So right off the bat. I am not a handset designer. Never was and haven't been anywhere near handset design either when employed by Nokia or before or thereafter even in my consulting career when I did numerous consulting gigs for various Nokia units as well as several other handset manufacturers. They didn't want me for my insigts in how to make handsets better they appreciated my knowhow in the mobile industry ecosystem and the role of carriers, mobile services and apps, consumers. But I wasn't hired to design the networks or write code or god forbid, try to design the next Razr or iPhone or Xperia haha...
That being said I am a grumpy old geezer with a ready opinion on just about anything in our industry. And today I feel like giving my thoughts on the form factor and feature set of handsets. Many have read on this blog how I love a given smartphone for its great camera (N93, N82, 808 Pureview, Xperia Z1 etc). Often I have called for good physical keyboards waxing lyrcal about the old Communicator line of Nokia or my happiness with the Blackberry Bold I once used etc. And I've talked about many other things from time to time. Now, recently, as we've seen the growth of the screen size - incidentially something my dear friend Christian Lindholm who once was Nokia's head designer - forecasted the handset industry would embark upon, when he visited us at MoMo Hong Kong I think around 2007 or so. MoMo is Mobile Monday for those not familiar with the biggest mobile enthusiast community accross I think its now over 200 cities already? Sorry I am digressing. Yeah, Christian was working for Fjord at the time when he visited us in Hong Kong and he forecasted that the handset industry was reversing its pursuit of the smallest handset ever that had already approached the size of the credit card in Japan, to now growing phones driven by the biggest screen anyone would dare to install on a phone. I remember him promising far larger handset screens than the then-monstrous size of the just-announced iPhone at 3.5 inches. I think Christian suggested phones might go to 5 inches even... He knows his stuff.
Now we have lots of speculation about Apple again growing its screen size of the next flagship iPhone to come closer to the enormous sizes that Samsung and other rivals offer. And others say no no no that is not necessary, because Apple is different and (nonsense follows).
Yeah. We know now that the 4 inch size is no longer a flagship just like an 8mp camera is about past its prime. The industry does move on and Apple will need to get on with the program and give us modern-size big screens (and modern bigger cameras too). But it has me thinking. Where should be the priorities and more imporantly: why.
So another caveat. Contrary to most posts I write this time I have no stats to support my hypothesis. Yes there are some statistics that handset screen sizes continue to grow but apart from that kind of numbers there are really no comparative preferences. This is what I mean. There are no studies asking consumers a comparative preference such as: would you take a 5 inch screen but 8 mp camera or 4.5 inch screen with 12 mp camera. Or would you take a 4 inch screen with 16 mp camera. Other things being equal so this would be your fave handset brand in both cases and the price would be identical of course. Same comparative study could be about battery life or memory or CPU or physical keyboard or whatnot. I'd love to see any such studies by anyone from any market so if any readers know of any, please share. Or for example would you take a 5 inch screen on an iPhone with regular resolution or a 4.5 inch screen with Retina Display. I know some would love the retina but I'm pretty sure the majority would rather take the larger screen if all other specs and price were the same.
SCREEN SIZE TRUMPS EVERYTHING
But back to my thinking. I think screen size trumps all - for most users. Yes there are some of us who are camera freaks - I would rate the optical zoom or superhigh resolution camera ahead of the biggest screen and essentially any other option including my beloved physical QWERTY keyboard haha, but I know I am not 'normal' (yeah, I do know it while I pretend to be a normal human being haha). I have in many cases quite extreme preferences.
Yeah. Screen Size Trumps Everything. Lets take texting. So many of us are addicted to mobile messaging. And a physical QWERTY keyboard is better than a touch-screen keyboard. One of the big hassles of the touch screen is that you have to watch everything you write - that SLOWS YOU DOWN compared to a full-QWERTY keyboard and mobile is about speed. Plus with a virtual keyboard you do far more errors wihen you dont' ahve phsyical tactile feeling when you type. And the virtual keyboard steals from the large screen so you have much less visible area to see what you write, etc etc. So a real physical QWERTY keyboard is very compelling to perhaps 30% of the total mobile users who are more-or-less addicted to mobile messaging from SMS to Whatsapp. But...
But.. Screen Size Trumps Everything. Other things being equal, if the phone is a choice between Blackberry-style QWERTY with a half-phone sized screen like a 2.5 or 3 inch scrren, and a 5 inch massive screen that then forces us to use the virtual kegboard - or most people the big Screen Size Trumps Everything. We fall in love with that massive screen.
Its been that way for hafl a decade at least. The 2.5 inch screens of Nokia N-Series were huge compared to the rivals with 2 or 2.2 inch screens. Then the humongous iPhone with the 3.5 inch screen. Then we had the amazing letterbox 4 inch screen on the E90 Communicator, a FABULOUS screen to watch movies. Then we saw 4.5 inch screens, 5 inch screens, 6 inch screens... Side by side that larger screen is just better. The pictures look better the maps are more clear the videos seem better, the touch-screen buttons are larger with less typos, etc etc etc.
Yes, in a perfect world we'd love to have both, like the E7 Nokia at the time had the 4 inch screen - bigger than the contemporary iPhone, as a well-functioning touch screen - plus the physical QWERTY wide keyboard as a slider-folder expansion. That was wonderful. But if we have to choose like the new Blackberries on the Z10 OS. They were both a suboptimal choice. Either get the 'real' Blackberry keyboard on the 'tiny' half-phone sized screen which was utterly outdated or take the 'only touch screen' Blackberry - which therefore was not a 'real' Blackberry without the physical keyboard. So what did the customers buy. The Galaxy Note! Obviously if you can't have a 'proper Blackberry keyboard' and a big screen, then what you want is the biggest screen going. The Z10 was a bad compromise and certainly not best touch screen device out there nor the biggest screen. Why. Because Screen Size Trumps Everything.
If Blackberry are really smart, they will release at least one phone that is a slider or folder style that will have both a large physical keyboard for the real Blackberry experience and a large, at least 5 inch touch screen. That could be a killer flagship. Because Screen Size Trumps Everything even the Crackberry addiction. But no Blackberry loyalist will buy any Berry that doesn't have a real physical keyboard. Its like buying a Ferrari with a diesel engine haha ( and with my luck thats already been launched by the Prancing Horse )
And what of my beloved cameras? Yeah I played with the Samsung Galaxy Zoom but then I could have the monster Sony Xperia Z1 screen and its removable Zoom optional lens. Not the most elegant solution on the camera side but now I get the massive screen. I love it... as Screen Size Trumps Everything.
For a while Apple's response to larger screens on Android was 'retina display'. And yes on a same-size screen the retina display is visibly sharper. Astonishingly sharp. But that is only if you compare two 3.5 inch screens side-by-side. A larger screen trumps the retina display. Even Apple acknowledged this and gave us the 4 inch screen on the iPhone. Why isn't the sharpest screen good enough even when on an iPhone? Because Screen Size Trumps Everything.
Look at your home TV. Over time and I mean decades rather than years we all have continuously upgraded our main TV set screen size. Why is that? Because Screen Size Trumps Everything. Now how come the market for tablets of 7 inche size is growing faster than the market for tablets of 10 inche size? I think that is because they are somewhat differing user cases. So we have actually two tablet market opportunities. A 'full size' tablet means you put it in a case and carry it in a bag. Its use is more 'professional' if you like and a rather clear laptop-replacement scenario. But the 7 inch tablet you can actually squeeze into a pocket or purse - not always and not very comfortably, but enough that their use cases have divergence. So the small tablet is more the casual use case. There may well emerge a 'screen size race' for 'full sized tablets that goes larger than the 10 inches. Most definitely on the side of smartphones we see the race up the size into phablets that approach that 7 inch small tablet size... But on tablets, I am not that much an expert on tablets haha. But in handsets definitely the screen sizes are still growing into the phablets sizes...
So that was my hypothesis for today. Waddaya think? Do you agree that Screen Size Trumps Everything?