The size of a smartphone screen is an increasingly important topic as IT departments decide whether their futures lie with smartphones, tablets or a combination of the two.
A desire for a bigger screen seems natural, and to a large extent is being played out. Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for the NPD Group suggested to me at the beginning of April that the tasks for which people use their smartphones are leading to bigger screens.
Weinschenk: So bigger is better, in the eyes of consumers.
Rubin: That certainly seems to be the trend. We looked at different screen sizes for smartphones: 4-inch and above, 3.5- to 3.9-inch, 3- to 3.4-inch and under 3-inch. What we found is that 3.5- to 3.9-inches-which includes iPhones and quite a few of the keyboard-enabled but still relatively premium-level Android devices-stayed steady. Clearly there was huge growth in 4-inch and above, from nothing in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 24 percent in 2010. Under 3-inch displays certainly dropped. In that category is the classic BlackBerry's form factor with a 2.5-inch display and a keyboard on the face.
It is important to note that bigger screens don't necessarily mean bigger phones, since it is possible to increase the proportion of the surface area that is used for this purpose. At InformationWeek, Ed Hansberry - working off research at FierceWireless to which he links - points out that screens are getting bigger and heavier.
But the trend may actually be short-lived, since it got going in earnest before the tablet explosion. Hansberry makes the point well, and suggests that other priorities may push dimensions in directions that may be hard to predict now:
I don't see screens getting much larger. The 4.3 in. screen is about as large as you can reasonably go without wondering whether or not you have a large phone or a small tablet. Where do you think phones are headed? Will the current mini-tablet form factor continue for several more years or will user needs for things like keyboards or more compact devices drive dimensions in a different direction?
Gil Bouhnick at the Mobile Spoon agrees that the advent of tablets will reduce the desire to increase phone size and the devices revert towards a concentration on their original task:
My smartphones (yeah, I carry a few shoot me) changed their roles a bit, they suddenly became phones and I learned that for talking, texting, and taking pictures, size doesn't really matter. In fact, phones that are too big, are more likely to feel weird in the hand, and less comfortable to hold and carry. And it doesn't matter how big they get (4.5, even 5 inch)-they are still not big enough to replace a tablet.
Finally, Current Analysis' Avi Greengart points out something interesting at SlashGear. He points out that most of the phones sold by the four national carriers have screens of less than 4 inches, and Apple - which has had a bit of success selling mobile devices - thinks that 3.5 inches is the optimum screen size.
At some point, the size of the screen may have a big impact if it begins controlling the overall size of the phone and, therefore, the dimensions of the battery that can be put inside. Until that point, however, the debate will be about usability. In either case, the size of screens is something that IT planners should track as they map out their device futures.