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Size

Part of this great piece by John Gruber is about the disappointment over the new iPhone’s screen size: Apple has probably decided that the iPhone’s 3.5” screen is the right size. They aren’t keeping it “small” because they can’t make it bigger, they just don’t think it should be bigger.

It’s interesting that the expectations by the geeks and gadget bloggers this time were so heavily in favor of a larger screen, and so much of the disappointment was because we didn’t get one. I don’t remember any noticeable disappointment in previous years about it.

As a four-year iPhone user, I’ve never thought, “You know what I don’t like about this phone? The screen’s too small. I’d like to reduce my battery life, and I’d like my phone to protrude from my pocket in a larger and more conspicuous rectangle, to achieve a larger screen that I cannot comfortably use one-handed. That would be completely worth it.”

Not once.

Android phones have been one-upping each other with screen size a lot recently. It’s an interesting tactic that seems to be working, at least relative to other Android phones. When comparing phones side-by-side in a store, the larger screens really do look more appealing, and I bet a lot of people don’t consider the practical downsides.

Screen size is an easy way for the commodity hardware manufacturers to differentiate their products. This is something they know how to do: checklist spec battles. Fragmentation isn’t a concern: Android hardware specs are already extremely fragmented, and the manufacturers couldn’t care less about such costs to the ecosystem anyway.

This has caused two interesting side effects that are probably accidental but work in Android’s favor:

  1. The gadget bloggers accustomed to reviewing seventeen Android phones and one iPhone per year are now considering screen-size increases as must-have upgrades in each new device in a series, on par with faster processors and better cameras.

    Any phone update that keeps the same screen size looks old and disappointing, like keeping the same CPU for two years in a row.

  2. Some people who grow accustomed to large-screened Android phones are probably less likely to want to switch to an iPhone in the future, since they may view the smaller screen as a downgrade.

It’ll certainly be interesting if the latter is shown to be true in meaningful numbers.

But Android is finally getting more of its own identity. As John Gruber said in the aforelinked piece:

People who claim to be disappointed that Apple’s 2011 new iPhone doesn’t have a bigger display or LTE are effectively arguing that the iPhone should be more like Android. Whereas in truth, the iOS and Android platforms are growing more different over time, not less.

Android really is becoming much more differentiated from iOS. Flagship Android phones are looking less like iPhone knockoffs and more like, well, giant screens.

There are people who want that. But I don’t think it’s enough people that Apple should feel compelled to start competing for the largest screen size at the expense of other factors that are more important to Apple and its customers.

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