Wednesday, August 1, 2012

iPhone 5 and Form Factor

I always laugh when people say the iPhone is a dated design because it has a smaller screen compared to newer phones. Here's a recent example from Henry Blodget -- and his analysis is so off-the-mark it's laughable.

What Blodget fails to realize is that one of the early design directives for Apple's phone is that you could use it with just one hand -- especially for making a call and listening to music -- QUICKLY.

The key to keeping that directive with a larger screen, as is rumored for the next iPhone, is that the screen width MUST stay the same.

In addition, users have already been "taught" to work with this form factor; if the screen gets wider, they'll have to "relearn" how to type, for instance. Not a big deal, but Apple sweats details like that.

More importantly, a wider screen means you need two hands to use it. It then becomes a tablet phone. Apple has decided that tablet phones are a poor form factor (too big for pockets, needs two hands to use, harder to hold, etc.)

Try it out for yourself if you don't believe me: Take any iPhone, hold it in one hand, and trace the screen border with your thumb. For the average-sized hand, this is easy to do.

Now try that same exercise on one of the new Samsung phones. It's impossible. And now that ICS puts that action overflow in the upper right, you need two hands to get to it. It can become a usability issue.

Don't get me wrong: The larger-screen Samsung phones are great. But to call the iPhone outdated because of its smaller screen size ignores Apple's focus on usability, consistency and form factor.

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