C. David Tobie: Android and iOS 7 Mobile Color
Oct 2013 29

There has been much discussion of the new color scheme in iOS 7. While many users are pleased with the new features and functions of the latest Apple Mobile update, there is less enthusiasm for the color choices. One common complaint is that it makes iPhones and iPads look like Android devices. Perhaps there is something behind that idea. To find out, lets start by taking a look at how Android devices deal with color.

Android has a much wider array of screen types than iOS, and many device vendors add their own elements into the mix. In order to make an Android device stand out from the pack, vendors have been using an approach similar to the Torch Mode trick used with TVs and Computer displays. Torch mode is the nickname for setting a display to maximum brightness, and manipulating other controls to assure that a display stands out in a crowded showroom. Accuracy is not the goal here; being seen is the only intent. That’s why it’s important to calibrate TVs and computer displays after purchase.

Android devices have a similar approach. As well as defaulting to maximum brightness, they often have their white balance set to something well above the ideal 6500K value; making them appear even brighter, but at the cost of shifting color. Gamma, which is most accurate when set close to a value of 2.2 is often shifted as well, making tones, especially the midtones, extra bright.

In the case of Android devices using AMOLED screens, yet another factor comes into play. Web content, standardized to sRGB for still content, and Rec 709 for video content, expects an sRGB-sized color space. Displaying this type of content without color management on a wide gamut AMOLED display results in extra saturation in all colors.

Combining these effects results in lighter, brighter, more saturated color on screen. This result could be described as Eye-Candy-Color, due to its high key, high saturation palette. Herein lies the dilemma for Apple. While those using iOS devices for professional purposes appreciate the accurate color they provide, many consumers may actually prefer candy colors.

In designing iOS 7, Apple appears to have taken this differential into account, and to have come to a clever compromise. Icons, and application colors do not have a direct connection to real-world color. By moving to a candy color palette for icons and app colors, by making larger areas of flat white on screen in Apple’s own apps, the result is a similar sense of brightness and color to what Android devices produce. This can be seen as a move intended to make consumers more satisfied with iOS, in comparison to the eye-popping color on OLED Android screens.

However, Apple’s method of satisfying the consumer’s sweet tooth has an innate advantage over shifting a device’s global gamma and whitepoint: Apple has added the candy-color effect to icons and apps, without changing the accuracy of the device’s actual whitepoint and gamma settings. So photos and video will still display accurately on screen. This compromise provides the eye candy consumers are developing a taste for, without distorting the real-world color in images and videos.

The result of this difference between Apple and Android approaches to mobile color means that calibrating recent Apple mobile devices with Datacolor’s SpyderGALLERY App will make only minor changes to the color and density, and that images in SpyderGALLERY will relate quite well to images and video outside of SpyderGALLERY. However, on Android, larger corrections can be expected, and using SpyderGALLERY can bring otherwise candy-colored images back to the real world tones that photographers expect from their work.

C. DAVID TOBIE has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early development. David has worked to see affordable solutions put in place for graphic design, prepress, photography and digital imaging, and then taught users how best to utilize them. He has consulted internationally for a wide range of color-related companies, and is best known by photographers for his writing and technical editing of texts and periodicals for the photo industry such as Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photographic workshop around the globe. David is currently Global Product Technology Manager at Datacolor, where he develops new products and features for their Spyder line of calibration tools. His work has received a long line of digital imaging product awards including the coveted TIPA award, and a nomination for the Spyder line of calibration tools. Much of David’s recent writing can be found at his photography blog: cdtobie.wordpress.com, and his samples of his photography can be seen at: cdtobie.com.