What Is a True Tone Display?

How True Tone works

Apple upgraded almost every major feature of the iPad with the release of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. This tablet features a desktop-level processor, four speakers for crystal clear sound no matter how you hold the device, a camera that can compete with those found in smartphones and a display that is forty percent less reflective than its predecessor, has a wider range of color and has a "True Tone" display that adapts the temperature of the device display according to surrounding light sources.  

A True Tone What? 

When we look at an object, we aren't just seeing the object itself. We are also seeing the reflection of light bouncing off the object. If we are outside during the morning, this light might be a little redder due to the rising sun. In the middle of the day, it may be more yellow, and if we are inside, we might have more pure white light bouncing off the object. 

But if you never really noticed this reflective ambient light, you aren't alone. The human brain actually filters these colors out of the objects we see, compensating for the reflection of these lights in order to give us a clearer picture of what we are seeing. 

Do you remember the dress that caught the internet by surprise when some people saw it as a gold-and-white dress while others saw it as a blue-and-black dress? This social media phenomenon was caused by the human brain deciding to either tone out the blue in some cases or to accentuate it in other cases. And because the colors used in the dress were essentially snuggling up against the borders of how our brain's color filter works, it had a drastic effect on how the dress was perceived.  

Four iPads in different colors.
Apple, Inc.

True Tone doesn't have quite as drastic an effect, but it works on similar principles. The new iPad is forty percent less reflective than the previous model, which was less reflective than the model before it. Blocking out this reflection of light is very important for making the iPad readable if you are outside during the day, but it also blocks out some of these ambient colors. And because our brain doesn't know they are being blocked out, it is still hard at work trying to compensate for that non-existent light. 

This is where True Tone comes into the picture. Our brain compensates for ambient light bouncing off objects, which is why a white piece of paper will look very white no matter if you view it under the bright sun, in the shade of a porch or inside with artificial light. We see white as "very white" until something that is even more white comes into our field of vision. 

But what about a screen that is designed to reduce the amount of reflective light? The white background in the iBooks app can end up appearing a little off under different lighting, not because of the app's background color changes — it doesn't — but because our brain is trying to filter out that non-existent ambient light. In a way, True Tone is adding in warm colors and some of that color is going to be filtered by our brain. And the end result should be closer to what we might see if we were holding a real piece of paper in our hand. 

So Does True Tone Make a Big Difference?

True Tone is ultra-cool in concept, but having put both an iPad Air 2 and a 9.7-inch iPad Pro side-by-side in various lighting conditions, we can say (1) there is a clear difference between the two and (2) you'd probably only notice the difference if you held them up side-by-side. For most people, True Tone may make the iPad's screen a bit more realistic, but we wouldn't really be able to tell the difference.  

For those using the iPad for photo editing or video editing that want to fine-tune the color of the images, True Tone may have a beneficial effect. Especially if comparing the colors to an actual photograph. 

The DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut May Be the iPad Pro's Killer Display Feature

The True Tone display gets a lot of press time, but the real reason why the 9.7-inch iPad Pro's display looks much better than any other iPad is the support for DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut. If you have no idea what the heck that means, join the crowd. I had never heard of it before the newest iPad was introduced. 

If you remember Nigel Tufnel's "This one goes to eleven" quote from This Is Spinal Tap, that's basically what DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut does: bring the color on the iPad up to eleven. 

Think about the early days of computing when the screen was only capable of displaying 16 colors. And then came screens capable of displaying 256 colors. And now most computer monitors and televisions are capable of displaying just under 17 million colors. And we are about to make another jump to 10-bit color with Ultra High-Definition (UHD), which will be capable of displaying over a billion colors.  

Where does the DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut in the iPad Pro land? It can actually display 26% more colors than UHD and it matches the color gamut used by many digital films.  

So when you look at the new iPad Pro's display and you think the image looks really awesome, it probably has as much or more to do with jumping to DCI-P3 than it does the True Tone technology. Though, of course, when you combine all of these technologies, you get a pretty awesome display. 

OK, True Tone Is Awesome, but How Do I Turn It Off?

True Tone may not be for everyone, and if you are working with photos or video, you may want to flip it on or off depending on exactly what you are trying to do. True Tone is on by default, but you can turn it off by launching the iPad's settings app and choosing Display & Brightness from the left-side menu. The display settings will let you flip the switch for True Tone, turn on Night Shift and adjust the warmth of colors in Night Shift as well as turning auto-brightness on or off.

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