Thoughts on the Color Gamut of the iPhone 5

In announcing the new iPhone 5, Apple has confirmed that they are extending their recent color strategy. This strategy is to bring all of their devices, not just to Retina resolution, but to sRGB color standards. For the iPhone 5, as for the new iPad, this is a significant increase in color gamut. For the MacBook Pro, it was actually a reduction of gamut from the most recent previous MacBook Pro. But the value of this isn’t just increased color gamut size; its consistency between devices, and consistency between these devices and the web standard of sRGB. This simplifies color management for most users, by creating close to a one-to-one relationship between the image color space, and the device color space.

With the release of the new iPad, and the Retina MacBook Pro, Apple did not use the term “sRGB” when describing their color. But at the iPhone 5 event, they chose to actually use the term sRGB. So its now an official standard, not just an observation by outside experts like myself: Apple is moving its devices to an sRGB standard. There will be complaints that this is not large enough, that AdobeRGB is the ideal color gamut for displays, which may be true for some advanced photographic uses; but for most users, and especially for mobile devices accessing the web, sRGB is the best choice. Custom calibration can still offer improvement on these devices, but their general color representation is quite good for sRGB files, given their sRGB device space.

Retina Gamut compared to sRGB
Earlier Apple Device Gamut


Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page

Published by cdtobie

This blog covers a range of issues of interest to photographers and those involved in the digital photographic workflow, digital tools and platforms, and fine art output.

17 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Color Gamut of the iPhone 5

  1. Apple is also targeting a gamma close to sRGB, and a whitepoint close to sRGB with these devices; but their tolerances on these two factors is not as tight as it is with the color primaries. So the biggest improvement I see when running a full calibration on the Retina screens is in color temp and relative densities, not color primaries.

    1. If the web community was the size of a beachball; the publishing community would be a shrinking pea, and the fine art community would be hard to see. So this choice makes a lot of sense.

      I find very few cases where I can’t do publishing and fine art work on an sRGB display, but years of display sales hype for wide gamut has convinced a certain audience that wide gamut is somehow the badge of admission to the pro graphics club. So I don’t expect Apple’s decision is going to be embraced in those quarters.

  2. Very useful, and I suppose 99% is close enough to “all”. A quick question – the diagrams show colours outside the sRGB gamut – so how can I see them on my monitor??

    1. Colors outside a devices gamut do not vanish; they get compressed to a saturation the device can manage. The background colors on most CIE 1931 xy graphs are a pale pastel range of colors, so that the items graphed over them can be seen easily. These pale colors are not literal representations of the actual xy values for their location on the graph, they are simply a way of indicating what color zone any given point might represent. Since the xy graph ignores the Cap Y (luminance) dimension entirely, these colors could not be literal anyways.

  3. thanks for the article!
    I got an iPhone 5, and feel its greens / yellows are too limey/compressed.
    you mentioned custom calibration.. do you recommend a way to do that on my phone?


    1. There is no OS-level color management on iOS (or other mobile OSes). So the only calibration option available to you is Datacolor’s free App SpyderGallery. Since it is “sandboxed” this App can only calibrate your device for viewing images within its own image viewer, which uses yor standard photo library. Disclaimer: I work for Datacolor, and this App was my idea. Another disclaimer: the App is free, but to use it to calibrate your iOS device, you’ll need to beg, borrow, or buy a Datacolor Spyder.

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