Look at how OS X handles screen sizes on a Mac, and then compare that with screen sizes for iPhone and iPad. What’s the difference? OS X adjusts itself and apps to fit the screen. iOS does not and Apple needs to fix it.
Flexible vs. Fixed
That OS X adjusts itself to nearly any screen size– desktop, notebook, or multiple displays is a given. It just works. That’s not the case with iOS.
Here’s what I think happened. In the early days of the iPhone’s development, Apple settled on what it thought to be the perfect smartphone screen size– 3.5-inches and 480×320 pixels.
That 3.5-inch screen might be the perfect pocket smartphone screen, but competition builds itself around differentiation, so it didn’t take long for Samsung et al to come out with larger screens.
Size matters. Bigger is better. Apple countered the large screen revolution with the Retina display– more pixels crammed into the iPhone’s same 3.5-inch screen– 960×640 pixels. Then came the iPad with yet another adjustment to the screen size; first 1,024×768 pixels (and, later the Retina display at 2,048×1,536 pixels).
The iPhone’s puny 3.5-inch screen looked anemic compared to the 4-inch, 5-inch, and even 5.5-inch displays from the competition, so Apple upped the iPhone’s screen size to 4-inches, and 1,136×640 pixels. Same width, but a taller screen.
Both the iPad’s screen dimensions and the iPhone’s new 4-inch screen size sent a shockwave into the iOS developer community which now was required to program their apps to match the new screen sizes.
Problem And Solutions
Therein lies the problem. Apple uses a fixed resolution for iPhone and iPad (albeit Retina display in both) instead of a fixed display. What happens to screen resolution when Apple decides to launch a 4.7-inch or a 5.5-inch iPhone, or a larger iPad Pro?
OS X’s flexible screen size management looks pretty good these days, right? Here’s what I think will happen to solve Apple’s screen size problem.
First, iOS could be reconfigured to be flexible to match a screen’s resolution– similar to how OS X manages multiple and different screen resolutions.
Second, and more likely, Apple will adjust the pixel size in future iPhone and iPad screens to match the current Retina display resolution in each device. Larger pixels, same resolution. The problem with that approach is that Retina resolution suffers with larger devices.
Third, and possibly with future Apple CPU designs, is the option of greater-than-Retina resolution to match each device’s screen size. Apple did it with the first iPhone with Retina display. How long before screen manufacturing technology allows for quadruple the number of pixels on a screen with the same battery life and onscreen performance?
Personally, I think Apple screwed the pooch by adopting fixed resolution in iPhone (and later in the iPad) rather than implementing a flexible capability similar to that in OS X on the Mac.
Notice that the new iPad mini with Retina display has a higher pixel density than the iPad Air. The same resolution in a larger iPad would probably drop the device below Retina display levels, so the better option is a CPU that can drive quadruple the number of pixels, and a higher pixel density screen which still maintains acceptable battery life.
Apple has a screen problem and it needs to get fixed.