Why the iPhone Never Went Beyond 3.5-inch Displays (and Probably Won’t Ever)

by: Conan HughesNovember 7, 2011

For a product line touted to be magical, groundbreaking, and intuitive, the iPhone never went past the 3.5-inch mark for its display ever since the original product was unveiled by the late Steve Jobs in 2007. Competing smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, have gone past four inches to display more and more details. But, what has actually made Apple refrain from expanding its iPhone’s display (and possibly for its later iterations)? Being practical.

A smartphone, with all its multi-touch capability, is actually best used with just one thumb, with the remaining fingers securely grasping the back and your other hand conveniently busy elsewhere. For instance, the most common smartphone tasks–making a call after selecting a contact in the phonebook, typing down a text message reply, and browsing the Web–typically only require single swipes and single taps. And, that should be done with your thumb alone.

But, try performing those tasks with phones whose display measures at least 4 inches diagonally. While you can comfortably tap away within the range of your thumb’s reach, there will certainly be remote buttons and whatnot that will have you fidget with your hand–which risks your phone’s falling to the ground. You have no choice but to use your other hand instead. That is what makes large screens ultimately useless, as shown in the image by Calling All Geeks.

The only other cases, where interaction with the device requires using multiple fingers simultaneously, are when playing games and watching movies. And, during these times, you usually hold your phone sideways (landscape mode) and possibly with both your hands.

The iPhone and its display size is the prime example of Steve Job’s demand for perfection. He himself may have noticed this flaw of some parts of larger screens becoming useless or void of interaction when using just one hand alone. You can try it for yourself and see how everything displayed in the iPhone can be reached easily, whereas you’ll be having a hard time on larger devices.

Furthermore, many smartphones have become so large that they are rather hard to hold, with their areas surpassing that of the average palm, and that your fingers can’t reach even the other side of the phone anymore. As a result, handling them with a firm, secure grip is no longer applicable, thereby increasing the likelihood of accidental drops.

Another reason I can think of is the fact that fashion these days demands tight or skinny jeans. Imagine how unsightly it would be if you put a large smartphone in your pocket, bulging at a disturbing level. In fact, would it have fit in your pocket comfortably in the first place? Had you carried a smaller device like the iPhone 4S, this won’t have to be a problem.

If the iPhone 5 (or whatever Apple decides to name its next phone) ever comes out with a larger screen, Apple may have already done something to address these problem. Perhaps they will have sported it with a flexible LCD display. But, for now, be thankful that your iPhone 4S’s screen is smaller.

However, the larger screen on Android phones also have a practical reason–bigger viewing space.  Since smartphones these days are already hooked up to high-speed data networks, the Web is readily accessible from smartphone users’ devices.  The larger screens on recent Android devices, although arguably not as one-thumb-friendly as a 3.5-inch form factor, also provide a bigger window for more content to be shown on the display.  That is as much practicality as limiting the screen size to just 3.5 inches for the sake of thumb reach.  It also allows for less scrolling (with the thumb) when viewing content.

Do you find the 4.3-, 4.5-, or 4.65-inch touchscreen on your Android phone woeful to your thumb?  Or do you find it acceptable enough for one-hand use?

  • Mikeadonis

    I have big hands so I could never use a 3.5″ screen. I can tightly grasp my 4.3″ evo while reaching everything easily with my thumb. I think I could probably go a little bigger and still comfortably use a single thumb. If my phone was any smaller,I would need a stylus because of my hand size. So y’all can keep ur little iPhones.

  • TheFox

    Gay article…everyone knows that bigger is better. WTF are you gonna do with a tinny display when you are watching movies and you need to struggle to see something on your 3.5 inch display? or how the hell are you gonna play something on your device when your thumbs occupies half of the screen. And what’s the deal that on larger display you can not do with on thumb the things that you can do on a iphone >> RUBBISH, well yes if u are a 6 year old off course you need both hands.
    And about tight jeans, common, guys that are wearing those kind of jeans are not man enough to have a big smartphone.

    I rest my case. Apple is dead for me until decides to wear a bigger screen.

  • Mike

    I find the Galaxy S II screen fine to use one handed. Must be because I don’t have midget hands.

  • Anamika

    Article assumes every one has similar hands.

    • TheFox

      i don’t think that after a certain age (after puberty) you still have baby hands.

      • Jh D Leon

        he most be an iphone user. let apple keep washing ur brain!

  • Georgiexe

    For one moment I thought that I was in a iphone forum… am waiting for the Gnexus cuz y have man hands!!

  • I think Apples statement is out of date, not only can i operate my 4,3″ inch screen without problems, but my hand is also capable of adjusting angles so i can even reach volume buttons on opposite side with the same finger im surfing with.

    But i guess when most of your customers are teenagers this is something you have to take in consideration while designing :P

  • sooooo let’s limit a phone based on only being able to hold it in one hand? sooo apple, forcing their ideas of how devices can be used, instead of providing a device that the users make their own and customize for their own style / hands. you guys sure they don’t take design lessons direct from fisherprice?

  • Wmsco51

    I can’t see

  • Mohammadld

    go buy iphone baby hands ,,,
    we are good even with galaxy note ,,,

  • Level380

    I have a 4.3″ screen and can type with one thumb without an issue.

    • Same here, but it did take some getting used to coming from the iPhone’s 3.5″ screen.

  • Chris

    I seriously hope this is a joke appearing on Android Authority.

    If it’s not, then this site has no authority.

  • Matej Čurilla

    thing is:
    android, or google itself has already did something for size in your pocket
    Notice please that Nexus S and Galaxy nexus both got curved glass

    about keyboard: iPhone and android use different aspect ratio,
    meaning android is more widescreen-ish(from landscape point of view).. so both of them have similar width

  • Anonymous

    Its crazy how someone publishes an article just explaining why the iPhone is the way it is and ask for your opinion. He isnt sayin that these are his thought just pointing out what the other side thinks and their logic behind it. And immediately people start talkin $hit and tellin him to buy an iPhone. i love the size of my android phone (current Nexus S user) but when you hold an iPhone it fits prefectly in your hands and is extremely easy to do things with one hand. (I have huge hands and can palm a basketball). IMO i feel that anything over 4.3 inches can be held by most people but isnt as comfortable to do certain operations with one hand. Possible yes but with ease not always. When apple designed their phone they want it to be good for everyone not just a nitch. Android has the luxury of different manufactures which is the beauty of android you can find the phone that works best for you. Good article.

  • 20 °

    Seems I can type and use my T-Mobile gs2 fine with 1 hand.

    Some people have to make reasons for the iphone. Maybe it justifies there purchase?

  • G4rydownes

    Lol….. this guy is just another “fanboy” justifying the tiny winy little screen he has. He’s probably sat around will all his other “fanboy” friends and said “how do we write an article to justify why the hell apple haven’t increased the screen size since 2007 whilst everyone else I see are viewing web content, playing games, streaming media, sending emails etc from gorgeous Android phones”….. stick with ur iPhone buddy, and I bet when the iPhone 5 comes out with a bigger screen, you will soon be saying “Apple have revolutionized the smart phone yet again by being the first to bring out a 4.3″ screen… this is the best smartphone in the world and ever other phone that comes out is just trying to copy this phone” lol

  • emarkd

    You and I have different ideas of useless. I have two hands and don’t mind using them to operate my mobile if needed. That said, I rarely have a problem using my 4.3″ device one-handed.

  • Anonymous

    Worst article I’ve ever read on Android Authority, hands down. I am taking delivery of my Galaxy Note in a few hours. 5.3 inches of beauty.

  • thisarticleislame

    – this article is lame
    – what good is anything if you can’t see the screen…
    – this article is lame

  • Anonymous

    A better explanation is that if they increased the size, they would have to increase the pixels to retain the “retina display” claim. Doing so would would involve some serious technical problems, not least of which being the impact on the apps, which would make it quite difficult technically.

  • 99odyssey

    this is the biggest load of shit i’ve ever read.

    btw, i typed this on my thunderbolt using one thumb.

  • Anonymous

    being a big guy (6’4″) I realize I don’t fit into most averages. A 3.5″ screen is probably fine for most folk but I have an insanely difficult time typing on anything less than 4″. My GSI was about the perfect size for me and I could reach everything with one hand easily but I still had some issue with the on screen keyboard because of large fingers. Personally I’ve always felt that the Dell Venue Pro (4.1″ screen with a portrait slider keyboard) would be the best of both worlds but the form factor never caught on. I’m going GNex this time around which is bigger than I would like but the typing experience should be great as well as media consumption. I say all that to say that it all comes down to personal preference, wherein 3.5″ may work for some, for others it isn’t even a real option. This is a good article when talking about averages (which the writer notes) but averages by their very definition recognize that variables to the norms exist.

  • KeethStone

    I guess if you have Burger King hands (like this guy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu_bE7g2wqM), you need to use an iPhone.

    Android Dude: “Hey, wanna go check out the latest Android phone?”

    iPhone Dude: “Naw, I think I’ll head over to the Apple store.”

    Android Dude: “Aw c’mon. There’s a Best Buy right over there.”

    iPhone Dude: “I have these tiny hands.”

    Android Dude: “They’re not that tiny.”

    iPhone Dude: “They ARE that tiny. The cool widgets and that gorgeous 4.5″ screen is so big…it’s going to make them look even more tiny.”

    Android Dude: “What if I hold it for you.”

    Announcer: “The Nexus Prime. 30% bigger than a wimpy iPhone.”

    Sent from my big honkin’ Android smartphone using my oversized man hands.

    • G4rydownes

      Lol that’s quality! I’m guessing the reason they developed SIRI is for people with no hands!!

  • Kinchas

    I agree with a previous commenter…biggest load of Apple pixie dust I have ever heard.
    God help us if we are dependent on any of the Apple users who buy this crap…in the defense of our nation.

  • David

    I agree with the author. I’ve gone with a smaller phone, HTC Desire S. Too bad there are no top-of-the-line android phones that are smaller.

  • OperationHorror

    I just learned from this article that I’m only supposed to use my phone with one thumb, I never knew that before (re: “And, that should be done with your thumb alone.”) I find playing games a pain on my original Galaxy S because my thumbs cover up so much of the screen, so I’d be happy to go bigger and don’t see any reason at all to go smaller. I use my phone for streaming movies a lot as well, and I find the 4 inches small for my liking.

  • Anonymous

    I own an iPhone 3G and my wife owns the 4S. My next phone will have Ice Cream Sandwich (but I don’t think I’ll get the disappointing Galaxy Nexus, though I’ll wait for more reviews). I’ve played with larger screen phones and I don’t know what this author is talking about. I thought this article might be about the form factor and how a lot of accessories are already made for the given width of the phone (like speaker sets). Ok that wasn’t his point, but I’ll just add, if you constrain yourself to the existing 4S form factor, you can still get a 16:9 4.3″ diagonal screen though the bezels will shrink from 20.2/4.4 mm to 10.1/2.6 mm. No phone goes under 4 mm bezels yet that I know of, but it should be possible.

    Me, I’ll take a 5″ 1280×800 screen, also with narrow bezels (fit it into a 125×75 mm package, and I don’t care about how thick it is – the more battery and nicer camera, the better.

  • Fsalom

    Silly. As i hold my SGS2 i could reach comfortably all the screen of a 1 inch wider one with my thumb.

  • Anonymous

    Ridiculous! I don’t want anyone else telling me how my hand should fit on a screen. They don’t know me! It will be an adjustment going from my Original Droid to a bigger phone next April, but it will totally be worth it. I saw an article on Engadget about people 55-64 years old getting smartphones to replace their old phones faster now than last year, and I bet you most of them are NOT getting dinky little 3.5″ screens for their eyes!

  • BrassMan

    First of all the only people who have thumbs that can rotate 180 degrees are double-jointed. And I am certain that not everyone who uses an iPhone is. Second, I have two thumbs and can use both to reach things on my screen. Third, I can move my phone up and down on my palm since I am not crippled in anyway. And fourth, the Apple fan-boys (and girls) would say almost anything to justify what they see as “genius” and not another attempt for Apple to maximize profit. Simply put larger screens equal more cost to manufacture, if they can sell a 3.5 inch device for the same price as a larger Android device they get to make more money. How else do you think that they can make Billions in profit?

  • Guest

    Thank God Apple is around to tell me that I’d rather have a smaller screen. Are you serious with this? Apple’s very next phone will have a bigger screen. You know why? Because that’s what people want, and they want to make money. Apple REACTS and CHANGES to what people want. That’s why they’re finally adding voice features, customization (albeit minimal), and various other features that other phone makers have already been using for years. Apple makes a lot of great products, but I’m sorry, Steve Jobs does not deserve praise for this, too! For stubbornly refusing to increase the screen size to this point. Give me a break already.

  • Chris Thomas

    I have one question… If we’re supposed to use the iPhone with only the thumb of the hand we’re holding it with, why is it that the TV ads feature someone using it with the index finger of the opposite hand?

  • I have never and would never use one or two thumbs to operate any phone! It’s very bad for RSI conditions as you get older. You hold the phone comfortably in one hand and use your forefinger to type/ swype text or swipe the touch panel, and use thumb and forefinger to zoom in or out. Why would you use your thumb, what are you doing with your other hand? If you are like most iPhone users I have seen you are probably driving while texting or walking in front of cars. If using thumbs was banned, it would likely reduce the accident rate hugely!

  • Droidz

    My fingers are just fine for my GS2 and its huge screen

  • SmartPhone

    “fidget with your hand–which risks your phone’s falling to the ground.”
    Yup.. thats why the iPhone cant be bigger.. cause if you drop it once………..

    I’d rather have a larger screen on a better phone and build it such that it can live past a few falls :P
    Own a Galaxy S II and take very good care of it though ;)

  • Thom

    This article seems to have originated from a “pro” Apple or iPhone perspective. Although I agree with the thought of easy one-handed, thumb reach idea I DO NOT agree with the idea that this is perfection. For some reason we simply blanket all ideas related to the name Steve Jobs as the ingenious struggle for perfection – faulty assumption. It is an assumption that Apple tends to leverage. Let’s be real, the genius of Apple exists more in their marketing than their product and a larger screen on a phone doesn’t help them sell their iPads as easily.

    However, the most important point is that one thumb use mostly happens during driving or other inappropriate locations for being on the phone or texting or reading/responding to email, etc. The greatest majority of phone users (yes, even iPhone users) use two hands if both are free. I ALWAYS see iPhone user using two thumbs (i.e., two hands) when texting unless they are driving (I guess they need that “other” hand free) or when they are having a conversation but for some reason need to start using their phone while they are “paying attention” to the other person.

    PAH-Leeze, Apple has a small screen for reasons other than the ease of thumb use.

  • Sumpter Carter

    I can type accurately with one thumb, reaching all the edges of the screen on my HTC Rezound. 4.3 inches is not too big. I would have to say that somewhere between 4.0-4.3 inches is a good balance between screen size and usability.