The death of the pixel

It really didn’t hit me until recently. Something I’ve worked with for years, is being forced to retire. Well, not really retire, but at least asked to take a seat in the background.

My daughters love it when I tell them stories about “When I was little…” – the stories always begin with that saying. They usually have a lot to do with technology, and now things have changed over the last 40 years. You know the drill – phones with self-coiling cords that were stuck to the wall, payphones, Disney Read-Along books (records and then tapes), etc. Good times.

Two days ago, I had been working with a Retina Macbook Pro earlier in the day, and then it was time to put my 8 year old to bed. I told her about the Apple IIe my parents had bought when I was younger – the computer that I used through my first year of college.

Though my parents had even opted for the 80-column text card, as I look back now, the things that stick out in my mind were using The Print Shop to create horribly pixelated banners and signs, and using AppleWorks to create documents – all the way through that first year of college. I told her all about the tiny, block-like dots that made up everything on the screen, and everything that we printed.

The pixel was an essential part of technology then. We were on the other end of the spectrum from today; that is, “how many pixels do you need to make a bunch of pixels look kind of like the letter ‘o'”. I have to look back now and laugh a bit, because I recall how – while it was amazing to have computers at all – this early era of Apples and PCs is laughable from a user experience perspective. Like cars with tillers and no windscreen, these were good enough to work, for the time being.

With my iPhones, I’ve appreciated how amazing the pixel-dense “Retina” displays are. In particular, reading text is incredibly pleasant, as you can often forget you’re reading off of pixelated glass. But whether you’re consuming or creating content on that size of screen, it’s hard to get “immersed” in it.

Only as I used that Retina Macbook (a 13″), did I really realize how far we’ve come. Now it isn’t, “how many pixels do you need to make it look like an ‘o'”, it’s “how small do the pixels need to be so that you can’t see the pixels in the ‘o'”. Instead of looking like a bunch of dots creating the illusion of a letter on the screen, it’s the feeling of ink and a magical typewriter that delivers a WYSIWYG experience with┬ádigital ink on digital paper. Truly amazing.

1 comment

  1. Totally agree. The other thing I think is amazing about the “new world” of Retina display is that the screen resolution isn’t really in pixels. It is more like, how big do you want stuff to be. The scaling really makes the pixels less meaning full. Great post.