Why mobile devs are running to ‘Retinafy’ their iOS apps

With the announcement and launch of the new iPad, developers have been in a rush to get their apps ready to support the tablet’s glorious new Retina display. It seems that not a day goes by without one or two App Store notifications telling me that an app is ready to be ‘Retinafied’; the weekend of the new iPad launch, I received no less than 10 app update notifications.

So why the rush? While Apple did sell 3 million new iPads over the weekend, might the tablet be too nascent to justify the work involved for Retina support over updates that would affect all iOS users? Why is Nicholas Callaway of Callaway Digital Arts telling the USA Today that he’s made Retina support “our highest priority?”

Beyond the thrill that developers get from working with bleeding edge tech, the obvious reason some developers are making a push to Retinafy is that their visually-focused applications will noticeably benefit from higher resolution graphics. Callaway Digital Arts makes popular multimedia entertainment applications for young children; the better Elmo looks on screen, the more apps sold. Another example is Epic Games, maker of the popular Infinity Blade series, which has regularly been used as a showcase for the power of the iPad. Why is Epic rushing to Retinafy Infinity Blade? To maintain its status as top dog. From the same USA Today article:

Epic Games President Mike Capps says the new iPad display is comparable to high-end gaming consoles such as the Microsoft XBox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3. “We can achieve a level of realism and detail that has never been seen on a mobile device, or honestly, on any widely available television.”

Beyond the simple “prettier is better” approach, some devs see Retinafication as a specific tool to drive user engagement. Over on TechCrunch, the incomparable Sarah Perez has been investigating Flipboard co-founder Evan Doll’s belief that a Retinafied version of its app will lead to longer Flipboard reading sessions. Like Perez, I’m skeptical to what extent improvements in the presentation of tablet content will correlate with content consumption, but the important point is that Flipboard isn’t waiting to find out.

Regardless, I feel the biggest reason developer have right now to Retinafy their iOS app is the increased exposure it will bring. As exemplified by the above two articles (and even this one), talking about how your team will approach Retina support and why is automatic column fodder; the new iPad is a hot story and journalists are looking for points of comparison.

Press exposure isn’t the only reason why being first past the Retina post is an opportunity for iOS devs. As Kevin Tofel notes in his article lamenting the lack of tablet-optimized Android apps, Apple has a special section in the iPad App Store promoting “great apps for the new iPad”, with over 40 titles already available. What’s the potential impact of this exposure? Well, think back to the boost Bump got by being the billionth App Store app downloaded, or Instagram’s hockey stick after being named the 2011 iPhone app of the year. Apple’s promotional support for quality iOS apps is the digital equivalent to the Colbert Bump, and there are already 3 million new iPad users hungry to find apps to justify their investment.

Developers often face tough choices when it comes to prioritizing which features to focus on in the development of their apps. But any developer not rushing to take advantage of the new Retina display is simply holding the door open for someone else to seize the opportunity.

About the author

Douglas Soltys

Douglas is the former Editor-In-Chief of Inside BlackBerry, BlackBerry Cool, and QuicklyBored, which he launched as a mobile gaming industry site. His knowledge of mobile and social media led him to a job at RIM (BlackBerry), where he got to travel the world and do lots of cool things. He is often left-handed, but rarely sinister.

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