Giant OS X Icons from the Future

Apple's next iteration of OS X, Leopard, will may be (but probably will not be) the first major operating system that supports "resolution independence," the ability to display the interface based on relative size, not simple pixel counts. By freeing the interface from to-the-pixel mappings, computers will be able to more easily take advantage of greater "pixel density" in monitors. See, right now LCD panels on computer screens run in the 90 to 120ish pixels-per-inch (PPI) range. Obviously, the bigger the display, the lower the pixels-per-inch, given the same resolution. (That's why those humongous 1080p LCD televisions, nice as they are, look more "pixelated" when you're sitting right up next to them compared to an LCD monitor with an identical 1,920 by 1080 pixel resolution. Of course, you're not supposed to sit right up next to a giant LCD TV.) Higher PPI displays exist; I keep hearing about a 300 PPI monitor from IBM, although I can't find a link. The iPhone has a relatively low-resolution screen, but a very dense 160 PPI, which is why images look so sharp on the phone. Of course, if you output one of the current-generation operating systems to one of these high-PPI displays, all your icons, bound to specific pixel heights, will look tiny. (A one-inch icon on a 100 PPI screen would obviously be only 1/3rd of an inch on a 300 PPI screen.) By adding resolution independence, an operating system can scale its output up or down depending on a screen's pixel density. That means something that is meant to be an inch tall is always and inch tall, and text that is supposed to be displayed at a certain size and weight will always be the right size and weight, albeit more crisp. But if you add resolution independence, you'll need to make sure that all your source images are very high resolution. The easiest way to do that is to save them all as vectors—line shape data instead of "raster" images—or you can just do what Apple did and re-render all your icons to be huge images, like this one for TextEdit. (And I actually sized this one down just a bit to slot it in.) I really didn't intend to explain anything about resolution independence when I started to link this. Next time you're just getting a picture and a link! That Answers That [NSLog]
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10 Responses to Giant OS X Icons from the Future

  1. Smurf says:

    (Some) icon sets for KDE and Gnome are resolution-independent too (SVG).

    There’s no r-i window manager and widget set as far as I know, but some of them scale their graphics with the font size.

    It’s not yet automatic in any way, and thus not really user friendly, but that’ll probably change as soon as somebody donates a couple of high-res displays to a key developer or two. ;-)

  2. Anonymous says:

    IIRC the NeXT machine used display postscript to provide resolution independence. Perhaps Apple plans to resurrect that code.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Everyone keeps linking to these icons and talking about resolution independence, but the main reason for the HUGE icons in 10.5 is so they don’t look like ass when viewed in the new coverflow view in Leopard’s Finder.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Apple’s next iteration of OS X, Leopard, will be the first major operating system that supports “resolution independence,”

    Not true. For one thing, unless Steve’s still hiding something, there isn’t any user control over the resolution in Leopard. It’s still a developer-only test feature, just like in Tiger (10.4). I would expect a resolution control in the Displays preference, for example. But I suspect they simply ran out of time to finish all of the UI elements and icons and stuff. (I’m also still wondering why the scrollbars and progress bars don’t match the rest of the new appearance. There may yet be substantial additions, but they’re either going untested or they need to push Leopard’s date back.)

  5. Joel Johnson says:

    Ah! My mistake, then. Thank you for correcting me. I have updated my post.

  6. Teresa Nielsen Hayden/Moderator says:

    I’m glad you explained in detail, because I was halfway through the post before I realized that that monster icon wasn’t a parody.

  7. Anonymous says:


    One of the things that I DISLIKE about the mac is there is less control over the size of the UI…

    When I set up my aunt with her mac, I would have loved resolution independence: I would have turned up the size on the screen to make it easier on her eyes. This is one thing that the mac does a lot worse than Windows.

  8. Philip Fibiger says:

    Here’s the IBM display that did 204 pixels per inch:

  9. Anonymous says:

    IRIX (Silicon Graphics’ flavor of Unix) had a vectored, resolution independent UI years and years ago.

    • Joel Johnson says:

      No shit! That hardles surprises me from all the glowing things I (used to) hear about IRIX. It’s before my UNIX time, sadly.

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