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Summary:

It’s been reported the next iPhone will have a larger screen. We talked to iOS app makers about the implications that move would have on future iOS development. Many are not convinced Apple would complicate the current development process intentionally by adding additional screen sizes.

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If those pesky “people familiar with the matter” are to be believed, Apple will move to a larger screen with the next iteration of the iPhone, thought to arrive sometime this fall.

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News reported separately last week that Apple will introduce a screen of “at least 4 inches diagonal” or “bigger than 3.5 inches,” the current screen size. What’s not clear is how Apple would go about this and satisfy both users — who may enjoy a larger screen but also want to keep the Retina display quality — and its army of third-party developers — who don’t want to have to develop for a wide variety of different screen sizes.

There are several theories out there as to how Apple could build a larger-screen iPhone. They include scaling up the screen and just dropping the pixel density a bit; changing the aspect ratio, increasing the screen height, and keeping the pixel density the same; increasing the width and the height; or going bigger than 4 inches and using a standard 16:9 resolution. Rene Ritchie at iMore has a good explanation of how Apple could get there.

But what do the developers who will have to deal with the implications of a larger screen think? I talked to a few iOS app makers, and interestingly, many of them are not convinced Apple would actually “pull an Android,” as one developer put it, and make it more complicated to design for a bunch of different screen sizes (iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4/4S and something new).

Sam Shank, the CEO of Hotel Tonight, a hotel-finding app for iOS and Android, said if Apple does change the screen size, he believes the phone itself would become slightly wider but not much taller. But he doesn’t believe Apple would mess with either the aspect ratio or pixel density.

“Changing the aspect ratio would be a lot of work for development teams. We found that maybe 50 percent of iOS development is [spent] in layout,” he said in an interview on Friday. “If we had to do two versions of that, the current aspect ratio and a new aspect ratio, and had to lay it out again, that would add considerably to our development time.”

Lenny Rachitsky, the CEO of Localmind, a social discovery app for both iOS and Android, said he doesn’t see Apple creating fragmentation problems for its developers. “We haven’t put a lot of thought into it yet, partly because we assume Apple isn’t going to pull an Android and fragment the device market unnecessarily. If they do, they must have a really good reason to do it, and we’re confident they’ll provide tools to make it easy to migrate. The last thing they want to do is put more friction in front of developers.”

Localmind’s lead iOS developer, Nelson Gauthier, sounded equally confident that Apple would make any transition, if needed, smooth. “Apple often changes the requirements for iOS applications but they usually give developers fair warning and decent tools to accommodate new devices. The transition to Retina display and iPad were both relatively straightforward,” he said.

Gauthier said in an e-mail:

A bigger display could mean a few things. It could mean that the display has a higher resolution while retaining the same aspect ratio. The new display might be a different shape. Finally, the display might simply grow while retaining the old resolution. But changing the resolution or aspect of the display need not have an effect on user interface elements, just their layout. Bars and controls could stay the same size while content areas expand to fill the additional screen real estate.

Apple might help developers transition between form factors by providing a system that would automatically adjust layouts for new resolutions and display aspects. Last year at WWDC, they revealed a component for Mac OS X called Cocoa Auto-Layout that allows developers to define layouts using fairly simple, freeform constraints. A system like this could also work on iOS.

Massive Damage Inc., which makes location-based iOS games, is also betting against major changes for developers. As CEO Ken Seto points out, there are already two resolutions many developers have to worry about for iPhone games: standard resolution for older iPhones and Retina for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.

“I can’t quite imagine how they will introduce yet another retina resolution standard. Overall, I think if Apple does increase the screen size, they will be careful to not introduce too much fragmentation. They will likely keep the aspect ratio the same so developers won’t have [to] refactor their UI,” he said. “I have a feeling a bigger iPhone will automatically scale up existing retina resolutions as the screen would likely only get a little bit bigger.”

But the feeling that any changes would be negative isn’t necessarily universal. Donnie Dinch, the co-founder of iOS last-minute ticketing app WillCall, said because of the content of his company’s app, a screen size change may not have a huge impact for it, especially if Apple went the route of simply making the screen taller.

“It doesn’t really matter how tall it is for us, it’s probably a bigger deal for games . . . I think that a lot of the things we do is just list screens [of ticket information], so having a taller screen makes sense,” he said.

But lowering the pixel density to accommodate a larger screen? The screen is the most important part of the iPhone, said Dinch: “If they augment that in any way negatively, that would be insane.”

  1. Not sure I agree. I think a bigger screen with new aspect ration makes sense. As stated many places before – most apps are flexible in the height aspect. For ones that are not flexible they could just show black bars on each end. The only new thing for developers would be to set a flag for their app saying that the height of the app is flexible or not.

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  2. Blake Helms Monday, May 21, 2012

    I still don’t buy the rumor. Apple doesn’t have to buy into the ever increasing comically large phone screens to be successful. The trend in large screens is akin to tail fins on cars in the 50′s. Every manufacturer tried to one up the other and the fins got bigger and bigger until we got the ’59 El Dorado and then we realized how absurd the whole thing was to begin with and started to get rid of them. I want a phone that easily fits in my pocket, if I need more screen space I use my iPad.

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  3. locassasimon Monday, May 21, 2012

    I’m not so sure I agree with this afterall we were given little notice of the @2x feature with the introduction of the first retina display.

    What is true is that IF Apple change either the aspect ratio or the pixel density (and that’s a big IF at the moment) then they will allow all current apps to run satisfactorily much like when you run iPhone apps on the iPad, perhaps with letterbox style black bars or some kind of subtle stretching. However a satisfactory experience is not a great one as it would exist purely to enable development firms like ours to transition to fully supported versions, and then it does become a bit of a nightmare.

    We still think the single bundle approach is flawed and have been advocating for the introduction of a single app -> multi resource bundle for a while now, where the app installs then pulls down the appropriate resource bundle for the device. This makes it easier for devs to keep resource bundles separate and resolves the large downloads of having ALL resources for ALL devices in the same bundle.

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  4. Reblogged this on iOS Affairs and commented:
    Hmmm … I don’t know how I feel about this. Do you think Apple will pull an Android and fragment their iDevices?

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  5. I don’t agree with a bigger screen. That is what the Ipad is for. A mobile phone should be able to be put in your pocket. That is what makes it “mobile”. If the increase the screen size, then they should call it a communications device rather than a mobile phone.

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    1. first, Steve jobs did call it a communications device; he said it was an “Internet communicator” in the launch keynote speech.

      second, a larger screen does not necessarily mean a larger device – there is room to make the screen taller & wider without enlarging the device at all.

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      1. Producer James Tuesday, May 29, 2012

        I agree…the screen will become larger. However, the form factor will stay the same.

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  6. All these developers are quite confident that Apple would not change the aspect ratio with a larger screen. Either they’re all going to get a rude awakening or I would be proven correct that Apple will not move up to a bigger screen.

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  7. Apps are what is needed to make your smartphone smart and unique.Im fond of app creating and find it really helpful to use site like Snappii where i can build apps in minutes.

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    1. Macrow Willson Tuesday, May 22, 2012

      what has this do with screen ratios ?

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