The rumor mill has been saying for many months that Apple is planning a 4-inch iPhone for release later this year. Two major publications, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, recently hopped on the bandwagon to “confirm” the rumor. All signs are pointing to a larger iPhone, but what does that mean for iOS developers?
People have hypothesized all kinds of ways Apple could make an iPhone with a larger screen and still make it easy for developers to update their apps. The general consensus seems to be that Apple could change the aspect ratio for a taller display, but now the people that actually make apps have weighed in on the topic. While it’s unclear exactly how a new screen size would be implemented, developers feel confident that Apple won’t “pull an Android” and create a fragmented mess.
Erica Ogg of GigaOM asked some makers of popular iOS and Android apps to give their thoughts on the possibility of developing for a 4-inch iPhone. Most seemed to agree that changing the aspect ratio wouldn’t make sense, but that there would instead be some sort of pixel-doubiling magic. The makers behind a popular cross-platform app said that “we assume Apple isn’t going to pull an Android and fragment the device market unnecessarily. If they do, they must have a really good reason to do it, and we’re confident they’ll provide tools to make it easy to migrate. The last thing they want to do is put more friction in front of developers.”
One developer said that “changing the aspect ratio would be a lot of work for development teams. We found that maybe 50 percent of iOS development is [spent] in layout.”
If Apple totally redesigned the iPhone’s screen, developers would have to worry about supporting non-Retina and Retina resolutions for both the iPhone and iPad alongside the new resolution. That’s a lot of hassle for less than an inch of screen real estate, so many developers think that Apple will simply scale up the current 960×640 pixel resolution and call it a day.
Rene Ritchie of iMore has a great rundown of how Apple could make a 4-inch iPhone work, and he seems to think that scaling up the current resolution also makes the most sense:
The result of this type of screen would be bigger text, bigger controls and buttons, bigger touch targets — in other words, bigger apps. There would be no extra pixels gained, so the amount of information that could be displayed wouldn’t change, but the same amount of information would be displayed at a larger, presumably easier to consumer, easier to interact with size. Only at a lower density.
Why change the screen at all if the interface layout stays the same? As our own John Brownlee has argued already, Apple would need to make a bigger device to accommodate LTE networking. While it’s true that most Android handsets are coming out with big screens these days, Apple doesn’t have to “pull an Android” and fragment its product lineup with a 4-inch iPhone..