30 Comments

Summary:

The trend of larger screens on flagship Android phones shows no signs of stopping. At some point, however, one has to wonder how big “too big” is. At this rate, could Android smartphones outgrow their user base as one-handed phone use disappears?

Galaxy S 4 vs Galaxy Note 2

I’m on record for the past two years saying that larger screened smartphones are what many people want. I saw the light in late 2010 when I tried my first 7-inch tablet. Yes a tablet is very different from a phone, but I still see much convergence and opportunity here. What got me excited? The experience of a highly portable device with larger display made content consumption so much more enjoyable.

Huawei Ascend MateSince then we’ve seen flagship smartphones, mostly running Android, with displays first at 4-inches, quickly followed by 4.3 and 4.5-inches, now up to 5-inches and even beyond. You’d think that’s great if people want larger screens on their phones, and according to T-Mobile, 77 percent of their customers do. But can this growth in Android flagship phone displays actually hurt the most used mobile phone platform? It already has lost at least one customer.

See you later, Android!

Sascha Segan at PC Mag is done with Android and screen sizes are the sole reason. After speaking with several phone manufacturers, the issue is one of “moar”, he says: Consumers in the U.S. and Canada equate value with phones packed with as many features and top hardware components as possible. We want more screen space, more functions, more of everything in our mobile devices. So based on the trend of larger screens, Segan isn’t likely to switch back to Android any time soon, if ever. As he put it:

“But the Android world has been seized by the tyranny of moar. To switch back, I need a decent one-handed phone. Like about 25 million other Americans and Canadians, I take public transportation to work, and I really like to play games standing up.”

I know Segan personally as we’re peers in our industry and often see each other at trade shows and launch events. Truth be told, we’re both smaller than average in size. And yet, while I understand his complaint, I’m actually fine with larger devices. Why the difference? I am, and always have been (even with the original iPhone), primarily a two-handed smartphone user.

Could others follow suit? It depends on how big phones get

Regardless, Segan makes an excellent point. In today’s market — and likely for some time — if you want a top o’ the line Android smartphone, you’ll either need hands sized like Andre the Giant (and pants pockets to match) or you’re going to use your handset with two hands in most circumstances. Who knows; small tablets might replace smartphones for many as our perceptions of portability evolve.

Droid X size vs iPhone 3GS

There’s an alternative of course: Android phones start getting too big for a large audience and consumers turn to smaller devices that run iOS, Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10. Obviously, one person leaving Android due to flagship phone sizes isn’t even close to being a trend. Looking forward, however, this could become an issue if handset makers continue down this path.

And I see no reason why those who make phones will stop with the “bigger is better” approach to design. The top selling Android phones these days tend to be larger than average. Add in the fact that we now have high-resolution 1080p display panels, and there’s even more room for phone screens to grow.

After all, after a certain pixel density, there’s little benefit to cramming more pixels in a smaller screen. The new 1080p screens should still look just as good to most people on a 6- or 7-inch device as they do on the 4.7-inch HTC One or 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S 4. Maybe “moar” is better for now? If not though, opportunities for Android competitors could get as big as the screen on Android flagship phones.

  1. Android is about choice…there are tons of 1 handed phones on the market. I dont see this hurting them. Even iphones have grown bigger. However, you are stuck with apples ideals of what you should be doing on your phone. With android you dont like the way something works or looks you can change it.

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    1. Iphone got bigger but it still fits easily on One hand.

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  2. r u kidding??? you can get an android phone with screen size as small as 2.8 inch… shifting to apple cause you don’t want to buy a large screen is most stupid thing i have ever read…

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    1. Brian Lee Godbey Wednesday, April 10, 2013

      where? where can you get an android phone that’s 2.8 inches? I will buy one right now if you prove it. Oh, a couple of conditions though… it needs to be 4glte and running android jelly bean.

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      1. Brian Lee Godbey Thursday, April 11, 2013

        you know what, it doesnt even need to be running jelly bean. Find me a 2.8 or hell even a 3 inch android that works on 4g and I’ll buy it. It doesn’t exist. Oh and don’t bother posting up any over seas phones because most of them wont even run 3g. How do I know you may ask… I hate big phones and bought 2 unlocked phones in the hopes of having a smaller phone and neither worked on 4g or even 3g.

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        1. Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 mini has 2.5” screen,and has nothing really short of the big ones.

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    2. what you wrote was the stupidest thing i have ever read.

      what if i wanted a dual/quad core with decent graphics, 4″ screen with a high density display, and LTE?

      what’s that? nothing on android? stfu!!

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  3. Thank God the tyranny of one handed use is passing. Modern smartphones have the power, both in hardware and software, to do so much more than original iPhone of 2007. And much of the power is directed at the screen. Productivity, video viewing, photo sharing, gaming….all benefit from larger screen sizes. If one handed use is the most important attribute for you, by all means look for a smaller phone. There are smaller screen size Android phones available…or you can buy an iPhone.

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  4. Kevin,
    I doubt you follow my rambling comments on gigaom, but as a completely engaged person with the new media landscape (since the 90s!), I resisted buying a smartphone until 3 weeks ago (primarily on cost, but also I thought my laptop at home and sitting in front of PCs at work negated the need for a smartphone).

    But I digress. I’m a very long time apple fan and buyer, nearly 20 years. I have an ipod touch (my 3rd ipod) and my wife’s owned her iphone 4 since new.. When I finally bought my smartphone (Nexus 4), I was worried about its large size – especially because my dumb phone was candybar sized. I was struck by something immediately: Apple has kept their smart phones, phone size. My ipod and her iphone seemed so petite! There are a few small, non-low-end android phones out there but they are rare!

    It’s a touch awkward holding the Nexus 4 for phone calls, but it’s thinness makes up for its width. And I use it 95% a day as a tablet, the 10 minutes I’m on the phone doesn’t seem like a big deal.

    Like you I have small hands. How much bigger could the phone get and not push me away from using it as a phone? No clue. Not too much bigger. I think at some point you’d just carry an ear piece in your pocket, if the payback from a really large screen was enough. Still though – Apple could definitely use some competition in the premium and small size category.

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  5. I think it’s extrapolating one’s own experience and thinking it applies broadly. The 25 million who take public transportation is still a very small part of the U.S. market and if you look at somewhere like Korea, which has a larger percentage of public tran commuters, they’ve taken to the phablets.

    As Jason said too, Android offers choice in form factor. If a strong market emerges for a smaller phone, Android manufacturers will make it.

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  6. As Jason said Android is about choice and will adapt to what the customer wants. If the late phones stop selling faster than smaller phones then they will shrink them again.

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  7. I wonder too if what we’ve come to think of as the traditional smartphone form factor is going to disappear. In its place I’m intrigued with the possibility of combining a 7″ tablet with either a smart wristwatch and/or bluetooth headset. I never thought I would be one of those people that had a blinking blue light in their ear but having now used one for a few months I have discovered real value and utility. During the work day and since I am in front of a screen, I rarely look at my cell phone except for text messages. That is the place where a smartwatch could be practical. At night at home or about its the same thing except then am using a tablet. Of course with a 7″ tablet, the pocket problem is a real challenge.

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  8. I call “beat up”.

    Android is sold on phones of all sizes. If you don’t want one with a big screen, buy one with a smaller screen. You still have far more choice than you’ll get with Apple or Windows.

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    1. Are there any really premium, top-of-the-line, Android phones in a sub 4-inch form factor? I’m not aware of any. The Nexus 4 is 4.7 inches and 4.7-5 is the norm in the luxury phone segment.

      Sure, there are lots of cheap grade B phones, but that’s not what’s being discussed.

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      1. Spot on. There are plenty of smaller Android phones, but they typically are lacking the same performance, features or functions of the larger devices.

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  9. The only thing I can think of is “How long will it take Apple to patent the 5 inch+ form factor”

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    1. Apple has publicly stated they don’t believe a two-handed phone makes sense. Frankly, I for one hope they stick to their guns, I’d much prefer for them to come out with an iPad Mini with a high-resolution screen and 4G on it. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if you could use it to make calls with too.

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  10. I was contemplating switching from iPhone to Android, bought a lovely little Samsung low end phone to try out, liked it, went looking for a high end Android phone, and have stuck with Apple simply because I want a phone I can put in a pocket. I keep hoping that one of the Android makers will do the experiment of downsizing one model and seeing what happens; I would suspect the first high end Android phone with a Retina style display and size about the same or smaller than iPhone 4 will sell like crazy to people who are sick of phablets.

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    1. I completely agree. I’m myself contemplating switching to iPhone since I want high-end features without a huge screen. I’d prefer to stay with android, though, but I’m not sure how much longer I can wait as my current phone (android) really is ready for retirement.

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