When the first iPhone debuted with a 3.5-inch display, it started a revolution in smartphone design. Several years later, a number of models have 4.3-inch displays, while Dell's Streak has a 5 inch display. The trend has become clear: "Smartphone screens are definitely getting bigger," said Tim Shepherd analyst at market research firm Canalys.
So why all the fuss about screen size, and what impact will the larger viewing areas have on cell phone users?
Apple Led the Way
Apple has been credited for being the major force behind many recent design changes, including the move to larger screens. When the original iPhone debuted in 2007, it showed that large numbers of consumers would buy a phone with a 3.5-inch touchscreen.
"Apple's iPhone addressed many of the form factor issues that had prevented users from easily performing tasks, such as using their phones to surf the Web," stated Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD Group.
Apple changed the way customers used their phones. No longer were they a simple way to reach someone when you were not at your desk or in your home, these products became a primary way for individual to manipulate information, whether it was stored locally or was floating around somewhere in cyberspace. As users began to input more information, the desire for larger screens so they could more easily view the data became more pronounced.
Video's Ripple Effect
Another factor in the recent market shift has been the rise in mobile video. A number of new video services have emerged during the past few years. AT&T's Mobile TV, Fox's Bitbop, Qualcomm's Flo TV, and Verizon's V Cast Mobile TV have been some of the more widely touted options. "When users watch videos on their phones, they want larger screens, so the experience will be more enjoyable," noted Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd.
Technical advances have also played a role in the growth of cell phone screens. iSuppli Corp.'s Vinita Jakhanwal, principal analyst, small & medium displays, explained that Apple and Google Inc. have been promoting different types of screens based on emerging technologies. The iPhone 4 uses a Liquid-crystal display (LCD) display with advanced In-Plane Switch (IPS) features while Android phones rely on an Active-Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode (AM-OLED) design.
iSuppli Corp.'s Jakhanwal expounded that IPS supports a wider viewing angle and better picture quality in terms of color presentation than a conventional LCD. Apple's display enhances image resolution by the use of smaller-than-normal pixels. This technique increases the number of pixels on the screen to 326 Pixels Per Inch (PPI), compared to 160 PPI for the 3.5 half Video Graphics Array (VGA) resolution display found in the iPhone 3GS.
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