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mck's picture
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Changes in Leopard

The past few weeks, there has been some speculation suggesting that the next version of Mac OS X (code-named Leopard) will ship with a completely revised GUI. (To those not in the know, a preview version of Leopard was handed out to developers at WWDC a few weeks ago, with a "missing piece" Apple declined to demo.)

leopard x

Exactly what "revised GUI" covers is unclear, but there are some hints around. Some people have been dropping clues for a long time that Leopard will feature true "resolution independence", which will break the traditional assumption that all screen display output is rendered at 72 dpi.

This technology, driven by Quartz, is present in OS X Tiger as well, but it's far from perfect and requires the Developer Tools to be installed. Using the Quartz Debug program, you can choose between a more detailed (with more pixels per point) or a smaller, less detailed UI (with more points per pixel) — without changing the screen resolution.

So what are the advantages of resolution independence?

For someone using a relatively small screen (for instance, one found on the 12" PowerBook) it would mean more usable screen real estate, because the entire GUI could be scaled down to a smaller size. However, this kind of thing is problematic because there is a shortage of usable pixels, making the GUI jaggy and unusable.

The real reason Apple is pushing for resolution independence is simple: future displays. The first monitors for the Macintosh ran at 72 ppi, which set an industry standard, but since then, that number has been increasing every few years. The first Titanium PowerBook had a 15.2" LCD at 1152x768 (about 91 ppi). The midrange MacBook Pro has a 15.4" LCD at 1440x900 (110 ppi). There are already screens that can do 1920x1200 at 15.4 inches.

The point here is that as display technology evolves, and more pixels can be crammed into the same amount of space, the 72-dpi GUI keeps getting smaller and unusable. Thanks to resolution independence, the GUI could be scaled up to the “normal” size, providing more detail in the same amount of logical dots (not to be confused with pixels).

In the picture above, you can see an exaggerated sample of scaling at work. Imagine the sample on the left as your current display, and the sample on the right as a display with four times the amount of physical pixels. Both use the same amount of space, but there is a very noticeable difference.

Of course, the jump to four times the amount of pixels isn't going to happen overnight, which is why the sample above is exaggerated, but it shows the point.

You probably noticed that the sample above is of a menu, which (obviously) can be scaled with no problem at all to any size, even those that exceed the proportions of any screen. What about icons and graphics?

To begin with, all application and document icons will grow from 128x128 pixels to 512x512 pixels (again, this is overkill, but it's future-proof).

Furthermore, toolbar icons and anything that comes in a 32x32px size will now support sizes up to 128x128 pixels. 16x16px icons, such as those found in the menu bar, will grow to 64x64. Of course, Apple (as can be expected) is already readying its interface for “the big switch”, as can be seen from the Automator icon above.

So here’s a hint for icon designers: make as big an original work of every icon you make as you feel will be needed in the future, then downsample versions of them at 128x128, 64x64, 48x48, 32x32, etc. then add detail. This way your work will be future-proof, and you won't get hit by a sudden demand for larger graphics when a new technology arrives on the scene.

- Mackie

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Ivan's picture

Love the huge icons! But, I really don't see the need for such hi-res interface. But then again, what did Mr Gates say at one point — 640K ought to be enough for anybody. I don't want to make the same mistake!

mck's picture
0 pencils

The reason for such as high res interface is that people who design for print can see their work in true WYSIWYG. Imagine that with four times as many pixels on the same screen area, everything will be the same size, but with _lots_ more detail.

natobasso's picture
3951 pencils

As long as screen res doesn't outpace print res then this is a great development.

Powerpoint is not a design application

Mintsauce's picture
1000 pencils

I was always under the impression that he did...,1283,1484,00.html

This obviously has nothing to do with this thread, but hey, it was interesting.

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Doug M.'s picture
421 pencils

But they are BEAUTIFUL and I absolutely enjoy having them on my dock. Also, there is now coverflow in the finder, and it does NOT look good when the icons are lower resolution. Vista has 256x256 icons and I think Apple kind of wanted to one up them. I love the icons. :D

afterglow's picture
571 pencils

I've been retrofitting some work I've done already but the problem at the moment is the method, not the size.

You have a few options when creating scabale artwork.

1. Do it in Photoshop using custom shapes and layer styles.
Pros- Very Flexible and endlessly customizable
Cons- Scaling existing artwork to 512px means layer masks and layer styes have to be altered and in some cases recreated entirely.

2. Do it in Illustrator/Freehand
Pros- You have the ability to keep the entire workflow vector which is a good discipline for later scaling.
Cons - The inability of Illustrator to add texturing and irregularities into artwork in an easy fashion. The artwork still needs to be altered at smaller sizes to keep edges and lines sharp

3. Create base graphic in 3d app
Pros- Saves a lot of time in the initial sketch phase. Can be outputted at any large size
Cons - Finishing touches still need to be added in Photoshop etc, Needs more investment in training to become a quick modeller.

This is all moot at the moment as the ICNS format doesn't support these sizes at the moment (as far as I know) Scaling down artwork from 512px still means creating a new resource for each size as most smaller versions still need clear outlines which can't be got from a simple scaling. So all in all it's more work and expense for icon designers but we were getting off relatively easy for years compared to the coding people.

garycmartin's picture
7 pencils

Hi afterglow,

I'm sure you spend way more time in PS than I do, but your PS cons didn't seem to ring true for me. In CS2, when an image size is changed, there is the extra option to scale styles, so that all layer styles auto-change to match. Always worked very well for me. If you can stick to using just vector masks (not always possible), you get resolution independence there as well. Careful use of smart objects is also a nice trick if you need to resolution hop (for final hand tweaking, work big and then convert those layers to smart objects).

I'm actually a long-term 3D guy at heart, so I guess my icon workflow wouldn't be affected all that much. PS is usually relegated to just doing the final composite, some layer effects, and a few minor cleanups.

afterglow's picture
571 pencils

Thanks for the note Gary,
I've tried to stay away from CS2 in favour of CS1 as I find there is a horrible (and well documented ) lag in opening the styles palette. The new linking convention also drives me mad.

However with the styles being autoscaled some of them still need to be tweaked as scaling a soft outer glow and a strong stroke by the same percentage doesn't always work.

I'd agree with you about the vector masks but in a lot of instances, the plain masks is more flexible. I've worked a bit with smart objects and they just plain don't work well at smaller sizes as the PS scaling produces quite a fuzzy icon. I had high hopes for them but ended up dumping them for 16x16 and 32x32 work.

mck's picture
0 pencils

Yeah I know, it's a pain in the ass unfortunately. Leopard's icns format however supports 512x512 icons. The problem is that with icons that big, we have a tendency to add more detail, which, when scaled down, misses the point completely (i.e. it's not a simple icon that conveys information anymore).

Sjakelien's picture
1 pencil

There are many icons that could easily be defined as vectors (iTunes, iChat, Word, just to mention a few). It would be very convenient, and future-proof, if the OS would allow a vector outline as a definition of an icon. One size fits all.
Of course, there are photo realistic icons (less and less, though) like the old Photoshop Eye, that would still need a bitmap.

Tigerstorm's picture
1009 pencils

Very interesting article Mackie about the upcoming GUI in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard..

EclecticMunk's picture
7 pencils

Exellent post!

So... In Tiger, with Quartz, how does one scale to a higher resolution? I've always wanted to do exactly that. For example, Apple doesn't let you go beyond 1024x768 on one of my Macs, and this sounds like a great way to work around it (or at least have fun fiddling with it). I opened the debug app, but can't see how I'd get it to do this.

Update: Never mind, I figured it out.

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