The 9.7-inch iPad Pro Color Gamut

Harbor sRGB

I was working late one night a few weeks ago and saw a tweet by Craig Hockenberry that immediately piqued my interest. The new iPad Pro 9.7-inch model had just been announced, with an intriguing new True Tone display feature that adjusts the screen’s color temperature based on the ambient light in the room. And Craig, one of the first iOS developers outside of Apple, recognized what was going on:

I wrote more in “ColorSync Support in iOS 9.3 (!)” about why color management on an iOS device is a new and exciting development, particularly for photographers.

Soon after, Craig asked if I had any wide-gamut photos he could use to test with, and I happily sent him a few images. Many of them are HDR (high dynamic range) photos, which I supplied saved in both ProPhoto RGB and AdobeRGB color spaces. Each space includes more color than the standard sRGB color space used by all other iOS devices (including the 12.9-inch iPad Pro). He put one of the ProPhoto images onto three different iPads to see the immediate difference:

The iPad mini 2 can’t handle the ProPhoto color space at all, which is why the shot is so bland. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro does better, and you can see a little improvement in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro at the bottom.

If you have a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, you can see the difference for yourself: Craig set up a simple Web page that lets you load the images and compare against sRGB. You should also be able to see it on a 5K iMac, which also uses the same expanded PCI-3 color space, but I haven’t had a chance to view it on one.

The difference is most noticeable in the Harbor photo: Look at the orange streaky reflections in the water at the center of the image and tap the Compare sRGB button. The other images aren’t as noticeable—I have trouble telling the sRGB differences, probably because the gamut is most pronounced at the red/orange end of the spectrum.

Craig writes more about it on his site, which I highly recommend: Looking at the Future.

Many thanks to Craig for featuring my photos in his explorations. As a reminder, I sell prints of my photos, so if any of those strike your fancy, contact me.

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ColorSync Support in iOS 9.3 (!)

Truetone cool warm

Shortly after Apple announced the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, I wrote a very quick take on the new True Tone display feature. True Tone automatically adjusts the color temperature of the iPad’s screen to complement the ambient light of your surroundings. For example, have you ever been in a room with warm light and checked email on an iPad, only to lose your eyeballs from the cool-bright burst of light? (Maybe I exaggerate…) True Tone is the answer to that.

However, my initial reaction as a photographer was wariness. If the color of the screen is changing depending on my environment, how can I do any sort of accurate editing? I confirmed that this will be a setting that can be turned off. And I continue to wait until I can get my hands on a device and test it out.

Well, True Tone turns out to be a lot more interesting. Developer Craig Hockenberry noted that the expanded color gamut of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is just the beginning:

In order to make the effect work, iOS needs color management. And with iOS 9.3, that capability is now here—and open for other developers to work with:

The Open Radar report Craig created notes that iOS 9.3 now supports ColorSync, the technology found in OS X for managing color profiles.

Additionally, starting with iOS 9.3 ColorSync support was added to UIKit.

I’ve noticed that it works correctly for both UIColor in a UILabel and with a UIImage in a UIImageView. Are there any other places where ICC profiles are used?

In a conversation with Apple engineers, I also learned that some older devices do not match color. That’s fine, but devices should be listed so our apps can adapt gracefully to this situation.

Why is color management important? Until now, every iOS device ships with just one color profile, sRGB, which is a good general color space for drawing color on screens. The problem is that not all screens are built the same: the photo you view on your laptop may look different on a desktop monitor, which may look different still on a mobile device. Color management is a way to adjust each of those screens so that the image you’re working on remains consistent.

Apple’s screens are generally very good, but for photographers and other visual artists and designers, the inability to adjust the color profile has meant that the iPad is excluded from any serious image-processing workflows.

Now, with true color management possible on the iPad Pro, the tablet may find a place in that chain, and perhaps photographers will be able to do final adjustment work on an iPad instead of bringing a laptop.

We’ll see when the 9.7-inch iPad Pro begins to ship. As Craig notes in his report, it’s not clear whether this capability extends to other hardware or if this iPad Pro is the only one. But with a ColorSync foundation in iOS, it puts more “Pro” into iPad Pro.

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