When Apple announced the iPad, one of the features was the possibility of running iPhone apps, optionally scaling to 2x size with blurry results.

Fast forward to the announcement of the iPhone 4 and Retina display. The iPhone 4 uses the same apps as the legacy iPhone, only scaling images that don't have a higher resolution available. For everything else, the final render is as crispy as an app designed for the Retina display would be.

Both piece of hardware need to do exactly the same thing: scale up an app designed for the lower resolution legacy iPhones to twice its size. However the scheme used by the iPad ends up with blurry text and buttons, while the iPhone4 keeps everything crispy. Why didn't Apple change the scaling code to the same one used by the iPhone 4 with iOS 4?

  • It may be that the scaling code is the same or similar; the difference is just more obvious with the iPad because each individual pixel is bigger and therefore more noticable. Commented May 21, 2011 at 22:16
  • 1
    @Nathan: I doubt that. One of the most noticeable things is text. On a scaled iPhone app, it is blurry, while on an iPad app, the same text is perfectly crisp.
    – 3Doubloons
    Commented May 21, 2011 at 22:24

3 Answers 3


There are two strong reasons, one of which I got from an Apple engineer and the other of which has been implied by a few Apple employees but not stated outright.

The first reason is that the iPad 1 simply doesn't have enough RAM to do the emulation while rendering the Retina graphics, particularly while animating them. This come directly from someone who was involved, so I'm as certain as I can be that it's true. Of course this is a deal-killer, making the next reason unnecessary except for the fact that the iPad 2, which has double the RAM, still doesn't use the Retina graphics.

The second reason is that the poor quality of iPhone app graphics on the iPad encourages developers to build universal apps or to additionally build an iPad version of the iPhone app. These universal/iPad apps make the iPad much more appealing to consumers and sells more iPads. It's particularly important for apps that use standard Cocoa Touch controls where the double-sized text, double-sized picker controls (the spinners), etc. actually look pretty bad and aren't terribly usable (in the UI/UX sense), and the 1X/2X button is kind of a hack. If iPhone graphics looked nearly as good on the iPad there'd be much less incentive to build the other apps, especially if there was little competition for yours.

I suspect that if Apple/Steve Jobs felt the iPad would have sold well if it only ran new apps built especially for it then there wouldn't be a compatibility mode at all. Instead they were able to launch the iPad saying that there are a couple of hundred thousand iPhone apps that would run on it in addition to the few thousand iPad/universal apps available.

It is possible to build an iPhone-specific app that substitutes Retina graphics if you do it "by hand," overriding the OS's default rendering. Matt Rix's excellent non-universal iPhone puzzle games Trainyard and Trainyard Express look and play great on the iPad for this reason. It just takes a bit of extra work.

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    Quite clearly the iPad is capable of it, as shown by handyrandy's answer. Even text in scaled up iPhone apps are pixelated, yet the iPad can draw text perfectly well in universal/iPad apps. Retina images are just images double the size, so why should that be so hard for the iPad. Mostly the apps look awful because of the lack of retina scaling.
    – Jonathan.
    Commented Jul 13, 2011 at 21:03

I don't think that Apple cares that much about 2× scaling mode. It was more important when the iPad first launched as there were hardly any native iPad apps. These days, I don't think many people are running iPhone-only apps on their iPads, let alone in 2× mode.

It's possible that Apple feels that retina-izing 2× mode would make some developers feel that their app was "good enough" in 2× mode and decide that it wasn't necessary to develop a native iPad version.

  • That might be the case, but I still hope they fix it in 5.0
    – John
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 5:27

For what it's worth, there is a jailbreak mod in Cydia called 'RetinaPad'. It makes the iPad use retina graphics (if available) and it makes a huge difference. I miss having it on my iPad 2 (which is currently not cracked yet). However I don't use many iPhone apps on my iPad. Only ones where there is no alternative or it makes sense to. Apps that come to mind are Pastebot, Eliss, Vimeo, Juxtaposer, PhotoForge2, Rdio etc.

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