For obvious reasons, it has not been a fun week. Between the ongoing battle for tinned tomatoes and sea of tech events being cancelled, it has been pretty dreary all round. Which is why I’m super grateful to Google for providing this old tech hack with one silver lining with the launch of the developer preview of Android 11.
It may sound like a small silver lining, but for me, Android 11 looks like a critical upgrade and is fantastic news for tech fans for one key reason: IT FINALLY BAKES VARIABLE REFRESH RATE SUPPORT DIRECTLY INTO THE OS!!!
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For those that missed it, a variable refresh rate is a technology that will let future Android phones intelligently adjust the screen’s refresh rate – how many images per second a screen displays – depending on what the phone is doing.
A variable refresh rate will bring a variety of benefits. For example, when the phone is doing something where reaction times matter and reducing the delay between images is beneficial, like gaming, it can max the screen’s refresh rate.
Equally, when there’s no need to have a high refresh rate, it can drop the refresh rate down to save battery. It’s a trick used by the Apple Watch 5 that we found works to a significant effect on saving battery.
If you’re sitting at home going “wait can’t the Galaxy S20 and Pixel 4 already do that?” Let me clarify, no, they can’t. All you can do is manually skip between different profiles in the settings menu. As anyone who has tried it will know, this is a clunky, inelegant way to handle switching refresh rates.
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Android 11’s solution will let app developers and mobile makers make the transition fully automated, removing the need for users to worry about the technical details or go through complicated settings menus every 5 minutes to enjoy the benefits of a high, or low, refresh rate.
This is why I hope that Apple takes note and takes a similar approach with its fabled iPhone 12 family of phones. Sadly, as it stands, this is a big if, however. Though Apple has experience working with high refresh rate panels, as evidenced by its new line of super swanky iPad Pro 2020 tablets, it’s yet to debut high, let alone variable, refresh rate panels on its iPhones.
The sea of rumours has also made no mention of it. The only titbit we got is that the new iPhones will likely have 120Hz refresh rates.
Not jumping into variable refresh rates straight away would also tie with Apple’s ongoing strategy of only implementing new technologies when the competition has ironed out all the bugs. It took this approach with OLED screen tech and multi-lens camera setups years ago. It’s also one of the reasons we didn’t see a 5G iPhone last year.
Being honest, I can’t see Apple changing its slow and steady approach with variable refresh rates – but there’s no harm in hoping.