If Your iPhone’s Display is Too Small, Hold it Closer!

October 10th, 2013

The media can’t stop telling Apple what to do, even if they don’t know themselves. Just this week, there was an article from a major British IT publication that claimed that Apple is essentially doomed if a genuine cheap iPhone isn’t released post-haste. Or even sooner.

In the real world, Apple has said over and over and over again that they do not plan to join the rush to the bottom. An iPhone is an aspirational device. You have to pay a little extra to get an iPhone, an iPad or a Mac. The theory, however, is that the smartphone market is saturated, and thus Apple loses out on future growth unless they take the cheap approach.

But aside from the lack of profit, there’s the question of how a cheap iPhone differentiates itself from the pack, other than an Apple label. How cheap can you make an iPhone, retain a decent profit margin, yet make it a premium product? Besides, that online pundit seems to forget that people replace their smartphones far more quickly than a PC. The two-year cycle coincides with the standard wireless carrier contract. Besides, as people in developing countries become more prosperous, they will inevitably seek out more expensive products as well, from cars to electronic gadgets.

There are also those ongoing claims that Apple is way behind the curve by not making a larger iPhone, as if the lack of one is causing people to buy other smartphones instead. Sure, there are all sorts of display sizes for smartphones, and some, above five-inch, have their own exclusive category known as phablets. But at the end of the day, has the public that’s been clamoring for a bigger screen, or are companies putting them out because they want to have something different?

Android handset makers are selling lots of gear. You can’t deny the facts, but does the customer who wants a smartphone really benefit from a larger display? Sure, there may be more room to display stuff, but at what cost? The iPhone will fit comfortably in most pockets and even small purses. Unless your hands are small, one-handed operation is possible. The five-inch Samsung Galaxy S4? The physical case isn’t that much larger, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s more of a chore to retrieve from your pocket, and forget about using it with one hand for many tasks.

There’s also more to a display than the size. The iPhone has a somewhat lower pixel density than the Galaxy S4, but visibly text doesn’t look less sharp. There’s a point where an improvement in specs is meaningless. Yes, it’s nice to have a bigger display, but Samsung must not have realized that their AMOLED screens totally wash out in sunlight, or doesn’t care. At least the iPhone remains visible. That’s a huge difference in the real world.

After returning to an iPhone after using Samsung gear for most of this year, I found that I didn’t suffer from the smaller screen. Thus the headline — hold it closer!

Tim Cook says Apple hasn’t dismissed the possibility of an iPhone with a larger screen, but says there are tradeoffs. I expect that image quality and battery life both represent significant potential negatives. There is also the issue of usability in sunlight. Samsung doesn’t care, but you can be sure Apple will. There are also concerns about developers having to deal with yet another form factor, and Apple takes that seriously. Android developers are often forced to deal with the lowest common denominator.

The third set of arguments are all about features. The headlines will list the five or 10 features that the iPhone or iPad lack. Whether those features make any sense or not is beside the point. It makes for good headlines. Maybe someone should come out with the five or 10 “usable” features that Apple’s mobile gadgets need. That would reflect something more realistic, and it could serve as the wish list for future Apple upgrades.

But discussions about larger screens, removable batteries, and opening the file system are old news. Apple may do something about the first, but not the others. There are legitimate arguments about allowing you to add a “Swype” keyboard, which allows you to slide rather than tap. Yes, the App Store has them, but they require a convoluted copy and paste routine to work. Apple has yet to allow makers of third-party keyboards to replace Apple’s with all features intact. Apple is cautious about opening up core features to outsiders, but maybe they’d do it if enough customers cared.

While it’s all a matter of taste, I do wonder about people who have abandoned their iPhones and iPads almost solely because of Swype. While this keyboarding scheme may have undeniable advantages if you get used to it — and I didn’t when I had a Samsung Galaxy smartphone at hand — that doesn’t mean Swype will appeal to a large user base.

It comes back to the core argument. Apple does a lot that can be criticized, but demanding that they follow one’s personal business plan or product roadmap makes no sense whatever.

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3 Responses to “If Your iPhone’s Display is Too Small, Hold it Closer!”

  1. Articles you should read (Oct. 10) …. says:

    […] “If Your iPhone’s Display is Too Small, Hold it Closer!: The media can’t stop telling Apple what to do, even if they don’t know themselves. Just this week, there was an article from a major British IT publication that claimed that Apple is essentially doomed if a genuine cheap iPhone isn’t released post-haste. Or even sooner.” — “The Tech Night Owl” (www.technightowl.com) […]

  2. Robyn says:

    Two reactions.

    1) Didn’t your mother tell you not to hold things so close to your eyes (book, cereal box, letter) because you will harm them?

    2) You really don’t want to radiate your brain with more EM than you have to.

    Any app that doesn’t allow font resizing with reflow should not make the Apple cut– and that includes its own Safari! 🙂

    • @Robyn, My mom said don’t make funny faces, or my face would stick that way. Didn’t hurt Jim Carrey, of course.

      I don’t think holding the phone an inch or two closer will fry my brain any more than it’s fried. 🙂


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