How big could smartphone screens become?

How big could smartphone screens become?

It’s a measure of how quickly technology has advanced that seeing an old mobile phone evokes a mixture of nostalgia and pity.

Those brick-like early-90s handsets were highly advanced at the time, but their external aerials and tiny green screens have dated badly.

The same is true for Millennial phones, which remained stubbornly monochrome until 2001.

That was the year the Sony Ericsson T68m and Mitsubishi Trium Eclipse introduced 256-colour screens, though they were small and shockingly crude by modern standards.

Today, most smartphone ranges contain at least one model with a diagonal screen size of six inches or more.

That would have been unthinkable back in 2010. So could smartphone screen sizes
get even larger throughout the next decade?

That shrinking feeling

Handset sizes shrank throughout the Nineties and Noughties, reaching a low of around 11.5 square inches in 2010.

This was driven by consumer demand for convenience and portability, while reductions in component sizes also played a part.

Throughout this decade, handsets have steadily expanded again as phones have become increasingly central in our lives.

Larger smartphone screen sizes were already emerging in the Noughties, to cater for new technologies like web browsing and full-colour gaming.

As well as underpinning the first app store, the 2007 Apple iPhone abolished the hitherto essential numeric keypad.

With the introduction of touchscreen keypads, handset design swiftly underwent a revolution.

Since then, the bezel which wraps around the screen (typically containing earpieces, microphones and cameras) has steadily diminished.

A decade ago, the average screen-to-bezel ratio of a new smartphone was just 40 per cent. Today, it’s 90 per cent.

That provides more room for visually rich multimedia content like Instagram, Netflix and Minecraft.

Too much of a good thing

In 2007, smartphone screen sizes averaged three inches. It took half a decade for the average to reach four inches, but only two more years to hit five inches.

When Samsung launched their Galaxy Note in 2011, its unprecedented 5.3-inch screen led to it being christened a phablet.

Yet by 2015, the standard iPhone 6 had a larger screen than the original Galaxy Note. And today, the iPhone XS Max has a 6.5-inch screen.

For many people, that’s simply too big to be practical.

Slimline bezels mean the XS Max isn’t much larger than its screen, but devices on this scale are starting to place an unreasonable distance between the earpiece and microphone.

People with smaller hands find it difficult to use a six-inch screen one-handed, which is often essential on the move.

Sitting down with a supersized smartphone in a trouser pocket can be uncomfortable, while car and van dashboards often lack a cubbyhole big enough to safely store a large handset.

Many consumers are voting with their feet, and purchasing phones with screens of around five inches in size.

Consequently, instead of attempting to make devices even larger, manufacturers are experimenting with other approaches.

The Sirin Labs Finney has a second screen on its rear for specific applications, while the Samsung Galaxy Fold’s two 4.6-inch screens dovetail to create a 7.3-inch display.

Folding phones represent the best way of squeezing a tablet-sized screen for media consumption into a device small enough to hold in one hand or tuck into a pocket.

Other manufacturers are experimenting with their own innovative approaches to increasing on-screen real estate, without making handsets any bigger – or any harder to use one-handed.

For now, it seems we’ve reached peak screen size.

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