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Does Apple Understand the Consequences to Your Eyesight?

Even when finances don’t allow me to buy the latest and greatest gear from Apple, I do my best to spend as much face time with the products as possible so I can write about them meaningfully. That means frequent visits to dealers and indulgent clients to allow me to evaluate the good, the bad, and ugly.

Now way back when, screen resolutions on most displays were set at 72 pixels per inch or slightly smaller, said to be the ideal for being able to see text on the screen that was close to the size to the actual printed page. These days, of course, most of the information we read on a computer display will never appear in print.

In an effort to pack more content on the screen and make text appear sharper, display makers have increased the number of pixels. The fabulous 27-inch iMac, for example, has a maximum resolution of 2560×1440, which adds up to some 109 pixels per inch. What this means is that a document page viewed at 100% is actually much smaller than on the printed page, and text is proportionately tiner.

But it gets worse on recent versions of the 17-inch MacBook Pro, with a 1920×1200 resolution, which translates to 133 pixels per inch. Talk about putting lots of stuff in a small place, and all those pixels display ultra fast courtesy of powerful graphics chips and a superb display.

Getting that much content on a computer display may be well and good if you are young and you have near-perfect eyesight. For those who are a little older or whose eyesight is otherwise challenged, it can create serious problems when you actually try to read something.

This isn’t to say there aren’t workarounds. You can zoom the text in a word processor to a more appropriate level. I tend to set a default at 200%, which makes most documents quite readable, though it defeats the ability to view two pages side by size on the screen, which is supposed to be one key benefit of a large screen.

The zooming feature on my iPhone is constantly in use, but you have to expect that when you’re trying to read content on a tiny screen. The situation is better on the iPad, particularly when reading e-books, where you can see pages that are often not too far removed in apparent size from the original printed version.

When writing these columns, WordPress also displays text that’s quite small, but is otherwise fairly distinct. However, I often rely on the Zoom feature in Safari to double text size, to avoid eye strain and make it easier to catch silly typos. I still make mistakes, though not as often.

Yes, it’s possible to set a screen resolution to a lower setting in the Displays preference panel, which increases the size of text. But with an LCD display, departing from the native resolution makes text much fuzzier and that’s not an ideal solution, though I grant it’s necessary for some of you. This is a situation where the old fashioned CRT functioned better, since you didn’t suffer the negative consequences when you deviated from a “native” setting.

The real solution might be some sort of resolution independent system where you can scale the screen in a way that provides great readability and image sharpness regardless of the setting. But since I’m not in the business of developing display hardware or graphics cards, I won’t presume to understand the way technology must be altered to solve this problem.

Of course Apple isn’t alone in packing too many pixels onto a display. All the PC makers do the very same thing. Maybe Apple’s engineers simply have great eyesight, or they are required to submit to Lasik surgery before working on display hardware.

Or maybe, as is probably the case, enough Mac users aren’t complaining, so they continue to use the same approach. The more pixels the better, and may they some day double, even if the customer is hurt by that approach.

It may also be true that Apple expects you to zoom text or change the screen resolution if the default setting isn’t suitable, even if that approach forces you to take different steps for different functions, or put up with a subpar image.

But it’s not just folks with imperfect eyesight that are hurt. Even though the glossy screen on the latest Macs don’t hurt me in the least, there are loads of people for whom glossy means severe discomfort, because the tendency to pick up reflections. I do not pretend to know why, and it would be equally foolish to suggest they undergo therapy to see if there’s a way for them to change their perceptions or preferences.

For the iMac there is no matte or “Antiglare” option. Apple does offer that choice on the 17-inch MacBook Pro for an extra $50. If you want Antiglare on the 15-inch MacBook, you have to pay $150 extra, of which $100 covers the cost of “Hi-Res, which increases display resolution from 1440×900 to 1680×1050, meaning you have to put up with tinier text to get rid of the reflections.

Or maybe I should just acquire a magnifying glass and be done with it.