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More on a 5-inch iPhone and scaling the interface

Just over a week ago I ran the numbers on a bigger screen iPhone, and presented several ways Apple could go, including just taking the current screen and stretching it out to almost 5-inches, which would give it the same 264ppi pixel density as the Retina iPad 4 screen. Since Apple used the iPhone density to make the iPad mini, using the iPad density to make the iPhone maxi has a certain symmetry to it.

But would stretching out the icons, buttons, text and other interface elements just make them look bigger, or would it make them look silly? Let's find out...

John Gruber of Daring Fireball said:

From an operations standpoint, they'd be re-using a component they're already familiar with. From a software standpoint, existing apps would just run, and everything would just look bigger on screen.

Marco Arment of Marco.org said:

By keeping the pixel dimensions the same as the iPhone 5, no app changes would be necessary. While the larger screen would hinder one-handed use, two-handed use would actually be easier because the touch targets would all be larger, and UIKit's standard metrics and controls still work well at that physical size.

Here, again, is what it could look like relative to the original iPhone, iPhone 4, and iPhone 5.

Imagining a 5-inch iPhone (mockup)

And relative to other, larger screened phones on the market, including the Samsung Galaxy S3, the iPhone 5, the Nokia Lumia 920, the BlackBerry Dev Alpha, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs iPhone 5 vs Nokia Lumia 920 vs. BlackBerry Dev Alpha vs. 5-inch iPhone vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 2

Still, the most consistent question I'm getting -- other than why or if Apple would do it, which I've speculated about twice already -- is how would the interface work. Going from 4-inches to close to 5-inches increases everything, every icon, button, ever bit of text, every pixel, by 20%. For people with accessibility issues, for whom buttons and text are too small on every iPhone released to date, that could be really welcome news. For others, it sounds overly, perhaps comically large.

This is exactly inverse the debate that preceded the launch of the iPad mini, where some feared the interface element size would be too small for comfortable use.

So what's the reality?

Let's fake a change in screen density and take a look. Note, the images below are scaled up to simulate 264ppi, then cropped to fit on the iPhone 5/iPod touch 5 screens and cleaned up a little. That means some icons, texts, and other stuff gets "lost" to make it all fit. None of that would happen on a 5-inch screen. The images below are only meant to show the size of buttons, text, etc., not completeness.

Just tap on these and view them full size on your iPhone (and tap and hold to save to Camera Roll if you want to experience them without the Safari chrome around them).

Here's the same thing for an iPad mini, without cropping, but with padding to fill the different pixel size and aspect ratio. Again, view them full screen.

For a full sized iPad, Marco made an Instapaper mockup you can try.

If you think of the iPad mini as a tablet that's using phone density, then the big iPhone is just a phone using tablet density. You have phone interface at high density, phone interface at less-high density, tablet interface at high density, tablet interface at less-high density.

Then, just like there's an 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air, and a 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro, there's a 4- and 5-inch iPhone, and a 7.9 and 9.7-inch iPad.

Almost 9 out of 10 AT&T customers bought 4-inch or smaller iPhones last quarter rather than all big screen Android and Windows Phones combined, and roughly 6 out of 10 Verizon customers did the same. So aside from geeks who keep posting about how they really want it, and shoppers for whom bigger as a feature is always better, Apple might not feel any pressing, mainstream need to add another screen size to the iPhone product line. Yet.

But if and when they do, stretching the screen offers less complexity, and less impact on both iOS and developers. That's how you expand a product without expanding panel production or developer support headaches. It's an Apple-like solution.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

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.

94 Comments
  • Those mockup screenshots look silly. People need to stop complaining. It's a phone, not a tablet. Keep it that way.
  • They only look silly to the already small Iphone.
  • The iPhone is appropriately sized. 5"+ is ridiculous. My friends make fun of people with Notes.
  • Make fun of them or not, but the added screen real estate just adds that much usability. But if they would go to a larger iphone, nobody is forcing you to buy it. Then again you would probably be the first in line although you "make fun of users with notes"
  • There is no added real estate in Rene's solution: everything is just magnified. The Galaxy S3 does have a small bit extra real estate on its larger screen.
  • Well, I guess if your friends make fun of it, there's no market for it then. Jesus. "My friends make fun of (it)." What are we, 10-year-olds?
  • +1
  • I just got paid $6784 working on my laptop using these simple steps leaked on this web page. Make up to $85 per hour doing simple tasks that are so easy to do that you won't forgive yourself if you don't check it out! Weekly payments! Here is what I've been doing http://Rich45.com
  • It's called "Someone's butthurt".
  • Notes are epic. I'll take a larger iPhone any day.
  • I just cant see apple keeping it the same and dropping so much in the PPI. I mean after all they were the ones to coin retina display and keeping the same resolution at an inch larger display would make the pixels be noticable for many. Not to mention people are choosing the 4" iphone because if they want an IOS device that is the only choice they have for a "large screen" I bet if apple released a larger iphone that wasn't just stretched out they would sell even more than the iphone 5 and sway even more users to IOS.
  • Cheaper iphone, bigger iphone ... No thanks, keep one device with different memory options. Apple doesn't need or want to head down the road of fragmentation.
  • If and when Apple does put out a 5" phone the ui will be totally different.
  • I think a larger screen makes sense and I'd certainly consider it (considered another platform for that reason before purchasing my iPhone 5). I'd prefer closer to 4.5", but more important is maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem and avoiding Android style fragmentation so I'd live with 5" if the form factor was right (i.e. not just a bigger iPhone 5).
  • Just wait until they can go to 528 ppi at 2272x1280.
  • I seem to be the only one left who is content with my 4" iPhone. I find going larger doesn't really bring much to the table other than being larger, and I appreciate the overall size of the 5.
  • Apple is absolutely right in keeping with current size devices. Phones are just that, a phone. The next step is using the iPad mini as your "next" device. The size craze has gone to far, and will die.
  • I think going larger screen carries very little inovation. 5" can be an option if there is some redesign of iOS that would make 5" very usable, could be a new type of keyboard or input feature. But with the current crop of iOS, I actually find the iPhone 5 almost too big. It's at time very difficult to reach the top left part of the screen with your thumb and I don't have small hands at all. Let the other companies try and out "grow" each other and call that "news". Apple should stick with usability and keep the current design, were a phone can be operated with one hand.
  • "Almost 9 out of 10 AT&T customers bought 4-inch or smaller iPhones last quarter rather than all big screen Android and Windows Phones combined, and roughly 6 out of 10 Verizon customers did the same. "
    *sigh* Rene, you really need to stop trotting out incorrect data in an otherwise great article (it's like putting Windows on a Mac or ketchup on a hot dog). I'm not sure if it's ignorance or an agenda, but please stop it.
  • Maybe I drink from the same kool aid fountain as Rene, but what about his statement is incorrect? Those are the numbers reported by both Verizon and AT&T. And keep in mind, at least on Verizon (I don't recall the AT&T breakdown) just over half were iPhone 5, meaning nearly half we the 4/4S at 3.5"
  • it's because Rene counts activations and sales as one and the same. Consider this scenario; The AT&T store sells 10 iPhones.
    The Apple store sells 10 iPhones.
    Best Buy sells 10 iPhones. How many iPhones did AT&T sell? How many iPhones did AT&T activate? See the difference? For Rene to be correct, he is stating that retail chains like Apple sell no iPhones.
  • Ok, fair enough. I see what you are saying. The thing is, from every article any site discussing their Q4-2012 numbers, all say the same thing. I, personally, take total sales of 10.2 million smartphones to be all sales through all carrier partners (Apple, best buy, etc) because those partners are selling AT&T inventory/product. What I guess it isn't counting is resales. Activations could be, but we don't know for 100%. So you may be right, but I think the impact is not as great as you state. http://money.cnn.com/2013/01/24/technology/att-iphone-sales/index.html However, he is correct about Verizon numbers. ACTIVATED 9.8 million smartphones. ACTIVATED 6.2 million iPhones, half of which we the larger iPhone 5. So I will still give Rene the benefit of the doubt.
  • "I, personally, take total sales of 10.2 million smartphones to be all sales through all carrier partners (Apple, best buy, etc) because those partners are selling AT&T inventory/product" . The only AT&T product in an iPhone is the SIM. Think about this; If what you are saying is correct, then Apple sells the majority of the iPhone outside the US. Jobs/Cook personally have refuted that statement over the years. There is no possible way AT&T knows about about every iPhone sale in the US If I go to a street vendor and buy an iPhone, how does AT&T know about it? The primary retort I see to this is that AT&T must activate a lot of used phones and that is why they report two sets of data, but that seems like a pretty big stretch. You are correct on the Verizon part, and my apologies to Rene for saying he was wrong on that. It is interesting to see how AT&T and Verizon differ in what they report (Verizon has no care for thier retail sales)
  • Can you buy an AT&T iPhone without having a phone number assigned to it? Can you buy an AT&T iPhone without it even once connecting to the AT&T network even once? I am not talking resales, but new iPhone. There is also,I am certain, a way for them to know what is a new phone vs resale activation. Otherwise, it isn't on their network and not reported.
  • yes to both (I've done it twice at the Apple store). "There is also,I am certain, a way for them to know what is a new phone vs resale activation. " I'm sure there is as well (imei number), but now you are reaching very far to justify your position. If AT&T was so dependent on second hand sales, they would say something to the shareholders. As for new sales, it's not legal for AT&T to report sales from other companies (such as Apple or Best Buy) as their own.
  • What's incorrect about it?
  • Let's just look at your original article on AT&T that you sourced (you can apply the same to Verizon). In your article, you had this nugget; "AT&T has announced their Q4 2012 financial results, and out of a record 10.2 million smartphones sold, a record 8.6 million were iPhones". Which is the basis for your statement of "Almost 9 out of 10 AT&T customers bought 4-inch or smaller iPhones last quarter". Now lets take a look at what AT&T really said, shall we? https://www.imore.com/e?link=https2F2Fclick-100048... "Record smartphone sales of 10.2 million..." <-- note it says sales.
    "In the quarter, the company activated a record 8.6 million iPhones, with 16 percent new to AT&T..." <-- not, it says activations. What AT&T does not tell you is the following; how many AT&T sales were the iPhone and how many total smartphone activations there were (or even total activations in general). They make it impossible to make any sort of analysis based on thier data (other than they sold and activated a lot of iPhones) AT&T personally had to correct macrumors for the same issue, so it's not like you were alone in this.
    http://www.macrumors.com/2013/01/24/att-activates-8-6-million-iphones-in... They at least learned from their mistake. Can you?
  • I guess not. He still hasn't corrected the article.
  • Rene, looks like you've been burned by your post. I'd make the necessary changes or add caveats to your stats. richard451's post is spot on and accurate. Glad to see we have someone in this forum who understands stats. :)
  • I guess he's not interested in factual reporting.
  • The main reason why I have an iphone is exactly because of it's size. I tried to use GS3 and Google Nexus but these are way too big in my hand it feels as if i'm holding a shovel, very uncomfortable to hold and type with one hand. I mean come on, what's up with this "shovel" trend in android world? I'm an average man with average hands. I hope that if Apple will ever decide to release a "phablet" they will also keep the original iphone size without making it a budget low-end phone. There are many people who don't want large phones, I use NY subway to get to work and I'd say about 70% of people I see on the trains have iphones. Not mention almost everyone at my work too, with few exceptions..
  • Apple offereded one size iPhone for the first 5 years... then 1/4" taller on the iPhone 5. So who knows what people will choose if they have the choice of a bigger iPhone? You're right... a "phablet" isn't for everyone... but why not 4.5" or so?
  • like I said, the bigger variety to chose from -the better, but look what's happening with android devices. The GS3 is the flagship of android world and then they made a mini version of it which surely looks very good and small enough to satisfy needs of those who skipped GS3 because of it's size (like me for example) but why, WHY Samsung had to turn this S3 mini into a budget low-end phone? what's up with this? Again, people like me will just skip the whole line of GS3 devices altogether. I actually really like the simplicity of iOS and it's skeuomorphic design but the size was number one important factor for me.
  • But take note: that's YOUR case. What about those that want a larger screen? For people who think Apple can do little to no wrong, you all are very against the idea that Apple could simply make two devices. A big screened device and a smaller one. The fear is justified though. If Apple were to this, they might just end up cannabilizing the smaller iphone and then....dare I say it.... You'll all be stuck with big iPhones! Oh no! Or, in another scenerio, they could do as they do currently with the Mac and iPads: allow them to co-exist despite sales eating of one eating into the other.
  • Tell that to the 30+ million who like the size of the s3 or the 10+ million who bought a note, clearly it isn't too large for many people otherwise everyone would be making small phones like apple.
  • I got tired of waiting for a substantially larger screen. I figured Apple will take another 5 years to increase it's size of their device. However, time will tell. Besides, I know one thing is for certain, Apple doesn't give a hoot about ticking off their existing customers. Look what they did with the iPad 3 and how they alienated their customers by eliminating it and focusing on the iPad 2 and iPad 4.
  • I like how Rene generalized all people who ask for bigger screened phones as geeks. You do realize that if Apple had given people a choice between a 5inch screened device and a 4inch device, and that there's a very good chance that most would have went with the larger one right? Lately, I've noticed more and more the arrogance in your articles and frankly, it disgust me. Your writing was at one time more critical and though it always spoke of Apple as a great company, you expressed it in a humble way. Now... Not so much. These articles you write show how much Apple has to backtrack on things they have done to adjust to a changing market, one where they aren't always the leaders anymore. And you know what? That's cool. A smart company like Apple knows this has to be done unless they want to be in the position they were in over a decade ago. But to sit and make it seem like their geniuses for figuring out how to make a larger screened iPhone is ridiculous. They could just as easily make a new resolution as they did with the iPad and call it a day. It would be just as easy and would maintain Retina branding without justification. We already know developers would jump at the chance to be first out the gate with larger resolution apps just as case was with the iPad. Again, this article is laughable. I realize I could simply not read this article or not comment, but I really hope you return to how you previously wrote. Not this pompous guy who makes excuses for how Apple knows that change is inevitable and that if you don't make the appropriate moves at the right time, success can easily slip away. Thanks.
  • He actually said this. "For people with accessibility issues, for whom buttons and text are too small on every iPhone released to date, that could be really welcome news." Then said "and for shoppers whom bigger as a feature" So, no, he didn't call them all geeks. Remember, Apple rarely listens to what customers say they want.
  • So aside from geeks who keep posting about how they really want it, and shoppers for whom bigger as a feature is always better, Apple might not feel any pressing, mainstream need to add another screen size to the iPhone product line. Yet. So... Yeah. Rene did refer to some people as geeks.
  • Some people ARE geeks. Probably most of the people in this thread. But that's not what you originally called him out for:
    "I like how Rene generalized all people who ask for bigger screened phones as geeks." You got it wrong, then when corrected, you changed your tune--missing his point every step of the way.
  • I think it's called denial. Clearly, a bigger screen is wanted by some people. Some of those people are probably "Geeks" but don't want to be labeled as such. Some of that group might read imore and see the word geek and get myopic in their denial of being a geek.
  • Generalized as one or the other right? I corrected myself when I pasted his exact words. So what was his point? Rene is simply hedging his bets now to cover what may happen in the future. It's funny how soon the tune will change should Apple make a bigger screened phone.
  • It very well could, but you would be missing the point. Those who are fans of Apple products are so because they have earned it. They may not always be first, but when they do, it is usually done in a way that impresses. When they do a larger iPhone, it won't be just because everyone else is doing it, and not be just so they can improve battery life, (the main driver at the beginning to the larger screen size). It will be because it truly adds to the the experience. For instance, I am intrigued by the new Z10 and BB10. Looks like a solid phone/OS. I like the newer Motorola phones. However, on the flip side, it baffles me that Samsung is the "gold standard" for Android phones, when they aren't the best.
  • Well... We can both agree to being baffled as to why Samsung is the gold standard. I use a Droid DNA and it's far better than any Samsung phone. I believe it really just comes down to marketing. Apple and Samsung have put in the arresting dollars and it has paid off.
  • Yes, marketing has a lot to do with it. But not all. Apple has brand loyalty and Samsung has Verizon pushing it (and gently against Apple?) The DNA looks like a nice phone. And the Droid Razar Maxx HD is a great phone, too.
  • Are hot, sexy, fashionista girls geeks to? Look at how many are sporting a Galaxy 3 or another large cell phone? These are the same females who said they can't imagine having anything bigger than an iPhone. It's too bad that Ritchie can't write an article where he doesn't blow it and says something that makes himself appear like a fool or ignorant.
  • You opened your comment with "Are hot, sexy, fashionista girls geeks to?" and say that Rene "makes himself appear like a fool or ignorant"......come on B, really?? smh
  • I honestly hope they come out with a bigger iPhone give us more of a choice but everyone on here is oh that's to big I wouldn't get it its a phone not a tablet weren't you the sane people saying 4 inches was to big and 3.5 was the sweet spot and let me guess 4 inches is now the sweet spot lol you guys make me laugh if apple comes out with a phone bigger than the note 2 you will be all over it saying oh yea 6.5 inches now that's the sweet spot everything apple does is not perfect and sorry to say but just extending the screen half an inch really didn't do it for me I'm just going to stick out with my "sweet spot" 3.5 inch 4s and pray they come out with something bigger maybe 4.2 and a little more width and keep the narrow one for you one handed guys
  • My first IPhone is the 5. I came from the Android camp and it wasn't an easy decision. If it wasn't for my iPad experience I most likely wouldn't have switched, but I'm so glad I did. Funny thing, I thought that I really wanted the larger phone but I now realize that I didn't. I love the one handed usage (which I strangely didn't do on my Galaxy - I assume that there is some Apple brilliance going on here!) and when I see someone talking on a Note I think it looks ridiculous. And besides, my pockets are full now! Where would I put one of these monsters.
  • I am on both sides (Android and Apple). Android OS even with a pure interface on the Android Asus 7 leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to lagging and customer service. I don't intend to get another Android device for at least another 5 years. Maybe then Google will realize fragmentation has got to stop and provide a lag free OS.
  • I get no such lag on my Nexus 4, though it may be because the processors get a break from multitasking due to a ridiculous 2 GB of RAM. You're right about Android not taking advantage of its available resources fully, and I hope that one day, the Dalvik VM becomes so lightweight that it does virtually nothing to performance. That said, my Nexus 4 is comparable to the iPhone 5 in terms of smoothness, and it costs half as much full retail. I think that was reason enough to choose a Nexus, especially since Google manages both the hardware and the software with that brand.
  • Glad to hear your lack of lag is the exception, not the norm and that your Nexus 4 is comparable to the iPhone 5 in terms of smoothness. I was seriously thinking of ordering the Nexus 4; however, having it used it myself I decided not too. Once again, I do not share the same experience as you.
  • What might interest me is if a 5" iPhone ran iPad rather than iPhone apps. Could that be done? If so, the added functionality of iPad apps on a phone would offset the inconvenience of a two-handed phone, at least for me. Launching the very first "PhonePad" in the world would better fit the company's innovator image than just another UpSize phone.
  • Why dont make a widder iphone, keeping the tall?, i dont think like a good idea making it taller, will be impossible to reach with one hand the extreme corner, i thibk half of inche wider will be better.
  • I want this badly. When you get 40+ and the eyes go to hell, the iPhone 5 starts to lose a little of it's usefulness at 3am when your glasses are in the other room.
  • I would love for Apple to add text wrapping, which refits the text to fit the screen without side to side scrolling when you zoom in. I don't know why they haven't already done this, as it has been on Android for forever.
  • They should just add the phone hardware & app to the iPadMini & call it the iPhoneX.
  • I have a couple friends with large-screen Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Motorola Atrix. Some of them have tablets and some of them don't but wanted one. However since they started using these large-screen Android phones their usage of their tablets decreased significantly and those that didn't have a tablet but wanted one no longer want one. Their phones are with them everywhere they go and the screen size is big enough that they can do some things comfortably on it that just can't be currently done with an iPhone. Heck they hardly even use their computers anymore either. They basically do everything on their phones. Now I'm not saying I would prefer a larger screen iPhone, and I could never give up my Mac or iPad, but based on what I've experienced with some of my friends it seems pretty clear to me that there's definitely a market for this type of thing.