The Evolution of Resolution

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What are we trying to show here?

My colleague Matt came to me one day with an idea to show the evolution of the mobile phone. But if you do a quick Google image search, you’ll see we weren’t the first to consider this idea.

And looking at all these images, I’m not entirely clear what the point is. Phones got a bit smaller then a bit bigger again?

To sharpen an idea, I like to ask “What’s the one thing we want this to show?” In this case, the answer we came up with was to show the evolution of screen resolution. So that’s what we set out to do.

We decided to show the screen resolution for the best selling phones over time, from the old Nokia 5110 that everyone of a certain age will remember, right through to the latest iPhone Plus.

For example, the Nokia 5110 (released in 1998) had 84 x 48 pixels, and the Motorola Razr (released in 2004) had 176 x 220 pixels.

I got the designer to compare the screen resolution of the different phones and it looked like this:

But there were a couple of problems with this.

It wasn’t very compelling, and it was a bit abstract. And obviously, the iPhone Plus handset isn’t that much larger than the Nokia, so there was something unintuitive about this approach too.

This would require some more thought…

What exactly were we trying to show here?

And what’s actually happening, in the real world?

In reality, pixels are getting much smaller, and phone screens are getting a little larger. But mostly, it’s about the pixels getting smaller. So how could we show that?

We wrestled with this idea for a while, and eventually I came up with the idea of showing how many old Nokia screens could fit inside the latest iPhone Plus. That made it much more concrete and relatable.

And would you care to hazard a guess at the answer?

How many old Nokia screens could fit inside the latest iPhone Plus?

The answer… 514!

Hopefully you were slightly surprised by that answer. If it had just been 20 or 30, that’s a little underwhelming, and the idea would have fallen flat. But 514! That’s a lot!

To bring the execution to life, we decided to show the Nokia screen within its original setting, then the handset would fall away, leaving only the screen.

This would then shrink down (to represent the shrinking of the pixels), and we’d show how many old Nokia screens could fit within the screen resolution of the next popular model.

In this way, we were really communicating what was happening – pixels were shrinking considerably, and screen sizes were changing moderately.

I also thought we could have pixels flying in from everywhere, like you were travelling through The Matrix in 3D. But I may have been getting carried away at that point.

“Amazing infographic”

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