The New iPad’s (Too?) Yellow Display

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

While much of the press has focused on whether the new iPad is “too hot to handle,” I have been tracking another temperature matter: whether the colors of the new iPad’s display are too warm.

My pre-ordered iPad arrived on launch day, March 16. After setting it up, I was immediately struck by how yellow the display appeared. It was especially noticeable with white backgrounds, which had a faded yellow parchment-like look. Even photographs seemed to be lacking the eye-popping saturation I had expected.

I next compared the new iPad to my iPad 2. The difference was clear and obvious. The iPad 2 had a cool white balance, resulting in stark bright white backgrounds. In contrast, the third-generation iPad was shifted to a significantly warmer end of the spectrum.

New iPad

The yellow shift on the right was artifically added to the image.

A search of the web revealed that I was far from the only one to notice this difference. As one example, Macworld’s Jason Snell reported:

“I found the color temperature on the new iPad to be warmer and more yellow than that on the iPad 2. In isolation, both screens seemed perfectly normal. Only when I placed old and new iPads together did I notice that one is slightly warmer than the other.”

A difference between Jason’s experience and mine is that I immediately detected the change in the new iPad. I didn’t have to wait for a side-by-side comparison. While my preference was for the look of my iPad 2, that didn’t mean anything was wrong with my new iPad. Figuring out exactly what was going on would require more investigation.

The three theories

I eventually determined at least three possible explanations for the yellower iPad display:

It’s deliberate and it’s good. According to this theory, Apple intentionally shifted the color balance of third-generation iPads. Speculation is that Apple did so because they believe that, with the new Retina display, the shift results in a more pleasing look. 

The colors on the new display may also be more accurate. The dot color site claims that the new iPad shows a “stunning amount of improvement in color performance.” The displayMate site found “the new iPad has a virtually perfect 99 percent of the Standard Color Gamut (a 38 percent improvement over the iPad 2).”

In any case, if this theory is correct, it implies that all new iPads should look the same as mine. Given my negative reaction to my new iPad’s display, I was hoping such was not the case.

It’s deliberate but it’s bad. A slight variation on the first theory begins with the same assumption that the display shift is intentional and thus affects all new iPads. However, according to this view, the shift is a problem because the colors are significantly less accurate. TMO’s Jeff Gamet writes: 

“Despite all my raving about the iPad’s Retina Display, I found one glaring problem that may be enough to keep some people from upgrading to the new model: The promised deeper color saturation comes at a price in that hues are shifted noticeably towards yellow. The shift makes colors seem warmer, but for any work that involves having a reasonable idea what your colors really look like this display comes up short.”

To prove his point, Jeff showed how the colors of a photograph of oranges is less accurate when viewed on an new iPad compared to an iPad 2. How does this reconcile with the previous reports of increased color accuracy of the new iPad? I don’t know. However, Jeff informs me that he is doing further quantitative testing — with results to be reported soon.

In any event, confirming that his own iPad was not a rogue bad apple, Jeff went to an Apple Store and found that the iPads on display all “showed the same heavy shift towards yellow.” Still, Jeff concedes that “the average consumer…probably won’t be bothered by the iPad’s yellow shift.” Apparently, I am not average.

It’s not deliberate. The third and final theory is that the yellow shift is not intentional. It represents an error that affects only a subset of new iPads. There are two variations to this theory.

The first is that the shift is the result of a defect in a bad batch of displays. If true, and if you have one of these iPads, your probable best course of action is to exchange it for a different one.

The second variation (noted by several postings in a lengthy Apple Support Communities thread that also explores other possible theories) is that the color shift is temporary and will correct itself over time.

According to this view, the culprit is the glue that seals the display to the iPad case. If an iPad ships before the glue has sufficient time to dry and cure, the color shift is apparent. When completely cured, typically after a week or so, the yellow effect should vanish. People advocating for this theory point to similar problems that surfaced with prior iPad and iPhone models — and that cleared up over time.

So I waited a week. Unfortunately, my iPad’s display did not change. It remained as yellow as ever. My vote was going for the bad batch theory.

More than one explanation?

At this point, I suspect that there are two separate issues in play. It seems that all new iPads have at least a slight shift toward yellow. This is likely intentional on Apple’s part. This small shift may result in more accurate color. In addition, a subset of iPads show a significantly greater shift. There is no chance of viewing this larger shift as an intended improvement. Supporting this interpretation, a photograph posted to MacRumors shows an iPad 2, a “good” new iPad and a “bad” new iPad. Note the much more yellow look of the “bad” one.  My iPad clearly fell into this last group.

A visit to the Apple Store

I was now convinced that I should replace my iPad. I took it to my local Apple Store. Confirming the wisdom of my decision, I noted (unlike what Jeff Gamet found) that my iPad’s display was significantly more yellow than the iPads out on the tables.

True to the great reputation of Apple Stores, I had zero problem returning my iPad. As I was still within the two week return window, this was not a big surprise. Still, I was very pleased with the customer service. The Store had the model I wanted in stock, so I made an immediate exchange. The Apple Specialist made an offhand comment that I was not the first person returning an iPad for this complaint.

My new new iPad

The final result? My second new iPad still shows a distinct yellow shift compared to my iPad 2. But it is a substantially lesser shift, more like the “good” iPad in the cited photo. The display also seems a bit brighter and sharper than the iPad I returned, but that may be an artifact of the different color shift. In any case, this is all consistent with my theory that there are two separate yellow shifts among the new iPads.

For now, I am a happy camper, content to stick with my new new iPad. Whites are white enough. Photos pop off the screen as expected. Text looks so crisp that the letters seem stamped on the display. It’s time to stop fretting about my new iPad and start enjoying it.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

15 Comments Leave Your Own

andystac

this issues keeps popping up with every new release of an i-device. then a few weeks later all the articles appear about how you should of waited for the glue under the screen to cure.

TaliesinSoft

I just now compared the displays on my new iPad and on my current model iMac and I was unable to see any difference in the colors. I tried a number of photographs and pages and the colors were the same.

Ray

Hi Ted - I only looked at one new iPad in an Apple store, comparing it side by side with the iPad 2.  A rep and other customer were with me, doing this for about 15 minutes, looking for images or video we could use to observe a (visible) difference in the display resolution.  In any case, in this process, what was obvious was that the whites in the new iPad were much brighter than the iPad 2.  That was only thing I could observe that looked better than the iPad 2 in the limited images / video we viewed, which is of course in the opposite direction from your article.  As such, perhaps it is (new) iPad dependent.

Ted Landau

whites in the new iPad were much brighter than the iPad 2

One possibility here is that the brightness settings for the the two models were at different levels.

rjackb

Ted, did you find where anyone had compared, say, a photo on the iPad to the same photo on a color calibrated monitor?

I’m going to look at the new iPad tonight and compare to my iPad 1. If I buy one I’ll try the above test.

Winky Dink

Decided to upgrade from first gen to this third gen model. Faster, smooth switching between apps and webpages.

For sure the photos are crisper and cleaner.  As to things being more yellow that I did not see. That does not mean that they are not it is just the photos I looked at all looked fine.

This was a nice bump up for me…

georgewedding

White is relative to the lighting conditions in your viewing environment and I think the new appearance really is the new “normal” and actually may be more color accurate. My guess is that Apple gradually has been refining the native gamma and color temperature of iOS displays with each new product release and gradually moving toward a native D65 white point (6500 Kelvin) and 2.2 gamma standard for displays. This is one of two ISO standards for color image editing. The other standard option is 5000 Kelvin and 1.8 gamma.

Which setting you use when calibrating your Mac displays depends on the ambient lighting in the room in which you normally work. Professional pre-press shops for print publications use the 5000/1.8 settings with very low ambient light levels that are similar to a photographic darkroom. However, most people work with photos in more brightly lit offices with mixed window and fluorescent lighting, don’t do contract-critical pre-press editing and use the slightly cooler (and more forgiving) 6500K/2.2 setting when calibrating their displays for image editing. I use the 6500K/2.2 in an editing room that is slightly brighter than the pre-prepress standard level of illumination, but has color neutral walls and work surfaces. I also keep a set of flat black mini blinds closed so that the window light does not vary the conditions and illuminate the workspace with color neutral, 6500 Kelvin fluorescent lamps (which actually only measure about 6000 Kelvin in spite of their marketing specifications).

So, I’ve always thought the color temperature of the earliest iOS devices was a bit too cool (blue) compared to the standard daylight-balanced settings I’ve long used on my professionally-calibrated displays for photography.

Again, a device’s white point is relative to the viewing environment. When people complain of a display appearing “too yellow”, it’s usually because that display has been calibrated to a 5000 Kelvin white point and they are viewing it in a room with cooler light sources. So, a display with a 5000 Kelvin setting would produce noticeably yellow whites if viewed under conditions in which the room’s ambient lighting is not designed for color editing (i.e.: the display is being used in a brightly lit room with mixed window and fluorescent lighting). However, when viewed in a darker room with lower levels of color-neutral ambient lighting and neutral gray walls and furniture that don’t reflect contaminant colors onto the display, a 5000 Kelvin what point does NOT look “too yellow”.

So, I recommend evaluating your viewing and computer editing environments using a Photoshop calibration target (a .jpg file that has NOT been saved with an embedded ICC profile). Import the file into iCloud’s Photo Stream and then open it on your iOS devices and calibrated Macs. View this file in different room lighting conditions and in your editing room. If your Macs are being used in a proper image editing environment and are properly calibrated, the image colors, highlight and shadow details on the Retina iPad should be a fairly close match to your Mac display. I use a standard calibration target of my own creation that contains a neutral gray background, skin tones, a 15-step grayscale wedge and RGB “memory” colors like those in a MacBeth Color Checker chart. If I see color contamination in the grayscale step wedge, a shift in colors on the Macbeth chart, or a loss of shadow detail in the darkest wedge steps, I know I have a color or gamma calibration problem on that device.

After reading this, I did this test on my own Retina iPad and even on my iPhone 4. I found that when viewed on both iOS devices, my standard calibration target was a very close match to the same target file being displayed on my Mac Pro with a reliable, $2,200 Eizo professional display calibrated using a colorimeter to a 6500 Kelvin white point and a 2.2 gamma. Any Mac user can use Apple’s own software calibration tool to calibrate their own computer—it’s pretty good. However, it does rely on your visual perception and judgement instead of more precise device measurements.

See System Preferences>Displays>Color>Calibrate.

One potential gotcha: While we don’t know the actual native white point of these iOS displays, and we also can’t accurately control the brightness setting. I turn off the auto brightness adjustment on the iPad and set the Brightness level at just below the midpoint (the Retina iPad is very bright). Apple REALLY needs to add hash marks and some sort of numerical scale to the iPad’s Brightness slider, so that a specific Brightness setting can be reset to a known value if changed.

This would be a great line of questioning for the iPad development team.

Lee Dronick

@georgewedding

Thanks for the comment. I hope to see you again

MeMac

Out of the box mine was very yellow(to my eyes) , especially compared to my iPad 2’s comparatively more bluefish tint. I definitely prefer the iPad2’s tint.

Set up some photos and ran picture frame for 72 hours continuous. Was about 1/2 as yellow at finish.

Went into Apple store with my iPad 2&new;. My new iPad was slightly more yellow than the display models and my iPad 2 more white(blue) than either new.

I returned my new iPad. Will wait for the LG(iPad 2 screen source) or Sharp screens to come online. Samsung screens are not my cup of tea ;->

Ted Landau

Several follow-up notes:

1. Since completing this column, I returned to the Apple Store with my new new iPad and again compared it to the ones on the tables ? duplicating as best I could all conditions, including time of day, location from window etc., from my previous testing. Unlike with my initial new iPad, this time I did not detect any color shift differences. This is what I guessed would be the case, based on my experiences at home.

2. Recall that, in theory #1, I suggested that some yellow shift might actually represent more accurate colors. Don’t assume that I mean that a yellow shift always = bad.

3. As to those that offered ideas as to why an iPad display might appear more yellow in some circumstances than in others, such as when ambient light changes ? I understand. But I don’t see how this alone would account for differences between two side-by-side iPads under the same lighting conditions. Something more is going on.

4. For those who don’t see any shifts worth mentioning, I am a bit surprised. But recall that my expectation is that there is significant variation in the degree of shift among iPads. Perhaps you have one at the extreme minimal end of the variation.

5. As to this shift being something that will entirely disappear over time for all iPads (when glue cures), I remain skeptical. Since 2007, I have purchased five different iPhones, two different iPod touches and three different iPads ? almost all on launch day. This is the first time I have been bothered by the color. Something different was happening here. Numerous reports on web appear to confirm this.

iJack

I’m not sure using a photograph of anything is very scientific.  For starters, you don’t know what in-camera color-correction (white-balance) was used.  These tests need to be done with a standard NTSC (or similar) color wheel.

Like George Wedding (above), I find 6500 K (“daylight”) to be a bit on the blue side for my taste, but I equally find 3200 K (“incandescent”) to be too yellow, although it’s a great Display Profile to use when doing large white-screen work, like CAD drawings.  It’s soothing to the old eyes.

diverreb

Seriously…  Short term memory loss here?  This is the exact same conversations that took place when the last batch of iPhones were released….  There is a difference between the Retina Displays and the older screens.  The older ones were brighter and had brighter whites.  Once you get used to using the Retina Displays it isn’t noticeable.  But do a side by side of an older iPhone and a Retina iPhone and you’ll see the difference.

jayseejay

I found something surprising when comparing the stock wallpaper images that come on the iPad to try to determine whether my new iPad had color shift problems compared to my iPad 2. Using the autumn leaf wallpaper (bright orange yellow leafs against green blurred background), the new iPad looked strikingly better both in terms of color, saturation and detail.  It made me think to myself “this is the clearest example of the superiority of the retina display that I have seen.”.

Then I looked closer.  The autumn leaf wallpaper has been PSd in the new iPad version - looks to be a combination of noise reduction on the background, and sharpening of the leaves.  The biggest giveaway is that Part of the leaf edges are missing in the new image, now lost in the blur.  Other wallpapers also appeared to be touched up.  The images are otherwise identical.  We this done to enhance the apparent superiority of the Retina display? Joe

port3f8

I returned 3 new iPads for yellow tint
One thing that is interesting about the yellow tint is that it is probably not simply a color setting change, because the ‘yellowness’ is very significantly affected by the viewing angle, indicating some layer between the pixels and the screen surface has a yellow tint that gets exaggerated when viewing at an angle.

Juergen

Yes the new iPad 3 is yellow. So jailbreak it with absinthe and install springtomize. Go to animations and turn custom gamma on. Now you can ajust the RGB levels. Mine i set approx. -10% red and -5% green. Now white is white.

Log-in to comment