Apple made a very clever step change when they announced their new iPhones, the 6 and the 6 Plus. Nobody guessed the screen resolution and the pixel count correctly — though nobody was surprised by the 4.7 and 5.5-inch dimensions of the screens. The reason nobody guessed? Apple introduced a level of abstraction: there is no longer a straightforward equivalence between the pixels that the iOS software manipulates in an image and the pixels which the devices display. Apple introduced a gear change so that the images in the apps are ‘resolution independent’. Developers dont need to get all their design elements scaled in various sizes, the system will take care of this presentational element by ‘upsampling’ or ‘downsampling’ the image which the program is working on. This up/downsampling fits the whole thing on the resolution of the device. Some of this is rather well explained by PaintCode with their Ultimate Guide to Screen Resolutions and in this product demo

This downsampling trick does not solve all life’s problems. Developers still need to think about the requirement that their app will appear on devices with two aspect ratios. The relatively squat aspect ratio 4:3 of the iPad, and the relatively tall and lean aspect ratio of the iPhones 16:9. They also have to take account of the fact that these devices and the apps that sit on them will be swung from portrait to horizontal mode and vice versa, but it looks like that degree of variability may be all that is needed for the immediate future. That makes life a bit simpler!

Making images resolution independent does not at all help those app designers — who have been disappointingly influential in the digital magazine and the digital newspaper business — who insist that apps should be precisely designed for the screen dimensions and the screen resolution of these devices. If the design of your app is purposely resolution dependent there is more work to do. The iPhone version will look blown up on the 6 Plus, and if you design afresh for the 6 Plus, the chances are that your best effort will be cramped on the 5. The page-based designs, which can float into screens with varying sizes and pixel counts, win out. So it is time to think again about the fundamental questions? Do magazines really need to flow? Do newspapers need issues? Will digital content be sold in subscription bundles, or will it be transacted in atomic lumps?

The design of magazine and newspaper apps has a fundamental bearing on the commercial proposition. Apple’s commitment to resolution independence is helping the cause of the virtual newspaper or magazine with its issues, its pages and its edges.