Why smartphone screens are getting bigger: Specs reveal a surprising story

“Glance at any major smartphone line, and you’ll find a similar pattern: Screen sizes are getting bigger, year after year, model after model,” Ben Taylor reports for PCWorld. “Even Apple—which once described its 4-inch iPhone’s screen as a ‘dazzling display of common sense’ — appears poised to follow its rivals… rumors are leaning toward the introduction of a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 later this year.”

“To determine the breadth of the trend, I calculated the correlation between release date and screen size for over a thousand phones,” Taylor reports. “The trend goes far beyond iPhones and Galaxies. There’s a strong correlation between release date and smartphone screen size. Before 2011, nearly every phone on the market measured between 2.5 and 4 inches. Since 2013, sub-4-inch phones have nearly disappeared.”

Taylor reports, “I’ve distilled the data into five different scenarios, ordered from least to most likely.”

• Scenario #1: We’re witnessing a marketing gimmick, played out over five years
• Scenario #2: Apple got screen size wrong
• Scenario #3: The changes are largely based on a handful of influential phones
• Scenario #4: Manufacturers have always wanted to make bigger phones—technology simply hasn’t allowed it until recently
• Scenario #5: The smartphone is turning into our primary computer

Read more in the full article here.

33 Comments

  1. My thinking is a little different. I believe there is no single optimum screen size for smart-phones. The current iPhone 5s screen is perfect for 99.9% of everything I use my phone for, notes, emails, navigation, and most other productivity apps, however, a larger screen becomes essential when viewing videos, playing games, and using spreadsheets. So, the ideal solution in my book is to have a button located right under the volume controls that would activate a holographic screen at least 1/3 larger than the default screen. So, please Apple, get busy on this….

    1. To refer back to the Apple Knowledge Navigator video.
      About 4 inches, then unfold and double the screen size, with an invisible seam so it truly looks like one big screen.
      When done, fold and use the smaller screen on the outside for apps that only need that size.

      Now you got a large screen that still fits in your pocket.

      But the holographic screen would be best.

  2. OEMs made larger phones after Apple came out with the 3.5″ iPhone because they had to. Apple customizes wherever it can to reduce physical size and energy consumption. Competitors only focus on copying Apple’s outward appearance, while using off the shelf components, which forces them to using larger cases/screens.

    They were very smart in marketing their larger size as a feature, and the increased size also allowed for larger batteries, another benefit.

    There is definitely a market for larger screens. I’m getting older and looking forward to viewing a larger screened iPhone. But, if I still had my perfect eyes, I’d probably stick with the 4″ screen for pocket convenience.

    1. “They were very smart in marketing their larger size as a feature, and the increased size also allowed for larger batteries, another benefit.”

      I wouldn’t call that “smart” marketing, I’d call those no-brainers for marketing. It’s hard to spin a larger screen that still fits in most hands (i.e. not phablets) as a negative smartphone quality.

    2. The larger screen so I can read argument makes no sense. The text on my S4 (work phone) is the same as my 5S (personal phone). Both can enlarge text so it comes down to more information (text) is on the larger screen at one time. In other words, less scrolling to read larger text. Is this desirable. To some yes. What cannot be ignored is pictures, videos, and games are all better on a larger screen.

  3. The smartphone has become the primary way that people around the world access email and surf the web. It is also becoming the only computer that some people own. When the iPhone first came out, no-one expected this sort of market dominance to happen with a mobile device. Now that it has, people are demanding more features, responsive and adaptive websites and more screen real-estate to view it on.

    Plus, with the baby boomers now in their 50’s and 60’s, having larger screens (and the ability to zoom) has made it much easier to read and interact with our mobile devices.

    However, this trend cannot continue. We still need our mobile devices to be… mobile.

  4. Fix your feckin unsolicited popover ads/redirects will you. I’ve just encountered a new one – an OK/Cancel dialog with bad English to boot which simply reappears when you hit cancel until the third time when it throws you into the iTunes Store anyway.

    Are you familiar with the term Cee U Next Tuesday? That’s what I think of MDN, I might just give it a wide berth from now on.

    1. Never experienced that. Sounds like you are being fooled by a Trojan Horse where you think what look like buttons are not real buttons? Don’t be blaming MDN until you look in the mirror. 😛

    1. Exactly.

      I use my iPhone and iPad more than my MBP..

      The 5/5s screen is great, and if the 4.7″ screen is true to the mockups we’ve seen already.. I’ll get the 6.

      In iPhone 3 or 4 with a 4.7″ screen… Too big. Looks like the screen size will grow, but not the heft/thickness of the iPhone.

  5. The main reason is simple human behavior and psychology: increasing size as an impressive measurement is a way to distinguish your product from others. The same phenomena occurs in a number of markets, just look at automobiles, for example. Just take any model line–the Honda Civic, or the MINI Cooper, for example–and you see that over time they get bigger and bigger. In most cases this is not an improvement in auto functionality, many times it’s even a negative (for sports cars like the MINI, for example). Apple is right–4 inches is the optimum for a pocketable smartphone. On the other hand, the masses are tending to make the smartphone their main computer, especially in non-industrial countries, so this changes everything in terms of design and function.

    1. That’s my thought, too. Apple had to miniaturize to get us to try it, then those with poor designs (i.e. too big initially) showed us what was actually possible. Now that we are sold on the concept, new form factors are acceptable, too.

  6. The perfect phone is the largest one you can use pretty much with one hand for 95 percent of what you’re using it for.

    So really, we have evolution (or God, depending on who you ask) to blame for the fact that there are so many different sizes of hands in the world.

    All kidding aside, the best product line in the world should probably have at least three sizes to choose from assuming the manufacturing of the variants isn’t enough to screw up margins/consumer price.

    The iPhone is maturing as a product, and as such it’s probably time to cater to more segments of the market. I suspect that Apple was never really opposed to larger display sizes — they just have waited until they get balance things like bezel width, product thickness, battery, etc. so that it’s an elegant solution no matter which size you prefer.

  7. We’ve all read about the two bigger iPhones coming, but I’ve not read anything about Apple dropping the 4″ phone from its lineup (except that the 5S will hang around as the cheaper model). Think there will also be a 4″ iPhone 6?

    1. I sure hope so. I’m due to upgrade from my two year old iPhone 5. I don’t want a bigger phone, and I don’t really want to just get last year’s model. I’m preparing myself for the possibility of disappointment, and even waiting another year to upgrade.

  8. My theory is similar to #1. I think iPhone competitors needed a way to compete with the iPhones superb power management, small/thin footprint, and (at the time) great battery life. The only way to do this was to make a device larger (but not thicker). This led to obviously bigger surface area that needed to be covered with a larger screen. That was the initial catalyst. After that came the ‘specs war’, by which android competitions tried to ‘out spec’ the iPhone and in turn, each other. Now consumers have become accustomed to using a larger screen and have begun to accept the inherent form factor compromises. We are now looking at Apple following suit, as I’m sure it has known for a while that it will, but in their own way (and in traditional Apple fashion) by stating “the technology just wasn’t there yet” for a larger screened phone. But of course now that Apple has stepped in and pushed the envelope of materials science, we can now have a larger iPhone.

    P.S. By saying Apple is following suit, I am not implying that Apple is playing catch up. Simply, they are doing what they have always done and waited until just the right time to make their move in a market that they control.

  9. BlahBlahBlah. Yawn.

    Buy what you like. Obviously, the iPhone grabbed the ideal market from the start. Phablets are a minor trend, proven time and again. Diversify into the minor market once the tech is worth making, Apple’s POV. Meanwhile, Samsung foisted phablets when the tech was NOT worth making. They don’t give a rat’s about selling cheap knockoff not-ready-for-prime-time tech to their victims. Just chuck over the money, $uckers!

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