iPhone 5 preview: 4-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio, in-cell display

One of the most obvious and important physical changes rumored for the new iPhone is a bigger, 4-inch display with a taller, 16:9 aspect ratio that uses thinner in-cell technology. While the 2010 iPhone 4 saw Apple double the pixel density of the iPhone display from 320x480 to 640x960, the physical size and 3:2 aspect ratio stayed the same. If the iPhone 5 is introduced on September 12 with a bigger 640x1136 screen, as we believe it will, for the first time that Apple will have changed the physical size and aspect ratio of an iPhone display.

Likely due to a desire to differentiate themselves from the iPhone, and the need to fit a much bigger battery into their phones to feed early, power-hungry LTE chips, Apple's competitors began growing their screens to 3.8, 4, 4.3, 4.5, 4.8 and even larger sizes. Some of them are so big compared to the iPhone's traditional 3.5-inch screen that they look like you could hollow them out and use them as a case.

But some people liked the bigger screens. So that led to a choice -- iPhone at 3.5-inches, or a non-iPhone with a bigger screen. And while record amounts of people kept choosing the iPhone, just as many, if not more, started choosing the bigger not-iPhone. By going to a 4-inch screen, Apple gets back some of those people who would have bought the iPhone over the non-iPhone if only the iPhone had a bigger screen. Since 4-inches, especially the way Apple's doing it, isn't radically, un-pockatably bigger than the current iPhone, they probably won't lose any of the people who prefer smaller phones either. Apple gets the best of both worlds -- a bigger screen that increases the iPhone's addressable market.

At the same time, Apple has continuously worked to simplify their hardware, to remove visual clutter, and to make their devices as distraction free as possible. Just you, the screen, and your apps. A bigger screen with less bezel top and bottom better accomplishes that goal as well.

Why Apple is going to 4-inches at a new, 16:9 aspect ratio is a more interesting question. Apple could have simply scaled up the current 640x960 display from 3.5- to 4-inches. But it would have dropped the current 326 ppi density down to 288 and that might have been a deal-breaker in the post-Retina display world. Apple could have increased the pixels both horizontally and vertically. Here are some examples and mockups of different ways Apple could have gone to 4-inches.

iPhone 5 preview: 4-inch 16:9 aspect ratio in-cell display

Instead, Apple is keeping the pixel density at 326 ppi and the width in portrait mode at 640px, but increasing the height to 1136px. That allows them to keep the iPhone 5 the same width as the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, and simply increase the hight. But instead of increasing the height of the device to the same degree as the height of the screen, they're removing part of the top and bottom bezel. So you have a bigger, 4-inch screen, in a phone that's not any wider, and only slightly taller, than the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. You have a bigger screen in a device that's still pocketable, and for many, still easy to use one-handed.

To make the iPhone 5 display thinner, Apple is reportedly turning to in-cell technology. This allows Apple to combine the touch sensor into the LCD display, turning what was previously 2 discreet layers, into a single layer that's 0.5mm thinner. That might not sound like a lot, but when you consider the iPhone 4S is only 9.3mm to begin with, it's significant.

What it means for current apps is another story. Apple's built-in apps will no doubt be updated in time for the event. The Home screen will have an additional row of icons. Mail will show an extra message. Contacts will show an extra person. Maps will show more area. Camera will show a widescreen view. Video will better fit most modern, 16:9 TV shows, and movies shot at great than 16:9 will require less letter-boxing.

Some iOS 5 interface elements already look awkward in landscape orientation, but Apple is changing the way things like Share Sheets look, and that should improve landscape presentation for all devices. Even the landscape keyboard will probably get resized and re-spaced to be as okay as ever at 16:9.

Here are some examples and mockups of how apps and interface elements could look on a 16:9 display (scroll down past the dedicated system area mockups).

For third party App Store apps, everything compiled against the existing iOS 5 SDK will likely be displayed letter-boxed (in portrait) or pillar-boxed (in landscape). In other words, black bars would occupy the extra 176 pixels of the new display. So you would essentially see on an iPhone 5 what you see on an iPhone 4S today.

As developers update to support iOS 6 on the iPhone 5, apps that are list-based (UITableView) or grid-based (UICollectView) could add an extra list or grid row and be on their way. Apps that have more flexible layouts (AutoLayout) could take their relative positions regardless of 16:9 or 3:2 display. Games that use OpenGL could fill the right amount of screen on either device, though interface elements would have to be adjusted. Apps or games with a ton of custom, carefully placed interface elements will have to be redone, and redone in a way that lets them properly fill the screen, regardless of which screen they have to fill.

If iOS 6 goes gold master (GM) on September 12, the way previous versions have gone GM at previous events, some developers might be fast enough to update and have their apps 16:9 ready for the expected September 21 launch day.

Here's a video MacRumors put together to show how it could work.

iOS has always been about the apps, not the chrome around the box. That makes the display the ultimate expression of the device. The iPhone 5 will not only have a higher aspect ratio, it'll have a higher display to bezel ratio than ever before.

The bottom line is the iPhone 5 doesn't really have a bigger display, it has more display, and that's an important difference. You're not going to be getting bigger pixels or bigger content, you're going to be getting more pixels and more content.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Its ugly. I hope that's not the final product. Apple needs a visionary ...
  • It is a mockup. Unofficial. And this phone was planned when Steve Jobs was around. Stop with that crap.
  • That's not true. I don't think Jobs would have done this. And it is ugly. For people who use glasses you still have to squint or pinch zoom to read text.
  • Yes Robomonkey, it is true. It was one of the last things Steve worked on before passing away.
  • Its amazing how a few years ago a 3.5" screen was big and we could read text just fine. Nothing has changed except piles of clumsy droid shoe phones have been released. I wear glasses and can read on my 4S just fine. In fact I read several Kindle novels on it over the past few weeks. As far as readability, I have used 4.3" Moto droids with pentile displays since 2011 and also the 4s. The 4s is much much more readable. The pentile displays on most of the droids are so pixelated that they are painful to read at any size.
  • Whoever said EVERYONE was good at 3.5in?
  • Hope that measley battery increase holds up. The 4s didn't have the best battery as it was and now with lte and a larger screen idk seems to be going backwards.
  • You have to remember though the new chips and the new in cell technology for the screen uses less power, so they probably didn't need to make it much bigger.
  • Landscape typing is going to be a b*tch.
  • Who types in that mode anyways?! Portrait lock is always 100% on.
  • Well believe it or not, some people have big hands.....too big to use portrait effectively. My hands are big but not big enough to make the hurdle with this new longer screen. With no change in the width, I may pass on this phone.....that's assuming all these rumors are true.
  • I tend to agree. I don't mind that the phone is longer, but I really was hoping it would be wider as well, maintaining the same ratio as the 3.5" display, but just longer and wider, using more pixels. It would also have solved the issue with legacy apps to use the new display. I'm not a fan of black bars as part of my app's display (seems like a waste of pixels). Any developer currently knows it's a pain to develop universal apps (as it is twice the UI work): it's twice the png files (must support retina display and non-retina display on both iPhone 4S and below, and new iPad and below). Now there will be a third screen to design for as we still have to design for the 4S and below models: they wont just disappear into thin air, yet must design for a new ratio screen. That's 5 different sets of graphics files for our universal app designs. I won't mention there will be a 6th screen size coming soon (iPad mini). So, us developers must plan to design and create png graphics for 6 distinct screens for our Universal apps. I also have big hands.... a little wider would have been welcome. Just my thoughts,
    Rodney www.iCraftwork.com
  • Why would typing in landscape be a problem, when there's more landscape real estate? If anything, portrait would *remain* a problem with no resolution. That's what I'd like to have seen addressed.
  • I'm worried about battery life also my 64g 4S battery is underwhelming to say the least.
  • What phone are you comparing battery life to?
  • I doubt he was compeering it to any phone but here is a list that compares some phones: http://blog.gsmarena.com/samsung-galaxy-s-iii-battery-test-is-ready-does...
  • Question, if the width is the perfect size for holding with one hand then how is making it taller any good? You really don't get the benefit unless you hold it horizontal and then you have to use two hands. No one cares about an extra row of icons.
  • Thank you!!! I couldn't have said it any better! This phone looks like a multi-touch remote control! It sucks! Who in their right mind would have thought that this would be ok. I sucked up my frustrations and got the 4S but I've regretted it since that day. Never again!
  • im sorry i have to disagree. long time iuser. i just got forced into having to use a blackberry(work) i hated it. now that i am learning to use it i hate to say it but i feel lost when its not in my hands. love my iphone but the things i can do with the bb is quit amazing. the short cuts alone lets me do so much so fast its kinda cool.its like having 100's of apps built right into the keyborad.no app needed right from the box. hard to learn how to use but now that im starting to get it im finding my self thinking about switching. someone save m
  • Lets just hope they do more with that extra screen space then just icons.
  • As Rene as eloquently communicated in his various editorials, Apple doesn't want you (or any iPhone owner), spending time in home screen, they want you in apps. If they wanted you to spend that majority of time on the home screen, widgets would already be part of the OS. The extra row of icons will be nice (as some people may be able to use less folders) or put more of those "2nd page apps" on the first homescreen. But the real benefit of the longer screen will be in the additional information content visible in email, web browsing, tweeting, or whatever apps that display dynamic content.
  • This has to be Apples way to really WOW us next week when they show something completely different !
  • I'll tell you right now, I don't care what Apple does with the iPhone 5. If it doesn't have a battery of at least 2,000 mAh, I'm not upgrading and eventually changing platforms. I NEED my phone to last through a day and still be able to use it, not have to turn brightness down to zero, turn off syncing of feeds, email, etc. Someone needs to make a phone for people who need to use their smartphones. For some reason, it seems like Motorola is the only company that gets this right now.
  • Yes after what motogoogle showed today, they really know what the people want in terms of battery life and performance. Their phones didn't look too bad either
  • You obviously haven't used a Moto droid for an extended period - poor quality display, poor cameras (when they work) and very clumsy to hold. Unless you get one of the Maxx phones, the battery life is shorter than a 4s. I have 4 HTC and Moto droids in the family and none can touch the battery life on my 4S. All the people that have droids carry them almost permanently attached to an external battery.
  • im sorry i have to disagree. long time iuser. i just got forced into having to use a blackberry(work) i hated it. now that i am learning to use it i hate to say it but i feel lost when its not in my hands. love my iphone but the things i can do with the bb is quit amazing. the short cuts alone lets me do so much so fast its kinda cool.its like having 100's of apps built right into the keyborad.no app needed right from the box. hard to learn how to use but now that im starting to get it im finding my self thinking about switching. someone save m
  • Good post, I agree that "more" is better than "bigger", they conflict but i'm sure women will agree...
  • That's just word smithing on Rene's account, it's what he does. It doesn't matter. No one is going to walk around with their iPhone 5 and say "Look at how more the screen is!" If the are impressed with the screen at all, they'll say "Look at how bigger the screen is!"
  • I wonder what this means for the iPad display if iPhone 5 is going 16:9. I hope they don't change it but it's likely they will to have a consistent experience and hardware between devices. But I really like the ratio on the iPad and it was one of the things Jobs was really proud of with the iPad. I liked the ratio on the iPhone screen as well, but I guess there is more unused space on the iPhone than the iPad. And as far as going for 16:9, in my opinion it's just an easy approach to being able to make the screen size bigger. As far as stats and PR goes that is. And that's very unApple like...
  • Funny - I was about to post the same thing. I love the size of my iPad as well, but I have to admit I watch a lot more media on my iPad vs. my iPhone, so a16:9 iPad makes more sense for me personally. I think it's inevitable for OS and app consistency, and I'm really looking forward to the 2013 iPad because of it.
  • What bothers me about this is something that Rene implies as well. Apple isn't doing this to make the iphone better. They're doing this to address something they recognize the market wants. You can point to polls. It's the leading want. A bigger screen. Apple had no choice. But also, Apple was very limited in what they could do. Ideally, they'd do what they did in the past. Double the resolution so they could increase the size of screen while increasing screen quality at the same time. But the tech isn't there yet and it'd be a battery killer. This was the best they could do. It's not Apple like. As it is, it will still have a negative affect on apps. The quality of apps you run on iOS is the main strength of the iphone. Now we got bars to look at til devs update them. Some never will. Some will take months. Your bigger screen size comes at a cost. Apple will have to work hard to minimize the fragmentation to apps. What I think is that this is simply the first step. To increase screen size to where most seem to want it to be, Apple needed to change aspect ratio. A 4.5" or bigger 3:2 iphone would simply be too big and uncomfortable to use. And so we get a changed iphone with different aspect ratio that offers "more" while not losing screen quality. The next step is to double the resolution so they can increase the size without hurting quality. Hopefully the next few years brings the technology that enables them to do that. Without an increase in resolution, they're stuck at 4".
  • damn. thank you for being one of the very few people online to actually sound reasonable in what he wants and crediting apple in trying to figure the best way out. everyone complaining needs to shut up, accept that an already amazing product is being made even better, and just deal with the fact that it's a gadget, not your damn soul. if you want revolutionary, get a time machine and go back 4 years. In present times it's pretty damn hard to beat what we have at the moment, especially trying to make it even MORE revolutionary. You want that crazy mind blowing holy crap product? Go design one. Pitch it to a company. And FINALLY see why it still hasn't been made yet.
  • im sorry i have to disagree. long time iuser. i just got forced into having to use a blackberry(work) i hated it. now that i am learning to use it i hate to say it but i feel lost when its not in my hands. love my iphone but the things i can do with the bb is quit amazing. the short cuts alone lets me do so much so fast its kinda cool.its like having 100's of apps built right into the keyborad.no app needed right from the box. hard to learn how to use but now that im starting to get it im finding my self thinking about switching. someone save m
  • I think there's a bit more to it than that. I think Apple's primary goal here was to change the screen dimension to 16x9 rather than merely giving us a larger screen size. I take it as a sign Apple is very serious about video, meaning an Apple TV is inevitable. Now that the iPhone has reached 16x9, I wouldn't be surprised if a future model offers a larger option, increasing the screen size while keeping the 16x9 ratio.
  • I think i said pretty much that. The real goal was 16:9. That it's 4" works out well enough to be a stopgap until they can increase the resolution (and size) properly.
  • Rene, thanks for the positive, encouraging reporting on this. It's a welcome tonic to all the reflexive griping. The iPhone 5 will be a very popular device. But I've got to say that for the first time since the iPhone was launched, Apple finally has some tough, compelling competition. I'm just very skeptical that this screen size choice is going to be enough to overcome devices like the Lumia 920 and S3. Speaking for myself, I'll be replacing my iPhone 4 with something else unless Apple's 9/12 event really impresses.
  • I'm loving the specs that have leaked. Can't wait to get my new iPhone! I just hope they make them with higher storage capacities so I can leave the iPod home for good!
  • I have to disagree with you, Rene. The screen size solution that they came up with isn't the best of any worlds. It's complicated for developers and makes the phone unnecessarily taller without changing the most important aspect: viewability. I'm all in on Apple's ecosystem, but I have to admit I'm quite jealous of my friends who are rocking Galaxy notes and SIII's because of all the screen real estate. Their phones are so much easier to read.
  • In a perfect world, Apple would have gone with a 16x9 display from the very beginning. But that's not what happened and there's no sense dwelling on it. The switchover to 16x9 is a temporary issue. 16x9 is the future and I for one am glad.
  • What he said :) I've found that IMO the sweet spot for screen sizes is 4.3, like what the HTC Sensation has. Fit nice in my hand and I could slip it in my front pocket with no problem.
  • I am LOVING the idea of the iPhone 5 camera shooting 16x9. I'm hoping to have mine delivered on day 1. The only question is: how hard will it be to preorder? Millions of us are going to try.
  • not me im going blackberry sick of apple telling me what i can or cant do on my moblie device.
  • 4.3 would have been a good size though, so they could up the battery. It's not enough these days.
  • Rene... Do you know, FOR SURE, that the iphone5 WILL USE a nano-sim ? Thanks, W
  • Well I believe that's why people love to have Samsung galaxy rather than iPhone. Long screen gives it ugly and taller look. http://techlido.blogspot.com/
  • Just loving the display of I-Phone 5.. its far better than Galaxy S4...
  • I really love this article & Apple iPhone 5. The best device ever! I have iPhone 5 64 gb unlocked. Thanks to http://www.unlockboot.com/2012/10/factory-unlock-iphone-5-ios-6.html
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