The 16:9 ratio iPhone

The 16:9 iPhone

A few days ago rumors began to focus on the idea that Apple was moving to a 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5 (or whatever Apple ends up calling iPhone 5,1). I went through the mental exercise of mocking up, and breaking down, the various 4-inch iPhone options to try and figure out how Apple would get there.

Now, however, the rumors are coalesced around one specific option -- one I initially thought had fewer advantages, and was hence less likely -- a 16:9 aspect ratio, 1136 x 640 display.

So what would could Apple, a company that prides itself in saying "no" even more than saying "yes", consider switching their best selling product, the iPhone, to a 16:9 screen?

The road to widescreen

Last iMore heard Apple hadn't settled on a new iPhone screen size. One of the versions they were testing had the same 3.5-inch screen, but they were considering going as large as 4 inches. There seems to be one or more prototypes with that screen size, including a 16:9 aspect ratio version. Since we also heard the next iPhone isn't shipping until October, there's still lots of time for them to decide. (Apple is the company that changed from plastic to glass screen in just a few weeks before the original iPhone launch, after all.)

Both The Wall Street Journal and Reuters have now reported a 4-inch iPhone. Previously a The Verge reader, who caught John Gruber of Daring Fireball attention, and later, iLounge heard something around 16:9 was a target aspect ratio. Yesterday Seth Weintraub of 9to5Mac broke news that the 4-inch, 16:9 prototype had a screen resolution of 1136 x 640. John Gruber once again paid attention to that ratio. Matthew Panzarino of The Next Web took the idea out for a spin, and asked the impertinent question I find myself asking all the time as well -- How would a 16:9 display help Apple sell more iPhones? [Update: John Gruber has weighed in on this as well now.)

The three laws of Apple products

There are three laws by which Apple iOS products seem to be governed.

  1. Apple will only do things that grow profits now, or better position them to grow profits in the future.
  2. Apple will delight users with magical experiences, except where doing so would conflict with the first law.
  3. Apple will empower developers to make insanely great apps, as long as doing so doesn't conflict with the first and second laws.

Hobbies aside, Apple sells iOS devices by the tens or hundreds of millions. So far every iPhone has sold more than every iPhone before it, and that's a pattern Apple is going to want to continue. So far, the App Store has grown faster and larger than any software market before it, and that's also a pattern Apple is going to want to continue.

But there's a second factor to consider.

Design matters

Apple's Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, Jony Ive, has espoused a very specific philosophy when it comes to product development. Back in March, Ive told The Evening Standard:

Most of our competitors are interested in doing something different, or want to appear new — I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us — a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better.

Under that mandate, Apple wouldn't switch from the current iPhone's 3:2 aspect ratio to a 16:9 aspect ratio just to have a different iPhone. They wouldn't change for change's sake, or for fashion's. They would only change to a 16:9 ratio if made for a better iPhone.

Ive also, just today, told The Telegraph:

We try to develop products that seem somehow inevitable. That leave you with the sense that that’s the only possible solution that makes sense. Our products are tools and we don’t want design to get in the way. We’re trying to bring simplicity and clarity, we’re trying to order the products.

So the change from 3:2 to 16:9 should be a natural progression of the iPhone itself. Likewise, it shouldn't make anything more complex, cluttered, or confusing.

It should make it even clearer.

Adding a dedicated OS space

With all that in mind, the least likely option -- though the easiest for developers -- is for Apple to keep the app space the same on a 16:9 iPhone as it is on the current iPhone, and use the extra pixels exclusively for new and updated iOS features.

In other words, the main iPhone user space could still be 960 x 640, and an extra 176 pixels would be put on top of it, on the bottom, or split between top and bottom.

There are several things such a system space could be used for.

Static dock/fast app switcher

Right now the dock disappears when you go into apps, and the fast app switcher only comes up when you double-click the Home button. An even faster app switcher would always be there, recent apps only a tap away, controls and older apps only a swipe or two more.

Of course, it risks accidental, app-switching hits, and it's utility in landscape mode is questionable.

Static widget space

Right now, widgets are hidden away in the fast app switcher, Notification Center, and Siri. While many people have expressed a desire for widgets on the Home screen, there's also an argument to be made that making app data available in other apps is even more valuable. (The current version of iOS is an app launcher, not a Home screen hangout for a reason.)

Again, however, landscape orientation wouldn't be as natural a fit, and would either require new UI, or the awkward sideways treatment fast app switching currently enjoys.

Static notification space

Right now, Notification Center banners fold down over and obstruct controls like back buttons, and provide no in-app functionality. With a dedicated notification space, not only could notifications keep clear of back buttons, they could have enough room for in-app actions like iMessage quick replies.

The temporarily nature of notifications make them less suitable for a static implementation, however. If there are no notifications, it's wasted space.

And I'm not even going to bother mocking up how awkward that would look in landscape. (But see above.)

Static gesture control space

Right now, system-wide gestures are completely absent from the iPhone, even though webOS has had them for years, the iPad has them, and BlackBerry 10 is intent on using them as a major differentiator for pro users.

A larger capacitive area may mean there's room enough to explore more complex, if less discoverable gestures. That said, it's almost impossible to imagine Apple keeping a permanent dead pixel area around just for swipes up and down, backward and forward, etc.

Static iAd space

Right now a new iPhone costs $199 to $399 even on contract, and companies like Amazon have already experimented with ad-subsidized price reductions on devices like the Kindle.

Tweetbot developer and all around instigator, Paul Haddad jokingly tweeted this idea, and I'm including it here just to make him regret it slightly.

Apple made fun of ads in Gmail, no way they violate iOS with an ad space, no matter what any patents might suggest.

Static system space that can switch between some or all of the above

A combination of the above, but where widgets and notifications and gestures and all the rest co-exist in perfect harmony, in one Apple-only screen section.

And none of that is likely

Static system space on a small, mobile screen flies in the face of Apple's design philosophy. It would clutter the iPhone screen and ensure, likely much to Jony Ive's consternation, that no user could ever lose themselves in the content. The interface would always be there, staring at them, even when they didn't need it.

While more flexible than the hardware keyboards Steve Jobs mocked during the original iPhone launch, there are times when it won't be useful, and Apple is all about eliminating absolutely everything that's not essential all of time.

That brings us to...

Creating a bigger screen

If we apply Occam's Razor, the simplest and most obvious way Apple could implement a 16:9 aspect ratio on close to a 4-inch display, is simply add the extra pixels, optimize the system software, and let developers have at it.

In my previous post, I saw some problems with this approach:

Since pixel size remains the same, text size would remain the same, control/button size would remain the same, and touch target size would remain the same. Apps that use the built-in interface elements would simply add an extra row of information -- an extra row of icons, an extra row to the table or item to the list. The display would be vertically larger, and more information could be displayed on it. But what about apps that don't use built-in UI elements?

Safari would show more of a page's length, Mail would show an extra message, but games and anything with a highly customized, non-table based interface would have to be pillar-boxed. If developers made new versions that fill the extra space, those versions would be cut off on older iPhones. And if developers made 2 versions of the apps, it would mean more work for them and "fatter" binaries for users to download. (A universal app would go from having iPhone and iPad interface elements, to having old iPhone and new iPhone and iPad interfaces.)

While many things are possible, this doesn't seem like a very Apple-esque solution. It would fragment the iPhone platform for developers in a way Apple has resisted so far, and offer incomplete user benefits (increasing pixel count in only one direction).

More importantly, it would mean either significantly redesigning (or eliminating) the Home button, or lengthening the iPhone casing, or a bit of both. iMore has heard the Home button isn't going anywhere, and parts leaks have suggested it looks pretty much the same, so that leaves a longer iPhone and that... would be awkward. (Even if you remove part of the bezel to make room for it.)

Let's re-examine some of that.

Default apps

Apps that use Apple's built-in interface elements, especially table views, should enjoy some level of automagic compatibility on a longer screen. iOS simply shows more information -- another row, or partial row. These have been mocked up to death already, notably on The Verge and Overdrive. Here's an example of my own, if only to set context.

So far so good, right? Even if text and touch targets aren't bigger, more information is more. It's no accident, however, that most of the mockups have been in portrait orientation. Depending on text flow, landscape doesn't enjoy the same benefit, at least as iOS currently implements it.

The keyboard

The keyboard could be identical in portrait orientation due to the identical screen width, or Apple could take some of the extra vertical pixels and add another row of keys, either numbers on the default keyboard, or special purpose keys on custom keyboards (the way internet apps add @ or .com, for example).

It would be more of a challenge in landscape orientation, however. Would Apple pillar box the Keyboard? Scale it to fit? Stretch it to fit? Split it, iPad-like, to fit?

Custom interface apps

Apps that don't use the built-in interface elements would be letter-boxed or pillar-boxed in the short term (or if abandoned, for as long as they remain in the App Store), and updated to fit the new screen ratio as soon as developers get around to it.

Web and web apps

The web and HTML5 web apps are largely seen as size and aspect ratio resilient. They'll flow content into and around the space they have, and simply show more or less of it, depending on the height or width of the display. In mobile, they'll typically size or re-size to fit as well. Some websites and web apps will need very little or no changes to fit the new ratio perfectly. Others, especially more static sites that made fixed-asset assumptions, may need more work.

In portrait orientation, this means we'll typically see the same size content but more of it. That's because the width hasn't changed but the height has increased, and the content will fill the extra space.

In landscape, on fixed-width sites, we'll see slightly larger content but less of it. That's because the width has increased but the height hasn't changed, and the content will scale up to fit the new width. Fluid-width sites will likely simply fill the new space, keeping the content the same but showing more of it. (Though the nature of line breaks mean less additional text content would fit in than it would in portrait mode.)

Videos and movies

The current iPhone screen is 3:2. Most web video (i.e. YouTube) and most modern TV shows are 16:9. That means, where the current iPhone has to letterbox these types of videos, a 16:9 iPhone could show them full screen with no distracting black bars.

Movies are typically shot at close to 16:9 or wider. 16:9 is 1.77:1. Most modern movies are between 1.85:1 and 2.40:1. The Avengers is 1.85:1. Star Wars is 2.20:1. Wider movies would still require letterboxing, albeit with thinner lines.

That means most videos will be bigger, and look better, on a 16:9 iPhone.

Backwards compatibility

Supporting both legacy 3:2 iPhone screens -- everything from the original iPhone to the iPhone 4S -- and the new 16:9 ratio would be trickier. It seems unlikely that anyone would be happy with new, widescreen apps getting chopped off at the sides or top and bottom on old, standard screen devices.

Due to the way the App Store works, separate apps for old and new iPhones isn't a great solution either. Developers wouldn't be able to give new versions away for free to existing owners, and existing owners wouldn't want to pay full price again for what's essentially the same app at a different ratio.

That leaves the ugly but not unworkable option of multiple binaries or at least multiple assets to support older devices and the the new iPhone all at the same time. Depending on the app, there could be some efficiency achieved by sliding elements around to fill or conserve space, but worst case it's another big bump in file size. More apps hit the 50MB cellular download limit, and the lower-end iPhones can hold fewer apps.

And if an app is universal and already has an iPad interface, that would make for three versions (or at least two with more complexity) in one binary.

So why would Apple go to 16:9?

Given the need to sell more iPhones and make a better product, and given all the challenges listed above, why would Apple go ahead with 16:9? Why would they say "yes" to this screen ratio and not proudly "no"?

Content really is king

iOS devices have always been a screen surrounded by the least amount of other stuff necessary to make it work. The screen, more specifically the content it displays, is everything to Apple. There needs to be a bezel, there needs to be mics and speakers and the barest possible amount of buttons and ports. There needs to be a battery and electronics. But as much as that can be minimized, as much as the screen and the content it's showing can be thrust forward, the better.

Design is constant compromise

If Apple doesn't want to make the actual physical phone much bigger, if they can't make the side bezel any thinner, and if they want to make the screen bigger and the content it displays even more immersive, there's only one direction left for the display to grow.

Both the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2 designs took away visual cruft from the sides. Rounded bands were flattened, think frames were removed and buttons and ports hidden behind.

Now, maybe, Apple is ready to chip away at the front.

It's not an edge-to-edge screen, it's not a transparent display, but given the limits of current technology and the premise that Apple wants a bigger screen without having to make a bigger phone, it's the best compromise they can make.

And with less faceplate and more screen, it could be a more immersive, and a better product.

Predation over competition

There's a school of thought that, since Apple's iPhone outsells all larger screened Android phones combined on major U.S. carrier networks, Apple doesn't "need" to go to a larger screen for competitive reasons. However, that doesn't mean they won't go there for predatory reasons.

Just because people are buying more 3.5 inch iPhones than larger Android phones doesn't mean people prefer 3.5 inch screens. It means, as a total package, they prefer the iPhone. Some users no doubt compromise on a larger screen size just to get an iPhone. Others no doubt compromise on getting an iPhone because they really want or need a bigger screen.

Apple may just have run some numbers and determined that a 4-inch iPhone could outsell large screen Android devices by even more. With a similar casing size, no current users are likely to jump ship. With a larger screen, however, some who chose size over iOS might just make a different choice. Introducing a bigger screen could increase the iPhone's addressable market, and sell more phones.

Conclusion

While rumors continue to grow about the 4 inch, 16:9 iPhone, October is a long way off and Apple may yet decide a more conservative, less ambitious iPhone screen is the way to go.

If Apple does go with a 4 inch, 16:9 iPhone, they already know how they're going to do it and how they're going to handle any problems, pain, and other turbulence during the transition. Apple has rarely shown an aversion to those things. They'll relentlessly pursue the future and expect users, developers, and even their own team to keep up.

And it'll be for two reasons and two reasons alone.

To make a better product and sell more iPhones.

Additional resources

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 95 comments. Add yours.

Inappropriate response says:

Yeah I don't see it myself. Seems like a mess going 16x9. If anything I see them keeping the same aspect. The benefits don't outway the design costs.

Agree says:

I Agree, I don't see 16:9 as an advantage, only a problem. The main reason most people want a larger screen is so the content is not so small, it is not to get more content on the screen. 16:9 does not accomplish that goal. All 16:9 does is say "We will now be just like Android, and we can now say we have a 4" screen without making the content any bigger"
People buy a bigger TV so they can see it better, the same is true for phones. People are buying these bigger screen phones so they can see them better.
I disagree that they still have time to decide to change the screen size. If they are doing 16:9 that decision would have been made months ago because there is a lot of work that would need to go into iOS 6 to do that and iOS 6 will likely be previewed next month.

Mattmcmatters says:

Good point on IOS6. If they're releasing that soon, the aspect ratio of iphone 5 has to already have been decided. And unless Apple has some huge secret up their sleaves that makes everybody go 'duh, of course', then me no likey. Keep current aspect, Apple and just go bigger!

Nitin Malhotra says:

what a lovely article. my own feeling - next iphone will have a bigger screen @ 16:9. Apple's hardly ever been averse to doing something revolutionary.. doing something that no one would expect and they'll most likely do it again. After Mr Jobs, this is make or break for Apple in phones - this will show the world whether they can continue to make unorthodox & revolutionary product and be trend-setters..as they did in Jobs' era or will they join the rest & be a mere competitor

pete says:

16:9 is not revolutionary or unorthodox. Pretty much every mid to high end Android phone is 16:9.

Macboy74 says:

And that does what for iPhone users? I love when people say android has this android has that. Awesome for android phones users. But why do iPhones care?

Epiclyepic says:

He wasn't. He was merry pointing it that 16:9 would not be revolutionary, as most androids already have it.

pete says:

Um...who are you talking to? Did you read the article?
Nitin implies it would be revolutionary for Apple to introduce a phone with this aspect ratio, and I made the point that it would be anything but.
The reason for switching is because 16:9 is becoming the standard for all media consumption devices. This would give iOS users a better media experience and also, in the long run, make things easier for developers to work with one aspect ratio accross all devices.

isights says:

Conventional wisdom has it that Apple must make an iPhone with a larger screen. And conventional wisdom also has it that a 16x9 phone would be easiest for developers to support.
But conventional wisdom, applied to Apple, is often the fastest way to go wrong.
I don't believe that Apple would disrupt their entire ecosystem for a single device, or for a mere half-inch increase in screen height.
But is it worthwhile disrupting the entire ecosystem for an entire series of devices?
I think the key phrase Apple is going to repeat over and over again at this year's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is "resolution independence".
See http://www.iSights.org/2012/05/the-169-iphone-why.html

Spazmonic says:

Apple could drop an actual apple that makes phone calls and SMS you would all still buy it. SO speculate that.

Glenn#IM says:

I have looked at this closely lately, I tend to use the iPhone with one hand. My thumb moving around the screen. A four inch screen would be nice, but it is really out of the sweet spot using just one hand. At four inches, there is slight stretching outside the comfort zone. It would take getting use to. If you use two hands, it is not a problem, but one handed use of the screen, four inches will have a different feel. People with small hands, this will be increased. Landscape mode does not really matter, because that is a two handed operation. If you have not done so, use the phone one handed, and see if four inch would be about right. Great article.

Tad says:

Enlarging the screen from 3.5" to 4" without changing the Aspect Ratio only adds 1/4th inch to the width. That would not prevent one handed usage.
Bigger screens are so you can read the message better so they need to widen the phone if they are going to enlarge the screen or it does not solve the problem of the text being to small. Changing the aspect ratio does not solve the problem either unless you also widen the screen.

FlopTech says:

Great article Rene. But, honestly, some of the "dedicated OS space" mock-ups are absolutely hideous. We'll throw up a little in the back of our mouths if Apple does anything even remotely resembling that.
And 16:9, with its HDTV implications, makes more sense the larger the screen gets. No, not as in 3.5" to 3.9". As in 50". If there really are 16:9 Apple devices in the pipeline, then we doubt the iPhone will be the first Apple product with one.
Then again, none of us really has the big picture. (OK, maybe you do and you're just not telling..)

Alex_Hong says:

The current iphone is great in overall physical size. Nice to hold in the hand, and fit in the pocket. One-handed navigation is great. You can reach every part of the screen with your thumb, same with the home button.
The worry i have with a longer iphone is that the home button will be harder to reach. You could hold the phone lower down, but it would make it top heavy and slightly awkward to use. Perhaps the home button could be moved to the side instead, somewhere in the middle. Leaving the front of the phone with just a single piece of glass.
When holding the phone with one hand, the index finger can still reach the sleep button easily. Without shifting the position of your hand, you can reach the home button on the side. Just a thought.

True says:

That is true. The one handed argument people are using against enlarging the phone to 4" would be solved by going to 16x9 is false.
Enlarging the phone to 4" with the same Aspect ratio would actually be easier for all points to be reached one handed than changing the aspect ratio to 16x9 because that would add much more to the height.

Rayzor says:

One important point seems to have been overlooked.
To maximise sales of the new iPhone 5, Apple will need to 'de-value' all the previous versions of their iPhones (which otherwise could easily have been 'phones-for-life')
Customers with anything other than an iPhone 4S, have all been affected by the gradual degradation of the IOS experience, by upgrades described as 'improvements' - which in reality are sabotage targeting those on the lower end of their customer food-chain.
Re-writing IOS to a 16:9 ratio is a master stroke. It will bring 99% of their customers back to the stores (& 98% of those will be back with their sleeping bags, weeks ahead of the launch day).
If they don't/can't upgrade, the alternative is they keep their former 'magical' phone, and watch as the slowly decomposing user-experience makes them wonder how they ever fell in love with this phone in the first place.

Not ME says:

Not ME. I do not see 16x9 as an advantage in any way. The screen is to small. Making it taller does not solve that problem. And I don't buy the Movie argument. It is to small to watch movies on, if I want to watch a movie I'll use my iPad or TV. The few quick videos I do watch are fine as is.
Make the whole screen bigger or leave it alone.
Making all existing phones obsolete is no way to increase sales. You increase sales by having satisfied customers.

felface says:

Please whatever they do don't make the unit size any bigger

Radu Tanasescu says:

I don't think Apple will change the aspect ratio and leave black spaces above and bellow full screen games (like you demonstrated up there). That would be a stupid solution and Apple knows developers wouldn't catch up in time and users will, at least for a while, see the black borders.
Those black borders are ugly and very Android like, their an easy cheap fix to a complicated problem. And what does Apple to about such problems? They fix them in a way that's both elegant and efficient or they avoid them all together.
Apple needs to increase the screen size, so that would mean increasing the resolution to keep retina parameters. What did Apple do in the past about that? Every single time? They made the screen have four times the resolution of the previous screen.
That would mean the iPhone will keep it's aspect ratio, get a larger screen and four times the actual resolution, which is 1920x1280.
That sounds a bit like too much? Not at all, the A5X chip can support an even higher resolution on the New iPad, and as tradition shows, the A5X will be on the new iPhone.
I read 5 iPhone tech blogs, none of them figured this out yet, and it's so damn obvious.

D Rey says:

I don't think its the processor they are going to have a problem with. Its the screen. Rene actually already covered how almost impossible it would be to find a small display capable of pushing those numbers without killing battery life.

Radu Tanasescu says:

Yeah, I thought about that. I didn't know battery was a concern, but I was wondering if making such small pixels is even possible yet.
I still have faith though :)

James Jun says:

A 16:9 aspect ratio will make compatibility with all apps on the App Store nil. I imagine, as said in the article that a notification or placeholder of some airtight exist until apps are updated, but I don't see why Apple would switch to 16:9 while forking a majority of app compatibility.

beev says:

What an excellent analysis. Thank you.

Steve S says:

If apple decides to increase the screen size then 16:9 is the likelier option.  I think Apple believes that a iPhone should ultimately be a one handed experiance and therefore anything bigger than the current form factor would ruin that concept.
16:9 ratio 4" or 3.9" screen would fit within the current form factor and still be a one handed experiance.  The phone I would point to with a similar form factor and a one handed experiance is the Nokia n9 with a 3.9" 16:9 screen. The n9 is very one handed because it is very gesture based and in that respect as out iPhoned the iPhone.
Apart from the screen the big area of improvement needs to be iOS.  Yes they have the best ecosystem and the best apps for any phone, but compared to the freshness of the aforementioned n9 it looks stale.  I think it's this area that apple will produce their best results.  They need to make iOS more gesture based like swiping up for multitasking and swiping down for closing apps.  If they get this right there is no need for a home button allowing them more space for screen.
I would recommend everyone to look at and play with the n9 it really does point the direction for the iPhone.  
I want to see 4s and the n9 making out.  And having a love child called the iPhone 5.

Wrong says:

WRONG, One handed use would be much easier if they keep the aspect ratio the same and enlarge the screen to 4". It would only add about 1/4" to the width and a little more than that to the height. By changing the aspect ratio to 16x9 they add much more height to the screen making it harder to reach one handed. Actually I don't think 16x9 would be a problem one handed either, but if people are asking for a bigger screen it is so they can see it better and keeping it the same width won't satisfy them. Especially if many of the Apps are boxed and kept at the same size.

Steve S says:

WRONG!! Think about what your saying.  If you keep the same ratio the physical width of the iPhone would have to increase by roughly 0.5" to accommodate a 4" screen.  That would make the iPhone a similar width to most 4.5" androids which in my  opionion would be two handed device unless you have the hands of a yeti.  It's no surprise that the all the models (past and prsent) of iPhones have been similar in height and width.  It's because it's the physical size of the device it self which determines the one handedness.  Ultimately my argument is that they could increase the screen size  and still keep the same form factor by changing the ratio and becomeing home buttonless. The current model is one handed and people can touch all parts of the screen and press the home button. Now if you replace the space taken by the home button as screen space it is still one handed.  
But this creates a problem with how do you action the home button functions... My answer would be gestures as on the Nokia n9 like double tap to unlock a sleeping device, swipe up to access multitasking dock, swipe from the edge of an app to close it etc etc... And this is my point the biggest improvement on the next iPhone will be in software and not hardware. 

Mister-E says:

I think you are being a little bit defensive on Apple's behalf Rene. Apple must increase the size of it screen to stay relevant. They are not increasing the size for predatory reasons, they are increasing the size because consumers demand it. To accept that a 3.5 inch screen is fine is like RIM thinking it's hardware was wonderful and security was more important than user experience.

Rene Ritchie says:

How are consumers demanding it? By buying more AT&T and Verizon iPhones than all of their large-screen phones combined? That's a tough way to define demand.
Right now, unless numbers swing hard, consumers are saying that if they have to choose between the iPhone and a larger screened phone, just over half will still choose the iPhone.
The billion dollar question is, how many of those who didn't choose the iPhone, would choose iPhone if it also had a larger screen?

pete says:

Actually a March study by Strategy Analytics Wireless Device Lab showed that 90% of smartphone owners want phones with bigger screens than their current devices, so long as they were still thin and pocketable. That's NINETY PERCENT. You can't get much more decisive than that. It also showed that most people want a screen in the 4-4.5" range.

cardfan says:

Oops..just wanted to say one more thing. Design. They say money follows success. With Apple, hardware follows software. It's Apple's ability to design its hardware around its software. Gruber even asked if Apple was a software or hardware company? Would you take iOS on a Nexus device or android on an iphone?
If Apple is creating a bigger screen as a result of accommodating what it has planned for iOS 6, then it makes more sense. If Apple is feeling pressure to increase the hardware and have to design the software around it, then that's not the preferable case.
In all the examples above Rene is trying to make iOS work with the mockups. It looks ugly in most cases. Perhaps the question that should be asked, does iOS need 16:9 4" hardware to be a better iOS?

I Agree says:

I Agree, people want a larger screen (all the way around not just taller). A taller screen is not the same as a larger screen.
I also Agree that given the choice of an iPhone with a smaller screen and an Android, most iPhone users will choose an iPhone but I think there is a good size percentage that will leave if Apple does not produce a larger iPhone this fall. People were expecting it last fall and lots of people skipped the 4S because they wanted a bigger screen.
My son has a 4.5" Android and he said he would not switch to an iPhone unless they came out with a larger screen. I have read a lot of reviews about the larger screen phones and people love the larger screens.
I predict that if the new iPhone looks just like the iPhone 4S but with a taller screen their growth will slow and many people will not upgrade or will switch to Android.

Jean Mertz says:

"I predict that if the new iPhone looks just like the iPhone 4S but with a taller screen their growth will slow and many people will not upgrade or will switch to Android."
I predict when Apple will the discontinuation of OS X this summer all customers will switch to Windows 8. In other words, your prediction isn't worth anything because you already knew it isn't going to happen before you typed up your prediction. Same screen size? 50% chance and declining every day. Same looks as iPhone 4S (and iPhone 4)? 0% chance.
I know Apple doesn't like to change their design too often, but customers somewhat demanded it when the iPhone 4S launched and will surely expect it when the New iPhone launches.
Also, I too would rather see them go 2X for the second (and last?) time, get a 1920 x 1280 resolution in there. This gives them the room to increase both the height and width of the screen, without sacrificing on the "retina" quality and without giving too much headaches to the developers, since they walked this path before so it shouldn't cause too much problems.
But maybe 1920 x 1280 is too much for todays (phone sized) hardware, or maybe the displays are still too expensive. Either way, I would've loved to see this become a reality.

Mister-E says:

The Verizon and AT&T numbers are reflective of the USA only. Samsung has become the largest mobile phone maker in the world. Vodafone in the UK has already received record pre orders for the Samsung Galaxy SIII. As Pete commented, the Strategy Analytics survey stated that 905 of consumers want a phone with a screen that was at least 4 inches. Apple is a forward thinking company and must realize that a device that was designed over five years ago needs a bigger screen to continue to maintain or even exceed those sales numbers.
As for the billion dollar question, I think the larger screen will have some appeal to those who did not choose an iPhone, but I think the greater numbers are those who have never had a smartphone before and who may leave the iPhone because they want a larger screen.

Mister-E says:

That't 90% of consumer not 905.

Tru_Canuk says:

Yeah but where does it end? If you (or the surveys say) that consumers want a smartphone with a screen 4" or greater, what happens 5 years from now, people will carry 9" phones?

pete says:

No. According the study, the ideal size is 4-4.5". It's quite clear that people still want something thin and "pocketable". The latest Android phones may have gone too far. But sales numbers wouldn't seem to indicate that, they keep increasing.

Rene Ritchie says:

That was terrible reporting. Samsung DID NOT receive record pre-orders. Those were units shipping to carriers, NOT people. Carrier stuffing is nothing new. Making and shipping product != selling product.
Apple's numbers are iPhones SOLD, not shipped. (Though they tend to sell whatever they can make).
Samsung may well do the same, but until the GS3 goes on sale, those reports are just plain wrongly presented.

pete says:

Vodaphone is saying they have a record number of preorders from CONSUMERS. Carphone Warehouse is reporting the same. That means the SIII already has more demand than any Android phone before it at these resellers.
You didn't really read that post before going off on your rant about bad reporting, did you?
That said, any way you cut it, the number of phones shipping is so much better than its predecessors the only reasonable conclusion one can come to is that it is going to be more popular than its predecessors. Which brings us back to the original point of large screens being what consumers want.

josh.ua says:

Apple hanover been one to do something just because consumers 'demand' it. They either add things before we know we want it, or they wait I add it till they can find the best solution for everyone. Look how long it took them to add copy and paste, multitasking, etc. They could have easily added those features in the first iPhone, but thu waited till they found the best solution. Solutions that dont hurt the user experience, solutions that solve problems, not demand.

SolublePeter says:

Great analysis Rene, the pictorial examples really highlight the options.
Not sure that landscape is quite the deterrent you make it out to be, though (maybe the proportion of real world use of that mode would be an interesting question to poll your readers on at some point?)
Insane solution from one of the earlier responders to quadruple the res again. Pixels too small to use, higher production cost, and worse battery life, without even the visual appeal of a larger screen at the end of the process.

Jean Mertz says:

– Pixels too small to use
Isn't that the whole point of the iPhone 4 and iPad 3? Pixels are too small to see, not use, which is the point of the "retina" term.
– Higher production costs
Apple has been adding and improving iPhone and iPad hardware for years now, and every time this argument is made to discount a new hardware upgrade. Remember the iPad 3 and the "retina" display on that one? A lot of people where expecting a price increase because of the insane display. Instead, we got the exact same price. So I don't see this as the biggest issue.
– Worse battery life
Agreed, but I also wouldn't see it past them to increase the phone thickness by half a mm as they did with the iPad. And as we've seen there, they doubled the battery capacity by doing that.
Also, I'd they are ever going to do it, now would be the best time. Once they go 16:9, there is (almost) no way back. And another year with a 3.5" screen is almost not an option anymore.
– Without even the visual appeal of a larger screen
That's the whole point of this proposal. It gives them the option to go with any (reasonable) screen size they want, while maintaining the (great) 3:2 ratio. The only reason this 16:9 thing became such a hot topic was because everyone agreed that they wouldn't simply increase the screen to 4 inches by increasing both the width and height, because that would get them below 300 DPI, their definition of "retina". Going 2x (4x?) would solve that issue.
Anyway, I'm still hoping/dreaming for a 1920 x 1280 4" "New iPhone"

Sid says:

Frankly speaking, all of the STATIC ideas were HORRIBLE.
I love the 1st concept, the 1st picture.

iSRS says:

Great article, Rene. In your mockups, however, you didn't do a widescreen, landscape Safari. Going 16:9 here would degrade the user experience.
"Safari would show more of a page's length" only holds true in portrait. You turn landscape and it fits the width, like the non mobile imore.com, and you have less text before you scroll when zoomed in on the article, or overall decrease in font size if viewing the whole width. Neither of these options is a better experience.
This doesn't seem very Apple like.

You are right says:

You are right that landscape would be a worse browsing experience in 16x9.
You are wrong that Rene did not point that out. Re-read the article, his section on the Web addressed that issue.

iSRS says:

Anyone else getting "duplicate comment looks like you already said that" lately? Any comment I post from my iPad is lately. Then nothing is there.

Nephiko says:

Front and back screen, one 16:9, one old style, best of both worlds?

D Rey says:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. NICE!!!!!!

part2346 says:

Fragmentation would only last a year as people cycle on to the new device. It would be inconvenient but necessary and nowhere near as permanent or varied as Android fragmentation. And that one year is way longer than the life cycle of most iOS games. And just like that, all the old iPhones aren't in use anymore and nobody will care except the handful of people who expect to play new games on one and three year old devices.
Also, is there really any doubt that it'll just be called the new iPhone?

One Year says:

One Year, are you kidding, Apple is still selling the 3GS, there are millions of people with brand new devices that will not be upgraded in one year. And Apple will continue selling the 4 and 4s for several more years, and those people will keep their phones for at least 2 years after that.
Changing the Aspect Ratio will cause 5+ years of problems.

ModeratorOMD says:

Whatever they decide to do, or won't be blowing up the apps in any way. Especially since they publicly talked about Android doing it.

u2jav says:

You didn't get it right with the order of the three laws! Steve Jobs wasn't a Corporate CEO focused on profits, he was a Corporate Dreamer focused on products! The other things came because of the product, not the other way!

Karl says:

Thank you. I came here to say this.

Karl says:

"Just because people are buying more 3.5 inch iPhones than larger Android phones doesn't mean people prefer 3.5 inch screens. It means, as a total package, they prefer the iPhone."
Overly simplistic. I prefer larger screens, but I also prefer devices which I carry regularly to be small. The latter preference overrides the first. If Apple came out with a larger form-factor, I would not buy it.

cardfan says:

I absolutely agree with your two rules of Apple. It must be better and it must be able to sell more.
But to be honest, i don't see, yet, how this change makes it a better iphone. No doubt a large screen might appeal more and sell more iphones though. Maybe this ties in nicely with an iTV in the future? 16:9 remotes basically if the ipod touch follows along as well.
I think a lot of this demand is just wanting something different. It's easy to say well how about a bigger screen. How about more megapixels? More horsepower? All that, we tend to say yes, give it. Especially when all of Apple's competitors (not just android) are doing this.
I still say be careful. Jobs knew when to say no to bad ideas. Keep it the same size if it can't be increased the right way. As for doubling the resolution not being possible, many said the same things about this years ago and just recently with the ipad. It can't be done. Think around 4.5" and super retina or some such marketing name.
In the end, it sounds like Apple is more desperate to increase size no matter what instead of making a better iphone and having to do things (16:9) they don't really want to do to accomplish it. The fact that you heard from sources that Apple hadn't decided on anything just means they DIDN'T work this out back when Jobs was around.
Just as Apple remains looking desperate by doing Siri with celebs ads.

Matt says:

16:9 makes a lot of sense if iPhones were to become hd televisions. What if apples television strategy was not simply to come up with a big new product but to leverage iPhone and iPad and thereby own a significant percentage of the worlds television market. I'll bet that our iPhones are about to become small screen televisions.....

To Small says:

iPhones are to small to be TV's. The TV business is also not a profitable business.
If they are going to change the aspect ratio and they want to get into the TV business they should change to 720p resolution. Changing to 16x9 and keeping the 640 resolution doesn't make any sense, you are still scaling down all HD movies.

iDonev says:

I hope Apple doesn't make the next iPhone incredibly tall (it would be awkward to say the least)
As far as the screen is concerned, I would love for them to maintain the current app dimensions and replace the home button with a 0.5" gesture area. (hello Palm :-) )

Bluecanary says:

Bezel gestures where the home button used to be.

Unknown says:

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Carioca32 says:

Apple could have gone with a wide screen from the start, but they didn't. If they decide to do it now its because of pressure from competition, so its a bit disingenuous of Jony Ive to say that competitors are interested in doing something different, or want to appear new and those are completely the wrong goals, when he is basically doing the very same thing.
In fact, for the past two years Apple design has been basically all about doing something different and appear new, but I guess he must convince himself that he is not doing just that.

Dev says:

To throw more two-bit speculation on the fire, while a 16:9 aspect ratio could fragment the current App Store, it could also be a step towards future consolidation along all iOS lines. I suspect one of the reasons Apple has never opened up the Apple TV to development is that Apple does not want to create resolution-agnostic tools for developers. The Apple TV and the rumored iTV are going to need third party development if there are to be "channels" that are essentially Apps from content providers, therefore Apple needs to get tools in the hands of those developers/providers.
Let's face it -- for all of their power, Apple is not going to be able single-handedly to force a change in television resolution -- 16x9, 1920x1080 is it for the forseeable future. If they want a single fixed-size toolkit for TV and non-TV iOS devices, then, that leaves them with only one choice -- change the resolution of the other iOS devices (iPhone/iPad) to 1920x1080 or an even factor thereof.
Changing the new iPhone to that resolution would be the necessary, logical first step.

tys says:

I've yet to see a 16:9 mockup that doesn't look awful to my eyes. I just do not like the tall and skinny.
Plus I want a BIGGER screen, an extra cm of height doesn't really help me.
However, I suppose if anyone can pull it off elegantly, it would be Apple.
I'd actually rather see them go the other way and use the iPad's aspect ratio on the iPhone.
If they'd make a 5" 4G iPad, I'd trade in my iPhone. I never really use the phone anyway, I must have about a billion AT&T "rollover" minutes by now!

Tru_Canuk says:

LG has a 5" phone out with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It looks like one big square - very awkward looking and awkward to hold. Google it.

tys says:

Is it the Optimus Vu?
I like it, especially the white one!
If only it could run iOS.....
If I don't like the next iPhone, I'll definitely consider it.

KungFuGrip says:

Let's wait and see... perhaps changes presented iOS 6 will be such that a 16:9 ratio makes perfect sense. People are basically looking at iOS 5 and trying to imagine it on this "supposed" new phone.
As far as the apps and developers go, they'll adjust either way. Trust me. If tens of millions of these phones are sold, they'll adjust happily. Developers go where the audience is, and there's no bigger app audience right now than the Apple App Store.
Let's see what the new iOS has in store, UI-wise and other, before we get even more carried away with the rumors.

Tru_Canuk says:

Great post. Just like another poster said above, Apple's hardware follows its software.

CrzyP says:

I used to be fine with the current screen size until I got my iPad. The next iPhone needs to have a bigger screen. Not IMAX size, but slightly bigger.

Evan_Beezy says:

I think the best thing they can do is make it 4 inches, keep aspect ratio, and move to a quad subpixel arrangement away from rgb stripe like in Sonys newest Xperia P. this doesn't say 720p on paper but in real world use makes the display a lot better... especially in direct sunlight and power draw

West says:

I don't know what the higgity hell Apple will do but if they did choose the above aspect ratio, I'd hope they would use the extra pixel rows for the notifications. Currently, notifications block the top of the screen in Safari - keeping me from typing in a website until the note goes away. And I can't FORCE the note to go away sooner.
If we have to deal with a larger phone, I'd like the portrait keyboard to be wider so it'd be MUCH easier to fuggin' type on. Geez. What a pain that is.
AND too many apps don't offer landscape orientation as an option, so we often get STUCK with that PoS portrait keyboard.

QP says:

Swipe from right to left to dismiss notification

bookimdanno says:

Escellent article. I'd like to see a 16x9 iPad. I'm a movie nut.

Not ME says:

Not ME, I like the wider screen in portrait. The iPad has more square inches because of its Aspect Ratio than the 10" 16x9 tablets.

AdamASDFGH says:

If they don't increase the potrait, AND landscape length, well then I'm sorry, I want/need a bigger phone, and even if they did come out with a larger iPhone, if the screen is just taller it's almost like cheating.. Hi Samsung Galaxy SIII.
(I have an iPhone 4, and I'm not happy with the size of it)

tuffy100 says:

lol @ the little squished home button :P

EricV says:

Rene why do you always push your post ahead of others?

Rene Ritchie says:

http://www.imore.com/2012/05/22/ios6filesappdocumentspickericloud/comment-page-1/#comment-690686

pete says:

I support this. It makes discussions and some back-and-forth possible in the comments on the more popular stories.

Rene Ritchie says:

Added two short sections on web/web app and movies/video.

TekNiKal#AC says:

Saying a 4" iPhone would be unusable one handed is nonsense. Both my wife and I have Android phones. I have an Incredible with a 3.7 inch screen and she has the Incredible 2 with a 4 inch screen.
If Apple doesn't increase to at least a 4" screen, it would be pointless. The .3" inch difference is significant between just our phones. There is hardly any physical phone size difference between my iPod Touch and my Incredible. The physical phone size is slightly larger with my wife's 4" Incredible 2, but there is a huge screen real estate difference.
BTW, she only uses her phone one handed. We have been able to upgrade our phones for a couple of months now. We are waiting to see if they increase the screen size on the new iPhone. If Apple does, we will buy it. If Apple doesn't, we will buy new Android phones instead.

daniel says:

All this doom and gloom displays a distinct lack of creativity in the use of the extra space in the longest dimension.
landscape keyboard - special keys in landscape mode only - cut, copy, paste, bold, italics?
portrait keyboard - if you dont have the dedicated numeric row at the top that you created the user has signifcantly more viewable area of the document available.
landscape web content - look at this page in reading mode or look at a deidcated mobile-friendly formatted page and it looks much better
landscape tweets - make the contact pictures bigger.
increased screen real estate on the current physical footprint and it's golden.

Watcher says:

Why would Apple go 4" and 16 X 9? To keep me from leaving!

sunny says:

I have a new idea. I know its a kind of crazy idea, but i feel like sharing....
Why don't apple keep every thing same but just add a small projector between the power button and earphone plug. people can project their screen on wall, blank TV screens, cupboards, etc, etc.. anywhere, while able to use single hand to navigate projected big screen through IPhone which is in the standard size.

Nikolay Andeev says:

I read you article when it came out and I really enjoyed the educational gutsiness of it. I think that's the best way to report on speculation.
I especially enjoyed the illustrations. Please keep those analysis coming. Until I get out of my lazy butt to write my own I will enjoy reading yours.
I personally can't justify their alleged approach to a 4" iPhone based on every possibility I have seen so far, but in principle I agree that only the way Apple uses those 174 pixels in iOS 6 will validate their decision or not.
To me going 3,9" in a 3:4 aspect ration switch has the most advantages down the road including:
- decrease in fragmentation by using same aspect ration apps as iPad at 1/2 resolution
- significantly enhanced portrait keyboard typing ease at no impact on on hand use.
I was however disappointed by you 3:4 ratio iPhone mock up in your previous article. You pasted an iPad screen on the iPhone, while what you should have done is just given the icons more room to breath without changing their size. Just like they are on the iPad.

dogs says:

Why are all the analysts saying Apple needs a 4 inch screen? Just because Android phones are doing it? (because they can't compete on software/design)
Has Apple really been known to crumble to peer pressure of their rivals.

TechJunkie860 says:

I never understood the huge battle between apple and android fans. As though people that argue are getting a portion of the profits. Instead they (iPhone users) pay all this money to get the same device, with in my opinion minimal changes and improvements. I believe that iPhone should make the change with the times and give their customers more.
The piece about the widgets now on iPhone or chance of is laughable. iPhone sues android all day for things and then turn around and duplicate android (Siri = modified Google voice search, drop down modifications, and now widgets..??).

fabsgwu says:

A lot of the speculation of the size of the future iPhone is occurring within the context of the current iPhone 4s. The 4s is actually somewhat heavy and clunky when you think about it (the hard edges dig into your hand). Go to an apple store and pick up an iPod touch; notice the lightness, the thinness, and the curved shape will have you instantly thinking, "if they could make the iPhone like THAT, it would be amazing!"
In fact if they could make the iPhone like the iPod touch they could even work in a larger screen and it would still be very pocketable and still operable with one hand. Yes, the iPhone is very much about software, but the iPhone also has room to mature when it comes to ergonomic form. At this point it's a waiting game to get the tech to fit in the right package. The best is yet to come, as they say.

Mike says:

I would much rather have the previously rumored edge to edge screen. This thing is fugly.

bogdaryl says:

Seriously!? Folks be patient see what comes out and buy whichever phone you like the best. Both Apple and all the other companies that make Android devices will continue to try to one up each other for years to come. Enjoy the companies trying to out do each other look at the advancements made over just the last few years. The competition is a great thing. It benefits all consumers in the long run because none of us like exactly the same thing and therefore no one persons opinion is better or less than the others. Just my two cents because I own an iPhone 4 as well as a Samsung Galaxy SII and enjoy using both for different reasons.

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justabrake says:

You know what really is going s£ck and that is this is going to have the same CPU as the ipad3 and backgrounder won't work on it so where'll be stuck without a real multitasking iPhone unless apple is going to deliver it in iOS6 or the devs updated, I know I want to up grade my phone but I love real multitasking which I have with this iPhone 4s

RadarTheKat says:

If Apple goes 16:9, and I think they will, it should add 8 pixels to the display width as well. Under the current 640 pixel width, HD video is letterboxed at 540p resolution. That's a base unit of 60 pixels (60 * 16 = 960 and 60 * 9 = 540). The next standard resolution would be 720p (80 pixel base unit), but that would require going considerably wider. The important thing about displaying HD video is the aspect ratio, as the various HD resolutions show that the actual pixel resolution can easily be scaled. So why not create a 72 pixel base unit for presenting HD video on the new iPhone. That would be 72 * 16 = 1152 and 72 * 9 = 648. The extra eight pixels of width would fit within a handset that is no wider than the current handset, and could be ignored for any application that cannot automagically utilize them. This would result in a 4.05" display, so that's my prediction for the new display size.

dheerajrjadhav says:

The screen size 4inch(4mm wider than the current screen for the "extra" pixels),with thinner side bezel,and the 3.5mm headphone jack's(15mm length) shift to the bottom, hence the need to resize the bottom architecture(Dock Connector),with a slightly smaller(or maybe not,as the screen would shift upwards) Home button,may indicate the bigger(?) screen is going to be squeezed in, in the same shell dimensions except the "thickness", so the physical feel of the new iPhone is going to be the same.Hopefully.Cause for me I would not be comfortable with an elongated version of the iPhone 4(that I am using).This is what I feel is going to be the iPhone 5.But you never know,as Apple saves its surprises for the last minute One More Thing!!