With smartphones, size matters
For years, cellphones got smaller. The tinier the better, was the mantra of the manufacturers. Then smartphones came along and our mobiles got steadily bigger again. Are they now getting too big? By Duncan McLeod.
Bigger is better. That was the message from smartphone manufacturers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January. It is a trend that will no doubt be on display again in late February at Mobile World Congress, the industry’s biggest annual trade event, held each year in Barcelona.
Growing screen sizes has been a trend for several years, driven by the popularity of large-screen Android-powered devices such as Samsung’s Galaxy S2 and its successor, the even bigger S3, as well as phones from HTC and Motorola.
If 2012 was the year of 720p-resolution screens of between 4,5 inches and 4,8 inches, then 2013 looks set to be the year of 1080p 5-inch displays. Yes, you read that right: top-end smartphones this year will pack in the same number of pixels as that 46-inch high-definition flat-panel TV in your lounge.
Some manufacturers are looking beyond the 5-inch mark, of course, taking phones into tablet territory. Samsung already has its Note series — the Note 2, introduced last year, has a 5,5-inch screen and a stylus, making it a small tablet that can also still function well as a phone. Talk is that the Note 3, due out this year, will grow even bigger. The Galaxy S4 is also expected to expand by 0,2 inches over the S3’s already large 4,8-inch screen. The S3 was by far the best-selling Android smartphone in 2012, showing there is demand for big phones.
Sony is also betting on 5-inch and larger form factors for smartphones this year. At CES, it unveiled the gorgeous 5-inch Xperia Z. Now speculation is rampant that, at the Mobile World Congress, Sony plans to announce a 6,4-inch phone-tablet, or “phablet”, designed to compete with the Galaxy Note 2 and the upcoming Note 3, which, it’s rumoured, will have a 6,3-inch display.
Have the manufacturers lost the plot? After all, a 6,4-inch phone is probably too big for many people to cradle in one hand. Maybe.
But when Samsung released the original Note, some critics questioned the wisdom of a phone so big. Yet the Note series has been a huge success for the Korean company, which has sold millions upon millions of them.
Also, consumers, perhaps reluctant at first to embrace large displays on phones, are warming to them. Many people — I’m among them — find it difficult to go from a device like the Galaxy S3 or HTC’s 4,7-inch One X to an Apple iPhone. Even the iPhone 5, with its expanded 4-inch display, looks dinky next to any of the modern Android phones or Windows Phone devices. Perhaps Apple has missed a trick by not having two variants of the iPhone: 4-inch and 5-inch models.
Given that over the past few years the function of the mobile phone has changed dramatically — we’ve gone from pressing them against our ears to staring at them — it’s not surprising screen sizes have been expanding.
Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t like the relentless move to bigger screens. For them, the ability to reach anywhere on the screen with one thumb is more important than having acres of screen real estate. Those who own full-sized tablets argue they don’t need a bigger cellphone screen because they have another, bigger device at their disposal for reading magazines, playing games or watching video. There will continue to be sizeable demand for these smaller screens. Heck, demand may even grow if there’s a backlash from consumers over ever-expanding screen space.
That day hasn’t arrived yet, though, and most manufacturers will test the 5-inch barrier this year for their top-selling devices. For now, size matters. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media