1366 x 768: No rhymes, several reasons

For 7, 6, or 8 years now, the maximum resolution of LCD displays on Windows’ notebooks has been laterally anti-competitive at a meager 1366 x 768p. No data has been made available to the public as to the reasoning behind the industry-wide decision to apply such a sub-standard component for use by the masses. Since no data is readily available, any hypotheses given or inferences made are purely speculative.

BUILT-IN OBSOLESCENCE

What is built-in obsolescence? The simplest way would be think of this as an engineering practice which ensures a product will be rendered obsolete.

A classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, exemplifies the topic well. Most anyone who’s seen this film remembers the fictional “everlasting gobstopper”, a piece of candy that lasts forever. Willy Wonka was so concerned that old Slugworth would apprehended the secret. But what would old Slugworth, the archetype for the corporate and industrious man, do with such an invention? The analogy kind of breaks down here. In the world of candy, there are a seemingly limitless combination of flavors, colors, textures, and forms that sugar can be molded into, sold, and enjoyed. Due to the candies’ massive catalog, other treats would continue selling despite the fact a gobstopper can last forever.

For computing technology, there once was one option, the desktop computer. That was about it for 15 years. Then came the portable notebook. Again, that was about it for another 15 years. Only two options for 30 years? A generous ascription of that situation would be, slim pickings.

However, in 2007, a burst of innovative devices and designs were pushed into existence. Apple ushered in the smartphone. Tablets followed in 2010. Hybrid machines ensued shortly thereafter in 2012. Followed by a new OS (Chrome) in 2013. At this point, there exists a fairly healthy amount of options for various levels of personal computing needs. So why are Windows machines still being relegated to antiquated screen technology from the early 00s? Durability and ownership of data.

Windows notebooks tend to have a sturdier construction, are more easily repairable, and have long life cycles. Despite leaps in processor and memory technology, many people can accomplish what they need to with processor technology from the late 00s. Batteries can be replaced when they expire. HDDs can be switched out if they go bad. The OS can be reinstalled if a virus gets the machine. The one limiting factor which can be artificially imposed by notebook manufacturers is the quality of the screen. By putting inadequate screens inside their machines, manufacturers are building in obsolescence. Conversely, by releasing devices with adequate screens and fixed limited storage, your data becomes the property of your cloud provider.

MICROSOFT’S ANTI-COMPETITIVENESS

Microsoft was the sole provider of operating systems for third parties for the longest time. The relationship between OEMs and them grew to be very unilateral, where Microsoft was calling most of the shots. The theory here is that there was disrespect on some key issues which led to a deterioration in the relationship. The attribution here lies squarely with then-CEO Steve Balmer. Lauded for his commerce-centric policies and copycat product design; it is plausible to imagine some of these unfriendly underpinnings extending into corporate relations. The ultimate turning point was when under his leadership, Microsoft themselves became an OEM by releasing Surface tablets and purchasing Nokia Mobile. The situation must have grown utterly bitter under Balmer.

OEM PUSH FOR POWER

Souring relationship with Microsoft aside, by this time, OEMs have begun to capitalize on other technologies and form factors. In fact, many are putting their latest and greatest screens on anything and everything besides notebooks and/or Windows. Part power-play & part business-move, OEMs appear poised to dictate decisions going forward.

So why are tablets and phones getting the latest and greatest?

Slab phones and tablets are tougher to repair, more prone to break, and generally have shorter life cycles. Broken screens, cycled batteries, limited OS support, substantial leaps in ARM processor technology, and abhorrently generous globs of adhesive ensure shorter life cycles on these devices. More devices breaking means more devices will be purchased. More OS options empowers the OEMs as opposed to the OS creators.

MANUFACTURING FAILURES

In the early to mid 00s, the default mode of information viewing changed. Much like radio improved to TV, or black and white film progressed to color, the width of the screen was due for a civilizational change. The transition derived from screens with a squarish 4:3 aspect ratio and progressed to the now-standard 16:9 widescreen. The amount of pixels on each panel was 1280 x 1024 which needed to change to a 16:9 pixel layout. Options were 1366 x 768, 1600 x 900, or 1920 x 1080. The option with the least risk of pixel failure was 1366×768.

One suggestion is that during this time, as manufacturers began adjusting their equipment, they ran into trouble retrofitting and reprogramming their machines.

All manufacturing runs into issues whereby some of the stock each factory produced is trashed. With screens, failures can occur with respect to a number of issues. One of the most prominent issues though is “dead pixels”. Just like firecrackers, some pixels are duds. Their percentage is very small but they do exist. The smaller the size of the pixel, the more susceptible it is to failure. The more pixels on a screen, the greater chance there is for one pixel to be a “dead pixel”. Hence, 1366 x 768.

MARKETING SUCCESSES

The HD specification is an abomination. To clarify, the HD specification is an abomination.

The traditional reasoning behind specifications is regulation. The HD specification does no such thing. The HD specification actually entails two different resolutions 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080. Marketeers in their infinite trickery have employed the lower end of the specification and advertised it legitimately.

So to clarify again, “high definition” is undefined.

LOOKING FORWARD

With 4K and 8K screens hitting the market now, it’s hard to imagine that such an outdated screen resolution is being used still. It would be like monochrome monitors still being produced when the first consumer LCD monitors were being released in 1999. Hopefully, these screens will stop being deployed.

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