The Apple Watch Display

Raymond Soneira:

Apple has implemented a rather aggressive display Brightness and display power management strategy using a mandatory Automatic Brightness Ambient Light Sensor that significantly restrains the display’s Brightness. While satisfactory for low indoor ambient lighting it significantly reduces the Contrast Ratio and Color Gamut as the ambient light level increases and there is no way for the user to make any adjustments other than just shading the watch somehow. Another form of aggressive display power management is turning off the display after 6 to 17 seconds, which is rather inflexible and can be very annoying, and it interferes with some uses of the watch.

Everyone’s eyes are different. For someone like me who has sensitive eyes, a certain level of brightness might be too bright. For others who are less sensitive, that same level might be too dim. How about a brightness calibration process? When Apple Watch first starts up it can ask you, “Is this text bright enough?”

Here’s another thought: what if Apple Watch sensed color temperature and automatically compensated? For instance, you’re in an office building with blueish CFL bulbs checking your Instagram feed. Apple Watch would warm the color temperature of the OLED display transforming your friends’ faces from lifeless zombies to healthy humans.

The premium Apple Watch models have a sapphire crystal rather than using a cover glass like on the iPhone 6 and most smartphones. That is the same approach used on premium traditional watches, but there is one very significant difference between them. The much higher Reflectance of sapphire compared to glass almost doubles the reflected ambient light, which is fine for traditional watches that work by reflecting ambient light, but significantly washes out the image contrast and color on emissive smart watch displays. It’s an interesting compromise between the luxury and scratch resistance of sapphire versus optical performance.

From what I can tell, the display on the Apple Watch already has quite a bit of contrast; the user interface background is mostly black, a deep space kind of black, and that helps a great deal with contrast. What if Apple developed a new type of sapphire that retained its hardness without all that reflectance?

Happily waiting to see what Apple Watch 2 will be like.