The Return of Smaller Smartphone Screens

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After years of progressively bigger smartphone screens, the mobile-device industry might stomp the brakes on the larger-display phenomenon.

Current rumors (fueled by Apple-centric blogs such as Apple Insider and 9to5Mac) suggest that Apple is prepping a 4-inch iPhone for release later this year. If verified, the device (dubbed “iPhone 5se” by 9to5Mac) would represent a reversion to the smaller screen-sizes of yesteryear; by comparison, the displays of the current-generation iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus measure 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, respectively.

With Apple widely expected to roll out the iPhone 7 later this year in the two larger dimensions first established by the iPhone 6, it’s entirely possible that the company will end up selling three different smartphone sizes—just as it currently offers mini, regular, and large iPads.

Larger smartphones—also known as ‘phablets’—remain popular with consumers. In late December, analytics firm Flurry estimated that 27 percent of the new devices activated in the week leading up to Christmas belonged in that category. That was a notable increase from two years ago, when phablets represented a mere 4 percent of device activations during the holiday period.

Flurry also suggested that phablets had not only begun cannibalizing the market for traditional tablets, but threatened to drive smaller phones into extinction.

If Apple does release a smaller phone, however, its position as a market leader dictates that other manufacturers could soon follow its example. If that happens, maybe the smaller-phone market isn’t so dead, after all. And if that’s the case, mobile developers may want to reconsider their approach to building smartphone apps.

From a developer perspective, if there’s one advantage to phablets, it’s how the additional screen-inches open up new possibilities for UX, and allow various design elements to “breathe.” In theory, an industry-wide drift toward larger screen-sizes also reduces the fragmentation that’s plagued the industry for years. Should smaller phones stay popular, though, not only will fragmentation remain a pressing issue, but developers will need to continue optimizing UX for smaller screens.

Image Credit: Valentina Razumova/Shutterstock.com

Comments

One Response to “The Return of Smaller Smartphone Screens”

January 25, 2016 at 5:18 pm, jelabarre59 said:

Gee, perhaps people would like to use their phones for, get this novel concept, MAKING PHONE CALLS!! And slapping a slab of electronics the side of Rhode Island to the side of your head to do that seems outright stupid, if not absolutely unwieldy. The PalmOS PDA managed to do ***SIGNIFICANTLY*** more than a so-called “smartphone”, and it did it with smaller screens too. The screen on my phone (Casio c721) might be as much as 2″, and it works quite well for the purpose it was intended for, making and receiving phone calls. If I need anything more, I have my 10″ Tab4, which has a screen you can actually *see* (unlike even those oversized “phablets”). And with that I don’t get reamed on data charges either.

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