Will the iPhone Always Have a 3.5″ Screen?

Oct 10, 2011 - 42 Comments

iPhone screen size and accessibility

Ever wonder why the iPhone has a 3.5″ screen while the Android world is off pushing into greater and greater dimensions? Dustin Curtis theorizes that the reason iPhone continues to have a 3.5″ screen is so that nearly everyone can use the phone one-handed, because their thumbs reach nearly everywhere on the screen without trouble. Curtis put together the graphic shown above to demonstrate this, comparing thumb accessibility on an iPhone with its 3.5″ screen vs a Galaxy S II with a 4.2″ display, which he complains is too large. As demonstrated, large portions of the Android screen are inaccessible one-handed by his thumbs, and presumably for many other individuals as well.

Touching the upper right corner of the screen on the Galaxy S II using one hand, with its 4.27-inch screen, while you’re walking down the street looking at Google Maps, is extremely difficult and frustrating. I pulled out my iPhone 4 to do a quick test, and it turns out that when you hold the iPhone in your left hand and articulate your thumb, you can reach almost exactly to the other side of the screen. This means it’s easy to touch any area of the screen while holding the phone in one hand, with your thumb. It is almost impossible to do this on the Galaxy S II.

Furthermore, John Gruber of DaringFireball suggests that Apple could have chose a 4″ screen a long time ago, but decided on the 3.5″ display sometime in 2006:

Bigger is not necessarily better. Apple decided on the optimal size for an iPhone display back in 2006. If they thought 4-inches was better, overall, as the one true size for the iPhone display, then the original iPhone would have had a 4-inch display.

These are interesting thoughts to consider, but personally I’d be surprised if Apple never went to a larger display on the iPhone. I think a 4″ screen would be more than usable by nearly everyone, assuming the devices border was thin enough to easily reach beyond the border (remember the edge-to-edge screened iPhone rumors?).

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPhone

42 Comments

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  1. Jason Calihan says:

    OK two points: not everyone has tiny hands and can’t reach around with their thumbs, and secondly other than choosing a song how much one handed iPhone use do you need? The moment you start doing anything you use two hands so you can type and enter data.

    I want a bigger screen on the iPhone because the current screen is so tiny that it hurts my eyes and I have to strain to read anything on it. For me, the Galaxy and other Android phones are significantly easier to read and use, and they will undoubtedly capture a huge portion of the market if Apple never addresses accessibility and vision.

    Frankly, I’ll give Apple until my contract expires to put out a larger display, and if they miss that boat, I’ll go to the competition simply so I can actually use my phone without squinting.

    • Petrus Voegt says:

      So I guess you never realized that a bigger screen may not necessarily mean better quality. It’s all about screen resolution, your eyes will hurt just the same on a phone with a big screen if the display is below par.

    • Renato says:

      You are just wrong. I’m fine with the iPhone screen size.

  2. Grapht says:

    Curtis just has small hands

  3. Pablo says:

    “Could have chose”? Seriously?

  4. Kent Allard says:

    What about the Samsung Galaxy Note? That phone has a HUGE screen.

  5. Tim says:

    This is just a story to make the wrong seem right by a, obviously Apple fan. I have a Evo, small hands and I can touch, top, bottom, left and right sides of my phone. To disprove this B.S. theory, explain the Ipad? Can your thumps reach all over that one?

  6. Shredder says:

    Bull.

    A 3.5″ inch screen in 2006 was cheaper than a 4″ screen in 2006.

  7. Bryan says:

    Sounds like a bunch of malarky, I agree with Tim. This is such an Apple fanboy statement. I have iPhones and Macs but I do envy the bigger screens on the Android devices. They are beautiful.

  8. Blake says:

    I guess he either has really short thumbs or mine are really long because I can touch anywhere on the front and side of my iPhone 4 with my thumb.

    The diagram seems very inaccurate but I get his point.

    Anyways the iPhone 5 better have at least a 4″ screen because by that time Androids will have 5″ ones…

  9. Listen2Me says:

    I hope the screen size stays put. When smart phones / touch screen phones took off in 2006, it was at the expensive of pocket real estate. Prior to this, phones were getting smaller and smaller.

    The art to designing for mobile is to keep everything functional on a small screen. If you need a bigger screen, grab an iPad.

  10. Wolfmore says:

    I want an iPhone i can use with one hand and that fits comfortably in my front pocket. My smartphone is meant for things on the go. Like walking and checking things. Currently the dimensions on the iPhone with 3.5inch screen is perfect.

  11. bigpics says:

    Give me 3.8 or give me….. …uhhh… ….well whatever you can give me…..!!

    Or do finally go for two models – each corresponding to a huge swath of the hand-size and thumb-reach demographics – and otherwise identical, e.g., edge-to-edge screen and/or the 4″ model thinner for equal volume. That would grab the last 10% of the demographic where Android has a clear field for now.

  12. Isaias says:

    The graphic is flawed.

    Using an iPhone one handed is a bit more dynamic than holding it in one position and moving your thumb around.

    I don’t know about this guy but with subtle movements of my hand, I can reach any spot on the iPone with my thumb. I imagine if you get used to the Galaxy, you can learn to do the same.

    Besides, who holds their phone with their hand 90 degrees to the mid point of the screen? Most people hold their phones at a 45 degree angle in their hand and thus cover a larger area with their thumbs even without digital acrobatics…

  13. isaac says:

    imo… apples always playing catch up with new tech… give us flash… at the least how about animated gif mms support… geez

  14. Luke says:

    With the introduction of Siri screen size will become less and less important.

  15. KeNgoaiDao says:

    More large screen, less battery too! Vote for iPhone!

  16. vdiv says:

    This forum needs more women. I am serious, not everyone has giant hands or enough space in their purse or pocket to fit a giant phone. Want a large screen? Get an iPad. Get a 60″ plasma. Get a Christie Cinema DLP.

  17. icebreaker says:

    This topic is so sad, people trying to defend a company (Apple). What if they decided on a perfect screen size of 5 inch? Would you still say the same, that it’s perfect?

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the screen sizes they use but just because it’s from Apple doesn’t make it automatically perfect. I want a larger screen size because I read a lot of e-mail on the go so the iPhone doesn’t cut it for me.

    • Hans says:

      What is funny is I don’t think a lot of these posts have anything to do with “Defending Apple.” A lot of people don’t want or need a larger phone, and it’s kinda annoying people like you assume that they are just “blindly” defending an Apple decision that you don’t necessarily like.

      That’s not to say that there aren’t the individuals who “drink the Apple kool-aid” but don’t blanket all into that pool.

  18. Chip says:

    its not the size of the screen that matters, its what you put on it ;)

  19. James says:

    It is absolutely LUDICROUS to think that one phone size it the “right” size.

    I am 6’2″ and have big hands but I, personally, don’t want my iPhone any bigger. It fits nicely into my pocket as is and I have no trouble using the interface. That being said, I can understand other people may enjoy the bigger screens… it all depends on use and personal taste.

    There are people who also want SMALLER iPhones (http://osxdaily.com/2011/02/10/iphone-mini-apple-working-on-smaller-cheaper-iphone/).

    Why does everyone feel the need to force their phone taste on everyone else? If you like the Evo, buy the Evo. If you like the iPhone, buy the iPhone. Why do you care what phone other people prefer?

  20. Parsi Monious says:

    Mr. Curtis went through all this effort to express a biased opinion? And you post it as if it where a study? Is there any statistical analysis available for review? This is all silly to say the least.

    IF he does have a theory, then he should at least do some decent study to support it. At least some data collection and a regression analysis. Here, I volunteer the first sample in the data set:

    I’ve used iPhones since they first came out. I do a lot of internet browsing, app usage and email. My thumb measures 3.25 inches, and my user satisfaction level with the iPhone screen size is 5 on a scale of 0 to 10 (and it keeps getting lower with time).

    I think the iPhone 4S specs are nice to have, but overall they fall short. 512MB of RAM is not enough. Once I reach certain level of multitasking I need to start killing apps to keep the UI from slowing down. And the screen size, well the screen size…..what can I say? I have a big, fat long thumb. Bye, Bye my precious. It’s been a pleasure…..

    And Mr. Curtis, please curb your enthusiasm.

  21. Patrick says:

    All of these pundits and fanboys who are proclaiming the 3.5″ screen to be the holiest and most perfect size are going to be saying the exact same thing next year when Apple releases a 4″ version of the iPhone. Then suddenly the 4″ version is going to be perfect and holy and will get rejoiced by the same fanboys who will then be in direct contradiction with their past statements.

    This is what I HATE about the fanboy Apple pundits, they flipflop on anything as long as it’s 100% in agreement with every Apple release and product ever.

    Look, I love Apple too, but I can openly admit when they underwhelm or release something that isn’t the best. There’s nothing wrong with healthy criticism, but people like Gruber and Curtis and all the other goobers who are saying the 3.5″ is Jesus himself are just flat out ridiculous.

    • Dustin says:

      If they make the screen larger without making the phone larger, then all is good. But I really don’t want to carry a wide screen T.V. in my pants. I hope Apple never increases the actual size of the phone itself, just the screen. Also, if it comes at too much of an expense to battery life, then I’d prefer the smaller screen anyway.

    • WTF says:

      Get an Android phone and move on.

  22. Mark says:

    Well, the next obvious step is to transform the nature of hardware. We need phones that are bendable rollable or foldable. It’s possible that such a design wouldn’t be exactly ergonomic, but it would be convenient to be able to roll up our phone to stash it somewhere.

  23. james says:

    This is the stupidest article ever hahahha. You say apple would have made a 4 inch screen back in 06? Not even that would cost a lot of money and a 3.5 inch was already really big for a phone. And second to everyone saying that the quality of the screen is more important that BS cause all high end android phones all have good quality screens and there way bigger!

    • khang says:

      when people say quality of screen they must mean the retinal display of 960 x 600 solution for a 3.5 inch vs a 800 x 480 on a 4.5 samsung galaxy s 2

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