Easy on the Eye
This change produces a few tangible benefits. First, the pixels on the retina display are so small that the human eye cannot distinguish between them. Small pixels enable crisper and finer edges on the displayed content, especially text. Higher resolutions enabled by smaller pixels also mean that the phone can easily display a lot more content in the same size area. The end result is that individuals can examine more information.
However, the crisp Apple displays come at a price — literally. “The iPhone screen is much more expensive than LCDs of similar sizes: by our calculations, it commands a 60% to 70% premium,” stated Harry Wang, Director, Mobile & Health Research at Parks Associates.
Another potential issue is the iPhone’s Retina display must make use of LED backlights to illuminate the display. If this feature is widely used, it can drain a phone’s batteries.
Android OS Models Offer a Different Option
Several devices running Google’s Android OS have taken a different approach by using AM-OLED screens. They improve display quality by using sub-pixel rendering, a technique that accentuates the edges on text at high resolutions, according to iSuppli’s Jakhanwal.
AM-OLED screens have several potential advantages compared to traditional LCDs, including a larger color gamut, faster response time, a thinner form factor, and no requirement for backlighting, which reduces power consumption and extends battery life.
This technique is in a nascent stage of evolution. iSuppli noted that traditional LCD technology currently dominates the handset display market: worldwide shipments amounted to 1.6 billion units in 2009, easily dwarfing AM-OLEDs, which numbered 20.5 million units last year. But because of its low starting point, AM-OLED technology is expected to grow dramatically (nine-fold from 2009 to 2014, according to the market research firm).Yet industry acceptance still remains a mixed bag: LCDs will also show healthy growth, with a 26.6 percent annual increase, according to iSuppli.
Delivery of the larger, sharper displays could benefit users. One plus is the devices now have the potential to support more sophisticated user interfaces, such as HTML browsers. As these interfaces become more widely available, at least in theory, tasks, such as surfing the Web, become simpler. In addition, users would have a more familiar interface than the proprietary ones that many cell phone vendors have relied on.
Many Changes Now Needed
However, the movement to larger displays presents vendors with some challenges. “The newer screen sizes have to be supported by the phone’s underlying hardware and software components,” explained Parks’ Associates’ Wang. Vendors start off with a long list of obvious items that they have to tweak: operating systems, application APIs, applications, browsers, and chipsets. In addition, a 4-inch smartphone that can support HD content might require upgrades to the device’s CPU and graphic chip(s).
Power is another potential bugaboo. “Users can quickly consume the device’s available power if they try to watch HD videos on their phones for long periods of time,” noted Canalsy’s Tim Shepherd.
That experience may be underwhelming because video presentations on cell phones may prove to be less than compelling. After all if a person watches TV on a 50-inch, flat-screen TV, the 4-inch screen may seem quite limited.
Pointless PowerPoint Presentations
Similar shortcoming may hold true with other types of interactions. For instance, working with various types of information can still be a cumbersome chore. “Manipulating a PowerPoint presentation on a smartphone can be a problem,” noted NPD Group’s Rubin.
The larger form factors can also sacrifice convenience and portability. “There comes a point where if the phone does not easily fit into a person’s pocket, then its appeal diminishes,” said Canalsy’s Shepherd. Because of this potential limitation, the market research officially lists smartphones as devices having a maximum screen size of four inches — although Shepherd admitted that the distinction is a bit arbitrary.
Recently, there has been a definite emphasis on delivering larger screens among cell phone providers. While the movement to bigger screens has been clear, users are just now sifting through the potential benefits and downsides coming from this change. So it appears that time will pass before the industry settles on cell phones’ perfect screen size.
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