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Friar's Lantern

The Student News Site of Malvern Preparatory School

Friar's Lantern

The Student News Site of Malvern Preparatory School

Friar's Lantern

    The Rise of Screen Sizes

    Over the past few years, as smartphones became what they are today, they went through several significant changes in design and functionality. Perhaps the biggest change they went through is size. Yes, they got thinner, but they also got bigger. Increasing screen sizes in smartphones is like an addiction. A bigger screen almost always feels better, and a smaller one feels like a downgrade. I know of no smartphone line ever created that has ever decreased its screen size. It’s not so much that a bigger one feels better, but more, that a smaller screen feels like a downgrade. There was a time when all the world wanted was a thin smartphone, but now they want huge screens as well.

    Let’s start off by looking at some really old smartphones. Before the iPhone, but after the IBM Simon, that’s where we really start to see this modern look of what a portable touch screen should be. I like to consider HP’s iPaq h6315 to be a good starting point. Released in 2004, it had a 3.5 inch screen. Up until 2007 there wasn’t too much change. In 2007 the first iPhone was released which also had a 3.5 inch screen. The iPhone’s screen had one key feature that set it apart from all competition, aspect ratio. Before the first iPhone, pretty much everything had a standard 16:9 aspect ratio. The iPhone’s was 2:3. If we continue to look at Apple’s next five iPhones, we see little change. Just like the first one, the 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S all had the same 3.5 inch 2:3 screen. It wasn’t until the recent iPhone 5 (which is actually the 6thiPhone) that they changed it to 4 inches with a standard aspect ratio of 16:9. But why the change? To understand this, we have to look at some trends in the entire smartphone market, specifically the Android line.

    The first Android phone was the Google/HTC/T-Mobile G1. A partnership made in heaven, the G1 was expected to change the market forever. Google wrote the code and created Android, HTC assembled the hardware, and T-Mobile supplied a data plan that they promised could compete with the iPhone on AT&T. Although thousands of models of Android phones have been made, we’re going to look specifically at Google’s own Dev Phone line. The Android Dev Phones are the flagship line of Androids released about once a year. Starting with the G1, the Dev Phones are relatively consistent with the market. This makes them a great case study for Android as there are just so many brands with so many different form factors.

    There is another line of smartphones we should probably look at. Samsung’s Galaxy S line is the most popular smartphone series ever created. Although it was created significantly after the iPhone and the first Android devices, the S series is very well known and has a huge fan base.

    Included in the chart below is HTC’s flagship phone throughout the years. Keep in mind that the first two Android Dev Phones were also HTC’s flagship devices.



    When we look at the chart, one thing becomes very clear. The iPhone has statistically had lower screen sizes than competing Android devices. But why? There are many different opinions on this. Apple used to claim, in the days of the first five iPhones, that the 3.5 inch 2:3 screen was perfectly designed to fit in the hand. Apple released ads showing that the human thumb couldn’t stretch the length of competing Android screens. But now, with their new 4 inch 16:9 screen, they are claiming the same thing but with the new screen.

    Most hardcore Android followers, Phandroids as they’re called, like to say that Apple didn’t develop the technology for larger screens until this time. This is simply not true. Apple had been working with larger screens on the original iPad since before 2008. Although Apple certainly did not pioneer any technologies in mobile screen size, it is unfair to say that they were behind the competition. We know that Apple could have made the fifth, fourth, third, even second iPhone bigger, but why didn’t they?

    My opinion is that Apple originally thought they were right with the 3.5 inch screen. They actually believed that a screen that size was optimal for the human hand. It wasn’t until Apple saw HTC, Samsung, and Motorola with 4, even 5, inch screens that Apple saw they were wrong. The market is no longer looking for the smallest possible phone; they want big screens and big power. It is also my belief that Apple didn’t immediately upgrade to a larger screen in their early models because it would have appeared to be a direct copy off of the current Android trends. If Apple had made the iPhone 4 have a 4 inch screen (everyone thought they would do that) then it would have been an obvious copy off of the Samsung Galaxy S and other such preexisting phones.

    So where does it stop? Clearly the current rate of screen growth is unsustainable, at this rate we will be using 9 inch phones by 2015. What were once considered tablets, are now phones. Most believe that the growth will steady off eventually at the point that the device no longer becomes pocketable. With no bezel, this ultimate stopping point would be about 5.5-5.7 inches, which really isn’t too odd.

    There is a new trend in the market that might surprise you. As the demand for a larger screen than previous model rises, so does the demand for an even larger screen. This exponential screen growth is stunning to say the least. Phones that fit this category are called “phablets”. Phablets often have screens between 5-6 inches. The first phablet was Samsung’s Galaxy Note. After the Note’s clear and immediate success, most other companies started making their own. Below is a graph comparing some popular smartphones and phablets.


    Cover Photo Credit: Android Policeyoutube

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