Even though Apple’s next iPhone is unlikely to launch until this fall, there’s already been a mountain of speculation about the device, such as that it may feature a new unibody design with a larger screen. There are many ways that Apple could incorporate a larger screen (a 4-inch screen seems to be the most common rumor), but one recent line of thought strikes me as especially interesting.
A reader of The Verge posted an idea in their forums, suggesting that Apple could move to a 4-inch display by increasing only the height of the display, which could enable Apple to pack in a bigger screen without increasing the size of the iPhone itself (or making it only slightly larger).
The trouble is that if you increase the size of the entire display without increasing the resolution, you would no longer be able to call it a Retina display, but if you altered the resolution, developers would have to rewrite their apps. So how could you build a 4 inch display for the iPhone?
The reader explains his idea as follows:
“Change the aspect ratio. As I mentioned above, all iPhones (and iPod touches) have had an aspect ratio of 3:2. Could Apple change the aspect ratio to increase the screen size while maintaining the same 326ppi (pixels per inch)?
…For those of you who are good with numbers I’m sure you’ve noted that 1152 x 640 has an aspect ratio of 9:5 and the 1152 pixels is an increase of 192 from 960 and that’s 20% more than on the iPhone 4 and 4S.”
The trouble here is that altering the aspect ratio of the screen would likely cause problems for developers as well. While the reader points out that many apps use only standard interface elements, such as a title bar and a menu, with the actual content in between, a future version of iOS could simply detect apps build using standard elements and automatically adjust the interface.
But what about apps that don’t use standard elements? The reader suggests that these apps could simply be letter-boxed to the current 960 x 640 area until they are redesigned for the new larger screen.
While it seems like an interesting idea (and the mockups over at The Verge do look pretty good), changing the aspect ratio of the screen could lead to fragmentation problems. If a developer redesigns their app for the new form factor, either users of current iPhones would be left out, or the developer would have to create a second interface just for the new iPhone.
Any developer that doesn’t like the idea of their app being letter-boxed (or doesn’t appreciate the way iOS “rearranges” their content) would be burdened with creating an all-new version of the app just to keep up.
In the end, while it is an interesting thought experiment, it doesn’t seem likely that Apple would make such a major change to the next iPhone. First, the increased screen size wouldn’t really have much of a practical point – what would the user really gain from this? And second, it would put a number of developers at a disadvantage.
Nevertheless, it’s great to see people thinking about this issue and coming up with ideas. What are your thoughts?