display glitch also offers a glimpse at our evolving relationship to technology. These technologies are not just personal now. They are companion-like in our use of them. And the intimacy with which we relate to them is quite real. Here is a device that in many respects I love for its lush visuals and the absorbing experience it offers me when consuming content. It has woven itself into my daily rituals and has a place in my life and day that I dare say has emotional undertones. But there is something amiss in the experience –- something like a tick in someone you are talking with or a background buzz in a music track.

“You are whacked,” she pronounces. “You and all of the hypersensitives online you are commiserating with.”

“We are either perfectionist cranks or on the cutting edge of the next level of American technology consumerism,” I declare. “Perhaps we are charting out the next stage in humankind’s relationship to technology -– a genuinely emotional attachment that can leave us feeling frustrated, even spurned when our high expectations are not fully met.”

“You know you say that as if one of those two options is preferable,” she says. 

1 comment about "Retina Scanning My iPad".
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  1. Erik Sass from none, April 3, 2012 at 12:16 p.m.

    You and the other aggrieved iPad owners aren't being unreasonable, let alone OCD. As you note, the discoloration can distract when you're reading text on a white background, which is one of the main uses for the device. For $500+, it better be perfect. Anyone disagree?

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