The Problems With A 4-Inch iPhone

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Expect huge queues and a lengthy wait for the iPhone 5.
Do we really need a bigger iPhone?

Many started speculating about the possibility of a 4-inch iPhone when a guy named Colin made a very interesting argument for such a device one week ago. The rumor mill has been saying for months that a larger iPhone is coming, but no one had really thought about how it would actually work. Colin proposed that Apple would need to simply change the aspect ratio from 3:2 to a stretchy 16:9. Brilliant, right?

Not so fast. There are multiple reasons why an elongated iPhone screen would not work.

Dan Provost, co-founder of Studio Neat, presents a succinct breakdown of the problems with a 4-inch iPhone on his blog, The Russians Used A Pencil. He points out the obvious problem of holding a 4-inch smartphone in one hand; it’s very difficult to move your thumb to all four corners of a 4-inch screen while it rests in your palm. The iPhone as is feels perfect in one hand, and that’s a comfortableness that Apple is not likely to forfeit for a larger screen (see Samsung Galaxy Note).

From a developer’s point of view, “there would need to be at least some minimal intervention to have the app function properly on a 16:9 screen.” Remember when the iPhone 4 came out with the Retina display and it took months for all of your favorite apps to get updated? The same type of experience would happen all over again. As Provost notes, Apple has done it before though.

If the next iPhone had a taller screen, Provost says iPhone-only apps wouldn’t be able to run at 2X on the iPad. The argument has been that Apple would add more pixels vertically to fill a longer iPhone screen, and such a resolution wouldn’t be able to scale properly on the iPad’s 9.7-inch display.

The most convincing argument Provost makes against a 4-inch iPhone is that apps would be unable to function properly in landscape mode:

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.

If you look at the concepts Provost is referring to, they do seem to work in portrait. The only time we see landscape working is for video, when you would actually have less black space on the side of the iPhone’s screen.

When you factor in the fact that the human hand was not made to hold a 4-inch phone, it seems problematic that Apple would release such a device. The only possible reason would be something like increased hardware size to accommodate LTE networking. The rest of the industry continues to play with different screen sizes, thereby creating a very fragmented experience for developers users. Apple has stuck with the same screen size since 2007. You know what they say,”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”