Skip navigation

Microsoft Talks High DPI Displays for Windows 8


Responding to the points I made last week in Compete Report: Apple iPad (2012), Microsoft this week reiterated that Windows 8 will indeed support high DPI displays just like the Retina display on the iPad. And Microsoft claims that Windows 8 will benefit from a more diverse portfolio of device and screen types, furthering its claim that Windows 8 is a "no compromises" system.

"Windows 8 PCs will come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from small tablet screens to laptops and large desktop monitors and multi-monitor setups," writes Microsoft senior program manager David Washington in a new post, Scaling to different screens, on the Building Windows 8 Blog. "They will also scale to different pixel densities; from that of the typical tablet to new high-definition tablets."

Given that I've already described why Windows 8 won't offer as seamless an experience on high DPI displays as does Apple in its new iPad, I am of course most interested here in the new bits of information that Microsoft supplies in this post. And there are a few:

Common display resolution sizes. Microsoft claims that Windows 8 PCs will arrive with support for a variety of screen resolutions, as we knew, with the most common being 1366 x 768 (the so-called "reference design" for all Windows devices and Metro-style apps). But it will scale up to display sizes like 2560 x 1440 as well. It's worth noting, however, that Microsoft sees these types of displays as being appropriate for high-end "family hub" PCs for the most part. Remember, where Apple has moved the bar to 2048 x 1536, Microsoft is stuck in the past with 1366 x 768 in Metro. It just is.

1024 x 768 is the minimum. Again, we knew this, but I'm curious about the explanation of why, given that Apple has just left this resolution in the dust (the iPad from 2011 was 1024 x 768). "We chose 1024x768 as a minimum for Metro style apps [because] it is large enough to support the rich and beautiful layouts that we expect to see," Washington writes, "web sites are typically designed for 1024x768 as the minimum, [and the] new platform supports the devices of today and tomorrow." That's the crux of things, folks. Windows, as always, has to hit that least common denominator. You can see how this is both a pro and a con.

And the MAXIMUM resolution of a Metro style app is ... 2560 x 1600. Well, sort of. Actually, Microsoft says there's no maximum. But it's unclear that resolutions over that offer any benefit or are even being tested. Because, again, stuck in the past.

Scale. Microsoft talks about how Metro-style apps scale to fit larger screen sizes, and if you use the ribbon in applications like Office today, you get the idea: You see more stuff and if you go big enough, the stuff just runs out and you get blank space. Compare that to the iPad, where the screen looks the same whether its on the iPad 2 or the new iPad; Apple just scales things correctly rather than making everything smaller. So the home screen, web pages, apps, whatever, all look the same on the new device. They're just amazingly crisper and clearer. That is what users expect and want. And we've never really gotten that in the Windows world. This ties into... 

Pixel density. Yep, Windows supports high DPI displays as I wrote about last week. Poorly, but it does. From what I can tell, that support will continue in Windows 8. The biggest benefit, of course, will occur in Metro apps, not on the desktop, which has never scaled properly or well. "As the pixel density increases, the physical size of objects on screen gets smaller," Washington writes, noting the central issue here. "If Windows wasn’t built to accommodate different pixel densities, objects on screen would be too small to easily tap or read on these tablets."

The problem is, Windows isn't built to accommodate different pixel densities. Not today, and not for the desktop in Windows 8. But Metro apps will make a concession to this need, though they will not work like apps do on the iPad. Instead, Windows 8 will provide three, hard coded scale percentages that will apply automatically according to the device: 100% when no scaling is applied, 140% for HD tablets, and 180% for quad-XGA tablets. Honestly, on tablets, I think Apple's is the better approach, but then Apple only currently supports a single device/screen size, so it's easier for them to be consistent.

Put simply, I'm glad Microsoft has explained themselves here. But let's face it, Windows is just never going to be as simple and elegant as the iPad, and that's particularly true in this area. Windows' diversity of devices, as always, remains both a blessing (choice) and a curse (inconsistency).

And in parting, a stab at humor. Here's what the new iPad home screen would like if Apple did things like Microsoft:


You know its true.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.