A couple weeks ago, a gentlemen named Timothy Collins called into the Vergecast podcast and sent the blogosphere into a tizzy by suggesting how Apple could increase the screen size in a new iPhone by simply elongating the screen to a 16:9 (ish) ratio, while keeping the same resolution (326 dpi). John Gruber pushed things over the edge when he essentially confirmed the rumor.
Here’s Marco Arment:
I don’t think the iPhone’s screen needs to be bigger, but if Apple’s going to make a change, I’d rather they keep the aspect ratio closer to 3:2.
I’m with Marco on this one, although I do think a bump in screen size would be nice. I don’t think increasing the height of the screen, while preserving the width, is the right way to go about it though. Rather, I think Apple should keep the 3:2 aspect ratio and increase the physical size until it reaches the 300dpi retina boiling point, maintaining the 960x640 pixel count.
First, let’s discuss why a 16:9 iPhone could be considered a good idea:
Crucially, bigger in the right direction. The majority of apps are used in portrait orientation, and the UI is anchored to the top and bottom of the screen, with a scrollable view in the middle. Stretching the screen vertically simply allows more real estate for the content to live. This is documented quite nicely in the Verge post that kicked off this whole discussion.
Easy to Manufacture
If the screen stays at a 326 dpi resolution, the screens are easy to produce, because Apple can use the same tools they currently have to produce 326 dpi screens, and just cut them at a different size. Easy peasy.
While I like the banner style notifications that were introduced in iOS 5, I have noticed an annoying tendency. Whenever the banner flips, it obstructs a large percentage of the navigation at the top of the screen. It is still possible to tap buttons on the nav while the banner is present, but it takes dexterous fingers. I usually just wait until the banner dismisses itself before I resume use of the UI.
If Apple begins asking developers to make their apps have a “flexible” UI (to be compatible with 3:2 and 16:9 iPhones), when a notification banner appears the top navigation bar could simply nudge itself down. This would greatly improve the unobtrusive quality the banners strive for.
Possible iOS 6 Features
A taller iPhone opens up some interesting opportunities, especially with iOS 6. Perhaps the new iPhone would be able to have unique software features, a la Siri for the iPhone 4S. The increased screen height could open the door for widgets, revised home screens, multitasking improvements, etc. that may not be possible on the shorter screen.
Now, let’s dive into why a 16:9 is a bad idea:
I have designed apps for 16:9 mobile screens before. If the app needs to be designed for both portrait and landscape orientations (like Mail, Messages, most standard UI apps) it’s really, really hard to make the landscape orientation look good. Taking a list view and stretching it that far looks real stupid. It’s just an awkward ratio to work with. The virtual keyboard on a 16:9 screen is awkward as well; if scaled properly it takes up the majority of the screen. All of the (non game) examples in the Verge post look at the apps in portrait mode, and it works great. Rotate to landscape, not so much.
A few months ago a blog post by Dustin Curtis addressed a problem with the large screens on Android devices: they are impossible to comfortably use one handed. I think the same problem would occur with a tall 16:9 screen on the iPhone. Corners opposite of the hand holding the device would be difficult to reach.
I would suspect that even if a developer uses all standard UI elements, there would need to be at least some minimal intervention to have the app function properly on a 16:9 screen. This means there is going to be a pretty awkward transitional period when the new iPhone is released, where apps are letterboxed or the UI is janky. This is a bigger problem for games, which will need to redo a bunch of the graphical assets to fill the new screen. Clearly though, Apple doesn’t seem to have a problem muscling through these periods, as seen previously with the release of the iPhone 4 (non-retina apps looked like crap) and iPad (iPhone apps running at 2X looked like crap).
Running on the iPad
Speaking of running iPhone apps at 2X on the iPad, if the screen increases in height, apps designed specifically for the new iPhone would not be able to fit on an iPad at 2X. Perhaps Apple doesn’t care anymore about that, as it was simply a stop gap until the App Store filled up with iPad specific apps. Even so, seems weird.
Personally, I think Apple nailed it out of the gate with the 3:2 ratio screen. It works well in both orientations. That said, I think the screen could definitely stand to increase in size, without becoming so large as to prevent easy one handed use, or greatly increase the physical size of the phone.
The image above shows the current iPhone, a mockup of the alleged 16:9 phone, and a mockup with a bigger 3:2 screen at 300dpi, which measures 3.84” diagonally. I estimated that the physical size of the phone would need to increase slightly, getting taller in the 16:9 version and wider in the 3:2 version. I don’t think either of these size increases are deal breakers. The 3:2 version is actually still narrower than the iPhone 3GS.
I see these as Apple’s three feasible options: keep the screen as is, bump to 16:9 but retain a 326dpi resolution, or increase the screen size while maintaing the 960x640 resolution. I hope they go with option 3, but chairman Gruber makes methinks option 2 is more likely.
April 16, 2012 / 91 notes