While many high-end Android and Windows Phones have gone to 2K or even 4K resolution, the iPhone 7 plus still has only a 1080P resolution, and the iPhone 7 something closer to 720P.
Apple defends lagging behind on this spec by noting that once a screen has a “retina display” ie pixels which are pitched so close together they are indistinguishable as individual points at normal viewing distance, adding any extra additional screen resolution is simply a waste of money, processing and battery power which could be better spent on other areas.
Of course that argument flies out of the window if you bring the screen closer to your eye that the accepted 12 inch arms length standard viewing distance, particularly if you bring it right up to your eye as you would if you use the phone for a VR display.
Microsoft has now applied for a patent which could offer the best of both worlds – the savings in processing and battery power when the screen is held far from the eye and only low resolution rendering is called for, and a high-resolution rendering when the device is held closer.
A computing device may dynamically adjust a pixel density based at least in part on a viewing distance between a user and a display of the computing device. In some examples, the viewing distance may be determined using low power acoustic (e.g., ultrasonic) sensing. A pixel density at which to display content may be determined using algorithms based on the viewing distance and a visual acuity of a user. Content to be displayed on the computing device may be sent to processors of the computing device for graphics processing. In some examples, the content may be intercepted, such as by using a hooking process, before processing and scaled based on the determined pixel density. Scaling down the pixel density of the content may require less system resources to process the content, which may result in less power consumption by the processors to perform the graphics processing operations.
While the patent calls for acoustic proximity sensors, I would suspect a Windows Hello camera would be able to do the trick just as well, and I wonder if the patent could not also find application on the desktop, where we sometimes have displays delivering a much higher resolution than we reasonably need most of the time.
The patent was filed on the 24th June 2016, suggesting it may reflect some of Microsoft’s current thinking, and can be read in full here.