Rambling observations on wallpapers in modern devices

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Rambling observations on wallpapers in modern devices
October 26, 2021

Iconic wallpapers are not a new concept. Those old enough to remember typing on physical buttons to send an SMS will probably also remember the iconic Bliss hill that adorned PCs with Windows XP operating systems.

I always assumed  the iconic nature of that wallpaper  was incidental. Just the result of a lot of people installing windows XP on their system and then never bothering to change the default wallpaper. However, what I am almost certain of is that those were different times.

In recent times I have seen wallpaper assume greater significance along with more deliberate design characteristics as devices look more and more similar from the front.

Firstly, I have noticed that companies are displaying the backs of their products more and more on their websites as the only way to differentiate  between many of them is now the camera module. And we have seen some interesting camera module designs recently to put it mildly. But from the front most of these phones are indistinguishable, especially when the screen is off.

But a lot of the new screens that are coming out, especially on higher end devices are really nice. And the companies want people to see them.

And nowhere was this more applicable than for Samsung when they unveiled the first galaxy Fold. This device was all about the screen. A folding screen. A tiny tablet that through the power of this new foldable screen technology was now pocketable.

So naturally, when the phone unfolded during the demo, after a lot of tantalising shots of the hinge and the volume rockers and such, and we finally got to see the beautiful large, almost squarish screen, it is only natural that it was adorned with a well thought out wallpaper.

It was a vague butterfly shape made of many well chosen coloured grains, with a pleasing gradient that highlighted through its symmetry the one thing about the screen samsung wanted you to notice first. That it had just doubled in size right in front of your eyes.

samsung fold wallpaper

And if you look closely, the darkness elsewhere, specially right down the middle- the part we have unaffectionately come to call the crease- helped keep attention away from that part. The crease is obviously not the most flattering feature of a folding phone but the technology  does not exist to get rid of it yet. And folding device manufacturers would much rather you ignored that part about their shiny new products.

Another thing the blacks in the wallpaper do is highlight the ability of the OLED screen to recreate deep blacks. You will notice that most wallpapers looking to highlight the abilities of an OLED screen would have blacks in it.

This is because of how OLEDs work versus LCDs. In an OLED the parts or indeed pixels of the screen that are supposed to show black simply switch off as opposed to  in LCD screens where there is always a backlight on and the best possible outcome is a very deep grey. So wallpapers looking to make an LCD display look good will have brighter colours overall.

Have a look at the default wallpapers of the three variants of the Samsung tab S7 line. Notice how the wallpaper with the most blacks is the top of the line S7+ which  happens to be the only tablet in the line up with an OLED screen.

Elsewhere, when Apple recently introduced a mini-LED XDR screen to the iPad Pro, it also went with a default wallpaper with sharp colours and deep blacks in between those colours. Because mini-LEDs are also, like OLEDs, supposed to be better at displaying blacks.

On the LCD side of things, one of my favourite uses of a default tablet wallpaper recently has been on the iPad Air, purely from a subjective aesthetic standpoint. I just really like those ribbons with the beautiful colour gradients that swish around across the screen creating a pleasing and super desirable image of a new refreshed tablet.

Of Course an even better version of the ribbon motif was on the follow up wallpaper designed for the new iPad mini. The ribbon now spells 'mini' in a font reminiscent of the iconic 'hello' on the Macintosh so many years ago. It's a nice callback and I appreciate it. What I also like is how it fills the screen. Apple isn't trying to make it seem like the screen is bigger than it is. The smaller size is the selling point. And this wallpaper sells it.

Another interesting wallpaper that I've noticed recently is the one for Windows 11. What I like about that one, apart from the fact that it looks generally very nice and is easily recognisable, is that the swirly mushroom cloud thing rises up from centre bottom, where the new taskbar lies by default. Coincidence? Probably not.

And now that we have spoken about carefully crafted wallpapers designed for specific products, let's also have a look at something that might make it all a redundant exercise of the past.

If you have not been keeping up with news of Google's Material You, I suggest you read up. Google claims to have come up with a material palette that automatically generates based on any image you pick as a wallpaper, picking the right colour from that image and the right complementary colours, creating UI elements that actually fit in mood and feel with this personal image of yours. Sounds absolutely crazy. And super exciting. Of course the proof of the automation pudding is always in the eating and we must wait till we've had a better look at how much this actually works as advertised.

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