What Is a True Tone Display?

How True Tone works

A True Tone display uses multiple sensors to adapt the color temperature of the device display according to surrounding light sources. It first appeared with the release of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and is available on select newer generation iPads, iPhones, and Macs.

Apple devices with True Tone displays are less reflective and possess a wide range of colors. These attributes work hand in hand with True Tone technology, which adjusts the colors you see on the screen based on lighting conditions to create a more accurate, true-to-life image.

A True Tone What? 

When we look at an object, we don't just see the object itself. We also see 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. It may be more yellow in the middle of the day, and if we are inside, we might have more pure white light bouncing off the object.

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

A great example of this is the dress that some people thought was white and gold. The human brain decides to tone out colors in some cases or to accentuate them in other instances. 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 people perceived the dress's color.

Four iPads in different colors.
Apple, Inc.

True Tone and White Balance

True Tone doesn't have as drastic an effect, but it works on similar principles with anti-reflective properties on iPads, iPhones, and Macs. Blocking light reflection is important for making a display readable if you're outside during the day, but it also blocks some of these ambient colors. And because our brain doesn't know they're blocked out, it's still hard at work trying to compensate for that non-existent light.

True Tone comes into the picture by adjusting to the ambient light to make things look more natural. 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. This effect isn't because 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 adds in warm colors, and our brains filter some of that color. The 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 may make the iPad's screen a bit more realistic, but most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference unless you put a device with this technology and one without it, side by side.

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. This feature can be especially useful if comparing the colors to an actual photograph.

True Tone and the DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut

The True Tone display gets a lot of press time, but the real reason why the 9.7-inch iPad Pro's display looks better than any other iPad before it is the support for DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut, which dials the color on the iPad up to eleven.

The DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut can display 26 percent more colors than the sRGB color gamut used on many displays and TVs, and it matches the color gamut used by many digital films.

When you look at the True Tone display on an iPad Pro, and you think the image looks incredible, it probably has as much or more to do with jumping to DCI-P3 than it does the True Tone technology. Although, you get an awesome display when you combine all of these technologies.

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

True Tone may not be for everyone. If you work with photos or video, you may want to flip it on or off depending on what you are trying to do. 

True Tone is on by default, but you can turn it off:

  • On macOS, go to System Preferences > Displays and uncheck the box next to True Tone.
  • On iOS and iPadOS, go to Settings > Display & Brightness, and toggle the switch to the off position next to True Tone.

You can use True Tone with Night Shift. From the display settings on your device, adjust the warmth of colors in Night Shift, as well as turn auto-brightness on or off.

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