Apple's latest iPad features a high resolution Retina display with a wider color gamut.

When Apple launched the original iPad back in 2010, photographers quickly embraced this sleek, portable device as an elegant way to present their images. But if you think of the iPad primarily as a digital picture frame, think again. The release of the third-generation iPad with its high resolution Retina display makes the strongest case yet for the iPad as a professional production tool for photographers on the go, with an expanded role in the image-creation process.

I'm going to show you how to incorporate Apple's latest iPad into three distinct stages of the production workflow: image capture, organization and editing. But first, a few words about its most significant new feature, the Retina display.

Retina display

Like the backlit-LCD displays on previous iPads, the Retina display on the third-generation iPad is an IPS (in-plane switching) screen that allows a much wider viewing angle than the traditional and less expensive TN (twisted nematic) technology. This means you can view the iPad at a variety of off-axis angles without colors noticeably shifting in hue and contrast as they do on most laptop screens. And by all accounts Apple has been able to maintain the impressive unit to unit consistency in color output we've seen in previous iterations of the iPad. There are two areas though in which the Retina display offers a clear advantage over its predecessors.

Resolution and gamut

Sporting a 2048 x 1536 pixel screen, the Retina display offers a native screen resolution of 264 pixels per inch (ppi). For comparison, the iPad 2 had a resolution of 132 ppi and fewer than 1/3 of the Retina display's total pixels. Zooming in on a super-high resolution 36MP digital camera file for a 1:1 screen view reveals a level of clarity and detail that rivals or exceeds the standalone monitor most of us have sitting on our desk. On the Retina display, even slight image defects are easily spotted.

In addition to its impressive resolution, the Retina display offers a significantly expanded color gamut that encompasses a wider range of saturated colors, particularly among reds and blues. In fact, Apple has designed the iPad's color gamut as a nearly identical match to the sRGB color space.

Apple's third-generation iPad has a color gamut (shown in red) designed to mimic the de facto web standard sRGB color space (shown in green). Measuring my iPad's color gamut using Datacolor's Spyder 4 Elite colorimeter and analysis software indicates a 96% match of the sRGB color space.

You can read more about this breakthrough in glorious color geek detail on the display testing site DisplayMate. The takeaway though, is that because sRGB is the de facto standard color space for the web, image colors you see on your iPad will closely match those you (or your client) see online, with one caveat.

Color Management...not!

Apple's iOS devices, like the early versions of most web browsers, are not color-managed, meaning they do not honor ICC color profiles. They simply assume that every image exists in the sRGB color space. If you load an image on your iPad with colors defined by say, the Adobe 1998 RGB or ProPhoto RGB color spaces, as shown below, you will not see accurate colors.

These are screenshots from the built-in Photos app on my iPad. Each image is embedded with a different ICC color profile (from left to right): sRGB, Adobe RGB 1998 and ProPhoto RGB. In a color-managed OS all three images will look identical. iOS devices, however, do not honor ICC color profiles and instead assume every image to be in the sRGB space. As a result, only the sRGB image above displays accurate color.

There is a part-time workaround which I'll discuss later, but its important to know that using the iPad as part of a color-critical workflow means ensuring that the images you send to it are rendered in the sRGB color space. If you do that, then right out of the box, the iPad will deliver a more accurate rendition of a wider range of sRGB-defined colors than not only any other mobile device, but the vast majority of laptops as well.