Why the iPhone 5 screen will not be bigger, unless…

Everybody seems to think that the iPhone 5’s screen is finally going to bigger, larger, and better. I’m not so sure. “Why?”, you ask? Good question.

Reason 1: Retina Resolution

If Apple would make the screen bigger and keep the same resolution (see reason 2), it would no longer be a retina display. Retina means (according to Apple) that the resolution is so high, that at a certain distance the human eye cannot perceive any further detail, and therefore a higher resolution is useless. Apple says that we on average hold our smartphones at about 30 cm (12 inches) from our eyes. That seems a bit close to me, but holding it further only makes the retina display better,so no worries. With the current retina display (960×640 and 3,5 inch) two pixels are about 1/60 of a degree apart at 30 cm distance. This corresponds to someone with a 20/20 vision.

Suppose that the iPhone 5 has a 4 inch display at the same resolution. Now, unless Apple tells us to hold our iPhone 5s further away from our faces, it would no longer be retina resolution.  Two pixels would then be 1/50 of a degree apart at 30 cm. Not good. Not what Apple would want to advertise.

Unless the resolution is higher, of course. Which brings us to reason 2.

Reason 2: App Compatibility

Apple has been very careful at keeping their devices compatible with the existing apps from the App Store. Even an iPad can run all iPhone apps. Creating a phone with a higher resolution is useless unless the display is bigger (see reason 1). But making the resolution higher will break backwards compatibility will older iPhones (like the iPhone 4S). If a developer writes an app for a higher resolution, it will not work on any older iPhone, because they simply wouldn’t fit on the screen. Of course, older apps would work on the iPhone 5, perhaps with a black border around them. Yuck!

This makes it very unlikely that the iPhone 5 will have a higher resolution and hence, a bigger screen.

Unless… unless the screen has another form factor. Maybe it has the same width and it just becomes longer. The resolution could then be something like 1120×640. The extra 160 pixels at the bottom or the top of the screen can then be used for soft buttons, maybe to replace the home button. Of course, the usable area of the screen would otherwise be the same, so you can hardly call this a “bigger screen” in the sense that most people expect it. Knowing Apple, this would not surprise me.

Reason 3: Pocket Size

This may after all be the most important reason the iPhone 5 will not get a bigger display: the iPhone 5 will not be bigger and heavier than the iPhone 4S. Apple has a history to make everything smaller and lighter (with the notable exception of the new iPad). I, for one, would not want a brick in my pocket. The current iPhone is big enough as it is. It’s not really a compact device, although most of us are used to the size by now. A bigger screen, means a bigger phone, means less portable, means less likely to come into existence. Simple as that.


The iPhone 5 (or however it will be called) will not have a bigger display and will not have a higher resolution.

Except in one particular case, where the iPhone 5 gets a slightly longer display, with a higher vertical resolution to replace the home button (and maybe add some other soft buttons). This could actually make the iPhone 5 more compact, so I’m all for it.

Let’s wait and see. What do you think? Comments are welcome.




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