Does (Screen) Size Matter?

Seems like everyone’s got an opinion on the rate of innovation of smartphones these days. Samsung’s just announced its next Galaxy S phone, which comes with several new features. But for many users, the feature that trumps them all is the Galaxy S’ huge screen.

It begs the question: Is screen size really that important?

A to-scale comparison of the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S 4.

A to-scale comparison of the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S 4.

Galaxy users say that they love their phone’s giant screen because all that added real estate makes every task easier. iPhone users argue that Samsung is so desperate to compete, they keep throwing one gimmicky feature after another into their phones. So who’s right?

Is the whole package more important than the sum of its parts? If so, the iPhone is the winner. Because Apple engineers both the hardware and software to seamlessly work as a single experience. Samsung, in my opinion, likes to roll out as many new features as possible with every new hardware generation — regardless of whether or not owners will find them useful. Some of those features certainly are useful, don’t get me wrong. But looking over the new stuff in the Galaxy S 4, it’s obvious that some of its features — like “Air Gestures” or “Dual Camera” mode — are there merely to show off cool new technology, and nothing more. (For what it’s worth, I find that other features like “Smart Pause” and the “S Health” stuff not only look impressive, but sound mighty useful, as well.) Don’t dog me Galaxy fans; Apple is no stranger to gimmicks, but on the whole, Apple puts a higher value on purposeful tech than technology for technology’s sake.

But I digress. What a phone can or can’t do is a topic for another day.

What interests me today is whether or not screen size is the deciding factor for most consumers.

The Galaxy S 4 ups the ante with an even bigger screen than the huge one that the S III had, making the leap to five inches. But Samsung is hardly the only smartphone maker that gives its phones giant-sized screens. Four-to-five inch screens are a dime a dozen — Motorola, HTC, Sony, and others all have five-inchers — to the point that they’re practically becoming the norm. Bigger screens are so prevalent now that it could be argued that the iPhone 5′s four inch display was a direct response to the increase in screen sizes throughout the industry.

Yet even with Apple jumping up to a four inch screen… That’s not enough for some. Because now the rest of the industry is quickly making five inches the norm. Perhaps a better question would be… Would any size ever be enough? If Apple takes the iPhone to five inches, won’t its rivals then go up to six?

Don’t scoff — it could happen. Samsung has incrementally grown the size of its Galaxy S screen since it was introduced at just four inches in 2010. A company in China,¬†Huawei, unveiled a six inch smartphone back at CES in January. And then there’s the so-called “phablets,” where screen sizes can go all the way up to seven inches.

If industry scuttlebutt is to be believed, these larger screen sizes are becoming a sticking point for some of the Apple faithful. Certainly not all, but some. Most Apple fans seem satisfied with the size of the iPhone 5. But I know people who’ve made the switch just to get that bigger screen, and I’m betting you do too. The media has sensed a growing tide of frustration that suggests that compared to other smartphone makers, Apple’s refusal to produce a larger-screened iPhone makes it look like the Cupertino powerhouse is standing still.

But there has to be a point at which bigger does not equal better. A specific screen size where we the consumers draw the proverbial line in the sand and say, “No. This is just too big. We’re not interested.”

For its part, Apple’s current stance is that they believe the size of the iPhone 5 is the optimal size. And yet…

Size has proven to matter when it comes to the iPad. Ten inches was thought to be the most ideal size for a tablet, but the iPad Mini has taken off so well, it’s reportedly out-selling its big brother. The iPad Mini doesn’t (currently) boast one of Apple’s much-hyped Retina displays, and it doesn’t have as much horsepower as the ten-inch iPad. But it’s considerably more portable. Which makes it, for many a user, more convenient.

And there it is.

Portability, aka convenience, is the yin to screen size’s yang. The two absolutely must balance. Portability is that line in the sand I mentioned before. When smartphones grow so big that they become inconvenient, they will reach critical mass, and the industry will be forced to react.

And who knows? Maybe they’ll even start shrinking again.

Let’s hear it, smartphone users. How important is screen size to you? Would you buy an iPhone with a bigger screen? And how big is too big?

About Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

Comments

  1. Let’s just say I’m a huge Apple fan with all the environment at home BUT if Apple doesn’t bring out a 5 inch screen I’m switching to Android. I disagree with Apple, the iPhone width is not the perfect size. In fact I find it hard hold with one hand and cetainly 2 – where as the S3 fits perfectly.

    If Apple are smart enough to recognize this with the iPad (and downsize) then surely they are smart enough to get it with the iPhone (and upsize).

  2. Screen size is nice, but it gets a bit extravagant. I like the size of the iPhone 5′s screen, as it is big enough to get things done, while being able to fit in the palm of your hand. I agree that the Galaxy S III/IVs’ fancy features are just showing off. I don’t thing one person actually uses it.

  3. I have a iPhone 4s and think it’s a great size. One of the deciding factors in me moving from an Android phone to an iPhone was Android phones had gotten to big.

  4. Steve Waddell says:

    I’m frustrated with Apple’s reluctance to see the value In a larger screen size. I use my iPhone for much more than calling, and the larger screen size would be a huge plus. When I make calls, I’m typically either using Bluetooth or on speaker phone.

    I hate to say it, but Apple’s iPhone is feeling stale. The new Windows phone’s live tiles are great, Samsung’s new S4 has a tremendous amount of interspersing features- competition is great! Here’s to hoping Apple feels somers sure and gets off of the “s” cycle, and surprises everyone with a new, 4.9inch iPhone 6 in June.

  5. Steve Waddell says:

    “Interesting” features!

  6. I like using my phone one handed so I’m totally uninterested in a phone larger than my iPhone 5 (which is even a bit of a stretch). If I need a larger screen I use my iPad. Larger still, my Mac or PC.

  7. Henry 3 Dogg says:

    Just think how great a mobile phone with a 54 inch screen would be.

    Yes, size matters. and a mobile phone needs to be mobile.

    It needs to be so mobile that I always have it with me.

    Size matters. And devices with 5″ screens are too big.

  8. Brad Meraly says:

    I bought a Nexus 4 due to screen envy. Want the truth, it’s not better. It’s very pretty at first but after a couple weeks of use I was back on my iPhone five and really like the screen size. Larger devices need two hands to operate. Also, screen scrolling is not as smooth and at times annoying. Ever notice when at dinner and other people have their large phones out, you can see everything on their screen and there’s no privacy. I find with the iPhone it’s much more personal. It’s easy to jump ship, but even nicer when you come back and appreciate all the technical details.

  9. Yin to the yang – precisely! I find the iPhone 5 to be the perfect size for a phone. Anything bigger seems to step into tablet territory.

  10. Jim Moore says:

    Apple is appearing to be inconsistent. They offer different screen sizes across all their offerings, and yet cling to an antiquated marketing approach to the iPhone. It doesn’t matter if they feel the phone is the optimum size or not. This isn’t about what Apple feels. It’s about what the market is dictating. And right now, without a screen in the 4.5 to 5 inch range, Apple is losing market share. And profits. And stock value. They need to wake up and amaze us again. Let’s hope they do.

  11. Northwest says:

    Let me put it this way. I am a die hard anti-Apple person. Never have had an ipad, iphone, or i-anything. I love my Samsung. I will not pay a premium for that apple logo. Apple makes their crap in China, like everyone else.

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