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iPhone 6 Plus: there's more to the big screen than a big piece of glass

Marco Tabini | Sept. 19, 2014
While "big" phones are nothing new for the rest of the mobile industry, the iPhone 6 Plus represents a radical departure from Apple's historical love for small screens.

While "big" phones are nothing new for the rest of the mobile industry, the iPhone 6 Plus represents a radical departure from Apple's historical love for small screens.

Still, the company's first foray into "phablet" (ugh) territory has a distinct Apple flavor to itself — not only in the aesthetic choices that define its design, but also in a myriad little details — starting, for example, with the dimensions of its screen.

Hi, DPI

High-density screens have been the name of the game since Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone 4 back in 2010. That handset's Retina display, with its 326 points-per-inch (PPI) resolution, has graced the screen of every single smartphone that the company has manufactured since, even as the screen itself has grown, first to four inches with the iPhone 5, and now to 4.7 inches with the iPhone 6.

When it comes to the iPhone 6 Plus, however, Apple shaken things up a little: The new Retina HD screen on the largest iPhone model is not just bigger, but also — at a whopping 401 PPI — denser.

If this seems a bit odd, the company's choice can be easily explained by a number of factors. First off, the iPhone 6 Plus screen is 1920 by 1080 pixels — dimensions otherwise known as the standard resolution of 1080p HD television. This makes for easy rendering of the majority of existing video content, and probably helps the company realize economies of scale by taking advantage of commoditized display parts that are more readily available than a completely custom solution.

Of course, this still doesn't quite explain the reason for the change in screen density; after all, Apple could have simply made the iPhone 6 Plus screen a little bigger to give its display the same 326 PPI resolution as its predecessors.

The likely answer here is simply that market forces dictated this choice: A 5.5-inch phone is still small enough that most users will be able to hold it with one hand, but not so large as to start encroaching into tablet territory and risk cannibalizing sales in that business.

The right size at all costs

While picking 1080p resolution and a 5.5-inch screen may make sense from a business point of view, these choices are forcing Apple to break what has, so far, been a cardinal rule of its mobile displays.

When the company first introduced high-density screens, it did so by giving Retina displays four times as many pixels as its predecessors. This nicely round number meant that existing content could be scaled up easily, leading to reasonable graphics quality without taxing the device's hardware. It also made things easier for developers, who could use the same layouts for both regular and Retina models by simply making their graphical assets twice as tall and wide.

 

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