Friction-Free Information Consumption

Michael Lopp:

There are two solutions for adding pixels to your desktop. You can buy more displays until you can see every gosh darned relevant pixel at once (which is awesome). Or, in the case of notebooks, prior to Lion, you could employ the bevy of Transition layer-based tools like Exposé and Spaces.

My preference is the sea of pixels provided by two massive displays featuring eight bajillion pixels. It’s efficient for one simple reason: my eyes move faster than my fingers. With two displays full of well-organized bits, I can instantly shift from Working-on-Code window to Looking-up-Syntax window simply by instantly visually shifting from one window to the next. Nothing moves, scrolls, or changes position or orientation. This is friction-free information consumption.

I don’t want to brag, but I share my previous pixel rig to illustrate an important point. I used to have three 24-inch LCD monitors with 1920×1200 pixels each, all in portrait mode. That’s 6.9 million pixels and I put up everything I needed. I used those pixels for Excel, Access, and researching online. I scrubbed data, managed the data, and constructed spreadsheets to analyze the data. All those pixels were needed and put to good use. I was developing information.

Now I’m doing something quite different. I write and curate stuff about pixels, design, and Apple. What I use now is a 17-inch display with a pixel format of 1920×1200 good for a total of 2.3 million pixels. There are usually two 960×1200 windows open with the source on the left and the WordPress admin page on my right. For what I do now a much more simple setup like this makes me more productive.

The number of desirable pixels depend on what you do. And it’s not the case that more pixels are necessarily better. But this also assumes one thing that might not be the case in the future: more pixels equals more info. The iPhone 4 is the best and only example as far as I know. The 3.5-inch LCD went from having 480×320 to 960×640. That didn’t mean fonts got smaller or you now had four times the space to put information on. What it did mean is everything became four times sharper. Fonts got sharper. Icons got sharper. Stuff on the iPhone 4 became much clearer compared to previous iPhones. Can this happen on OS X?

In OS X Lion HiDPI Modes I quote MacRumor’s Arnold Kim who reported on HiDPI modes in OS X Lion suggesting much higher resolutions in the future. For instance the current 13.3-inch MacBook Air has a pixel format of 1440×900. That might be bumped up to 2880×1800. But the result wouldn’t be tiny fonts and icons but exceptional sharpness and clarity.

I took a gander with a small utility called Quartz Debug to experience HiDPI on Snow Leopard:

Without HiDPI, setting my MacBook Pro to 960×600 would result in icons and text that are very fuzzy. In 960×600 HiDPI everything, except for web text (I’ll get to this later), is crisp.

Make that super crisp. In the future it might be the case that more pixels will necessarily mean a better experience, but for a different reason.