How the iPhone 5’s Bigger Screen will Effect your Apps and What you Should do About it

Posted on May 28, 2012

Red Line shows iPhone 5's larger screen and different button arrangement

The rumour mill has lately been in overdrive about the possibility of Apple increasing the physical size of the iPhone’s screen. Given, most rumours about Apple products are to be ignored, but this one seems to be particularly persistent.

At Digital Possibilities, we have previously argued that Apple is unlikely to release a larger screen sized iPhone due to the cost for developers to adapt applications for it. However, the consensus among specialist tech pundits is that Apple is unlikely to drastically change the size of the iPhone, but will make the screen bigger to fill more of the body.

What Changes We’re Likely to See

While predictions of what Apple will do are often difficult to get right, there are a lot of ideas being circulated about the direction they may take, and some do make some sense.

The principal idea is that the current iPhone has a lot of space on its faceplate taken up by border. This border could be reduced, giving more space for and enlarged screen without making the phone physically bigger. This may mean moving the home button, front camera and speaker lower and higher as appropriate.

One additional innovation that we’d like to see at Digital Possibilities is the bringing of the screen closer to the front glass. Today, when you look at your phone, you can see a very specific divide between the border and the screen. If this could be eliminated, and the impression given of the screen being superimposed on the border, this would be absolutely stunning.

The Implications of Larger Screen Sizes for Applications

Generally speaking, having more screen estate is rarely a bad thing. Here are a few benefits:
More White Space Designers can include more space between elements making the screen less cluttered and easier to visually navigate.
Longer Lists With more vertical space, lists can be longer, providing more information before the scroll.
Aspect Ratio Games may benefit from having a wider landscape, allowing for richer scenarios as there is more space to allow for more enemies etc as the aspect ratio moves towards 16:9.

However, there will be a transition period. What will happen with all the current applications designed for current screens? Apple will most probably just center these applications and apply a black (or white) border around them, similar to letterboxing on televisions.

Some pundits have suggested that the transition will be easier for developers if the width of the screen remains the same. With the letterboxing approach, this is not really true. If Apple is going to change the screen, they will make it the most sensible size for the user, and current apps will be letterboxed both on their width and height.

Although any change costs, it is not expected to be a big expense adapting screens and graphics for such a slightly bigger screen.

How Should Developers Prepare for the Change?

The best guess release date for the iPhone 5 would be October 2012, following an announcement in late September. Although the iPhone 5 can be expected to be massively popular, it won’t hold significant market share until well into 2013, giving developers some leeway for adapting their apps.

Hence, we would recommend that companies with applications foresee design and development resources in Q4 2012 and Q1 2013 to make changes to their current applications.

For any application in development, it is difficult to foresee today what the new screen size will be. The most probable time that this will be announced is September 2012. Hence the best advice is to carry on and design for the current screen size, but thinking about areas where it may be able to “flex” to a larger size. Then, in September, re-adapt designs to take into account the new screen size.

Where this may not be appropriate advice is with games. The graphical investment in games is huge, therefore it may not be desirable to not take into account the two screen sizes when graphics are being developed. It may make sense to adapt timelines where possible to postpone graphic production until the Autumn / Fall.