Are Bigger iPhone Screens A Good Option For Apple?

The rumors around the iPhone 6 repeat the same idea of bigger screens, presumably 4.7” and 5.5”. Before the upcoming WWDC 2014 reveals anything, and before the release of the next-gen iPhone, expected this fall, it’s quite interesting to think how bigger iPhone screens would affect iOS development. Are they a good option at all?

Less than a year ago iOS 7 came out with its drastic changes, which required adjustments and redesigns. But what will it all look like? Well, the homescreen will hardly be littered with an extra column. But that’s for users. What is truly interesting for developers and software owners, is the screen resolution. What will it be? Will it be necessary to make huge redesigns? We’ll try to answer all of these questions below.

What The Resolution Of A Bigger Screen Will Be?

There have been lots of ideas on what the screen resolution of the new iPhone will be. Both users and developers are interested in it. The main suggestions circulating in the web are 750?1334, 1080?1920, 1600?966. The last option is not an option actually. Each iOS developer uses a relative value for rendering objects on the screen – so-called points. Here is the structure of CGPoint:

struct CGPoint {

CGFloat x;

CGFloat y;

};

The coordinates have the data type with a floating point. It could seem strange, since pixel is an atomic value – there’s no such size for drawing as half a pixel. However, it’s here that the very idea of Retina display was outlined. 1 point used to equal 1 pixel, but now for Retina it equals 2 pixels. Apple has always cared about the appearance of iOS and its apps; and has cared as well about convenience for developers. That’s why with the release of Retina display developers didn’t need to alter the code of their apps – designers had to draw the resources with double resolutions. All developers had to do was to add them to the project with the suffix @2x. The system automatically substituted the needed resource.

Let’s take a look at this code:

[[UIView alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectMake(0, 0, 1, 100)];

It creates a view 1 point wide and 100 points high. If we launch it on iPhone 3GS (320×480), we’ll see a line 1 pixel wide and 100 pixels high. But if we launch the same code on iPhone 4 (640×960), we’ll see that our view has the same physical size on the screen, but is 2 pixels wide and 200 pixels high. The same code will work well on both Retina and non-Retina displays.

Let’s exemplify our opinion with button size. If we take a look at iOS Human Interface Guidelines (the Layout section), we’ll see that Apple recommends to make buttons sized no less than 44×44 points for convenience on a touchscreen. This equals 44?44 pixels on non-Retina and 88?88 pixels on Retina. Now let’s consider resolutions 750?1334 and 1080?1920.

Let’s take screen width for non-Retina in points as the reference value; and let’s make a simple ratio for estimating the rate for re-calculating points into pixels:

750?1334:

750/320 = 2,34375.

1080?1920:

1080/320 = 3,375.

This means the size of the button, according to iOS Human Interface Guidelines, must be 44*2,34375 = 103,125?103,125 pixels and 44*3,375 = 148.5?148.5 pixels.

This will not happen. With this approach there will be an inevitable problem – images will be scaled, compressed, lose their sharpness and lose pixels. We can suppose that it will be invisible for the eye with such density of pixels. But Apple values its name and its well-known quality high enough not to take this step. A typical iOS user expects quality even in the slightest details. At the same time it would be a problem for iOS developers, who would have to rewrite lots of code, change UI of their apps, face the issues with compatibility, and so on. In its turn this situation would weaken Apple’s position on the market; they surely wouldn’t allow it with their ambitions to be ahead of everyone.

The conclusion is obvious: we will probably get the doubled resolution (1280?2272) and switch to @4x resources. The 16:9 ratio of display sides will remain the same. Let’s make calculations for the doubled resolution:

1280?2272:

1280/320 = 4,0.

The button size, according to iOS Human Interface Guidelines, must be 44*4 = 176?176 pixels.

Looks good. We believe it’s the way it will bee, and designers should get ready to use @4x resources.

Thoughts And Conclusions

#1. Doubled resolutions will require more processing powers – and bigger capacities. When an app is installed on an iOS device, resources for all supported devices are stored there. If it’s an app that supports iPhone, iPad, Retina, and non-Retina, resources for all four screen types are stored on the device, being just an idle load. With the growth of resolutions this issue will become more and more acute, and Apple must already be struggling to find the solution.

#2. There must be sufficient state-of-the-art technologies for mass production of such displays and chips. It’s hard to say whether Apple is ready for a breakthrough on the market with the iPhone 6, or the company will have to postpone it and lose the leading positions. Taking Apple’s strategy into account, such a breakthrough is rather believable. We don’t have to wait long to know the answer

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