Target The Forward Fringe

July 6th, 2012

Marco Arment quipped on Twitter that web designers need to take HiDPI displays seriously, and adapt their designs to look great on them.

The short-sighted reactions he received revolve mostly around simple mathematical analysis: because HiDPI displays represent a relatively tiny percentage of all users, it is not worth a designer’s time to cater to that niche group.

I confess that after the iPad 3 was released, I paid little attention to adapting my site to support HiDPI. But when Apple announced the Retina MacBook Pro at WWDC, revamping all of my apps and my web site jumped to the top of my list of priorities. My apps are shaping up nicely. My site? Let’s just say it’s still on the top of my list.

Why? Because HiDPI customers may be a fringe group, but they are a forward-facing fringe. They represent the users of the future, and the more we cater to them now, the more deeply embedded our products and designs will be in their culture. The future culture. The same arguments apply to aggressively embracing newer web browsers standards, and the latest technologies in platform operating systems such as iOS and Mac OS X.

It doesn’t hurt that the forward fringe tends to be rich and influential, compared to other niche audiences. When some backward-compatibility quack notices that your site renders poorly on IE5, they may scream it from the rooftops, but it won’t make a serious dent in your sales or reputation.

In contrast, when a Retina early-adopter discovers how beautiful your site and software look on their fancy computer, they’ll be that much more likely to open their wallet again. When John Gruber or Jason Kottke happens upon your beautifully designed, HiDPI site, he’ll be that much more likely to spread the news about your forward-thinking design to their friends and readers.

Target the forward fringe.

8 Responses to “Target The Forward Fringe”

  1. Jesper Says:

    Your argument is solid and I’d like to add something.

    In two or three years it won’t just be the fringe anymore (allowing for tablets and phones, it arguably isn’t today). You can sit down and crack your knuckles when you figure the scales have tipped or you can already have it done by then and look like you know what you’re doing to the people that will expect it to just work.

    (Sent from my Retina MacBook Pro.)

  2. iklan Says:

    Hello, Neat post. There’s a problem with your website in internet explorer, may check this? IE nonetheless is the market leader and a huge portion of other people will omit your wonderful writing because of this problem.

  3. Rob... Says:

    You make it sound like everyone has unlimited budgets. In order to support HiDPI, something else has to give way.

    For a business to remain profitable and to grow, you have to pick where you spend your limited resources.

    For some sites, HiDPI is something that needs to be supported ASAP. For others, there are more important things to target first.



  4. Gustav Says:

    No Rob, he doesn’t. Notice he said his site still isn’t finished.

    I agree with everything you said after that. But consider the growing size of HiDPI machines (it won’t be long before Windows laptops adopt these displays) and the relative purchasing power of those with high end computers.

  5. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Rob – I don’t think anybody has an unlimited budget. Implicit in my argument is that the time and money spent on HiDPI is pragmatically-spent for the most businesses.

  6. Jason G Says:

    No one has unlimited budgets, but no one should be under the mistaken assumption that websites do not need to be updated. If you create a simple website that is primarily text based – you don’t have to do anything. If you splurged and spent money on a graphics-heavy design on your website, or if you care about design… you should really care about how said website looks on retina.

    The audience for Marco’s comment, as well as Daniel’s is for *designers*. If you design for a living, then you need to care about retina. If you don’t care about retina, then you’re missing something big.

    The only credible comment I’ve seen about designers not jumping to retina came from Dustin Curtis who rightly pointed out – photoshop is not retina enabled yet and painful to use. But that’s a far cry from not caring about retina…

  7. rickgregory Says:

    Well, Marco didn’t specify whether he was talking about the designers’ own sites or site they do for clients. He also rather arrogantly assumed that designers all have $2200 sitting around that they can drop on a retina Macbook Pro at a whim and that they were fools if they didn’t do that RIGHT NOW.

    Do designers need to concern themselves with hiDPI? Yes. DO they need to make it their #1 priority? No.

    Look, a lot of other hiDPI devices will ship in the next 6-12 months…. Apple’s likely to ship new monitors that support this, perhaps new iMacs, etc. VERY few designers will damage their businesses if they wait a few months to see if the new iMacs and displays are Retina or not.

    Finally, we need to get beyond the ridiculous idea that we should design to any one target. Web design needs to adapt itself to many targets from regular phones and tablets, to retina phones and tablets to large monitors some of which are HiDPI and some of which are not. We need to consider how to feed the right content to the visitor (there’s no purpose in sending retina level images to a non-Retina device… it wastes bandwidth and sacrifices speed.

    And guess what? Most decent web designers and developers are aware of all of this and there’s a lot of work going on around these issues. At the end of the day, Marco’s little fit-throwing might have felt good, but meant nothing. Yes, we need to consider a world in which HiDPI devices are increasingly common. And one where many form factors are common. And we need to balance all of that with things like site performance and not wasting the limited bandwidth that mobile devices are saddled with. We know this. We also know that rushing out to spend $2000 on a new toy is a simplistic way to approach the issue.

  8. Dan Ruswick Says:

    The price of the current Retina MacBook Pro has created a situation where supporting Retina displays is neither affordable no logical for most.

    $2500 is an incredible amount of money for a computer. It hallucinatory to believe that more than ~2% of Mac users are capable of or willing to pay that amount. Because of that, adoption rates will stay low until the price comes down or the other MacBooks go retina while maintaining their current prices.

    Likewise, the designer is most likely not in a position to afford such an expensive machine, and if they are, it is likely going to be a huge investment for them and they are going to take a big economic hit as a result. For that huge amount of money , the ROI is laughable because such a minuscule amount of people are going to buy this device. By waiting until prices drop, the designer has to make less of an investment, and the payoff from that investment will be greater because more people will be entering the market for a Retina device.

    When Marco first wrote this, it seemed incredibly pretentious and elitist. “You should just go out and buy this ridiculously expensive thing. I know because I have one and your website sucks.” Marco might have that kind of money, but most designers, and most Mac users for that matter, don’t. Until either more people get Retina MacBooks or buying one becomes less of an economic burden, it’s not worth it. Both of these things will happen when prices drop, but for now, I just don’t see how the economics work out.

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