Here’s One Reason Why iPhone 4S Doesn’t Sport A 4-Inch Screen

iPhone screen

Before Apple unveiled iPhone 4S, it was widely speculated that Apple’s fifth generation iPhone will come with a larger 4-inch screen.

Dustin Curtis who is user interface designer has been wondering about Apple’s decision to launch iPhone 4S with the 3.5 inch screen, especially when it has been facing competition from Android based smartphones like Samsung Galaxy S II that sport a larger screen. He believes that it boils down to usability.

He writes on his blog:

When you first see a phone with a 4-inch or larger screen, it seems like a much better experience. I thought it was a technical decision, and it could be, but since switching to an Android phone — a Samsung Galaxy S II, the “best Android phone you can buy, anywhere” — 15 days ago, I have realized another huge downside of larger screens: when holding the phone with one hand, I can’t reach the other side of the screen with my thumb.

Touching the upper right corner of the screen on the Galaxy S II using one hand, with its 4.27-inch screen, while you’re walking down the street looking at Google Maps, is extremely difficult and frustrating. I pulled out my iPhone 4 to do a quick test, and it turns out that when you hold the iPhone in your left hand and articulate your thumb, you can reach almost exactly to the other side of the screen. This means it’s easy to touch any area of the screen while holding the phone in one hand, with your thumb. It is almost impossible to do this on the Galaxy S II.

iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy II

There two more reasons:

  • If Apple would have launched an iPhone with a bigger screen, it would have been quite a disruptive change for developers as they would have to redesign their apps for the larger screen, which is quite an obvious reason to resist changing the screen size.
  • As John Gruber of Daring Fireball had pointed out last week, an increase in the screen size would have also reduced pixels-per-inch resolution beneath Apple’s own threshold to qualify as a “retina display”.

But the reason that Dustin has highlighted could have also played a major role in Apple’s decision to stick with 3.5-inch screen. We’ve always felt the size of the iPhone is just about right, anything bigger would make it uncomfortable to handle it with a single-hand. As TiPb points out Apple treats iPad as a two-handed device, iPhone as a one- or two-handed device.

It will be interesting to see if Apple decides to offer a bigger screen in future iPhones. We wouldn’t count on a 4-inch screen, though a 3.7-inch screen is probably possible with an edge-to-edge screen even if you take usability into consideration, which will occupy nearly the entire front of the phone as seen in one of the mockups below.

[David Curtis via TiPb]

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  • Dave Hughes

    Makes sense to me.

    • Zolk

      It makes sense, until you try it and see that the argument is not true. (See small handed folks’ statements below about being able to reach..)

      Well, maybe they’re lying too – it makes sense, but that doesn’t in itself bear out whether it’s true or not.

      • ctrev08

        True dat i got the lgthrill and it was a 4 .1 or 2 and i have no problem and would not want it any other way.

  • Wow, the Galaxy phone is HUGE. (I kind of like it)

  • Kris

    You do realize this is a retarded argument. I have normal hands and my thumb can articulate over the entire screen. I have Sprint’s version of the S2.

    • I agree that this sounds bogus. I wouldn’t say I have large hands except that I’m a large guy. And I can easily encircle my 4. Secondly, making the screen larger doesn’t necessarily reduce the resolution. Change BOTH.

    • Bandrax

      I agree its retarded argument. How about while watching movie or reading ??? I do have my second hand to reach that other 20% of the screen.


      • Duh

        Yeah you are reading and watching movies walking down the street. Do you assholes even read the article?

  • FredMC

    THank you for this. I don’t know why the hell people want bigger screen phones, the iPhone nailed it which is typical of Apple – usability over specs.

    • I, personally would like a larger screen from apple because for the fact I have large hands, and after texting and holding my phone with one hand well it becomes a bit of a chore and I get cramps in my hand haha. Complaining over nonsense, I realize this, but this is just me personally.

      • mohgui

        not everyone has large hands. probably Apple decided to stick with the 3.5″ screen based on the 80/20 rule.

  • dave

    i agree 3.5 screen is better.The mockups screen is nice how it dose not make the phone its self bigger.

  • Steve Jobs

    Good gravy how small are your hands? are u a todler?

    • JB

      ahahahhaha +1

  • Hooman

    Wow isn’t it a load of crap? 4″ is big? c’mn you’re not serious? i have normal hands and I was playing with Nexus S and find it the perfect size. I played with a SGS 2 as well I could still reach every corner of the screen that is useful in an application. but I rather have a 4″, 4.3″-4.5″ is too big. but you’re not serious about justifying apple’s weaknesses. smartphones these days do a lot of stuffs when you’re on the way, they are not computers they are not tablets but we sure use them for lots of thing don’t you thing a little bigger screen makes doing all of those stuff easier?

    • If you take the time to learn how to speak proper English, maybe people would take you a bit more serious. Just saying.

  • I like the size of the iPhone in my hand.. I agree that making bigger is not the answer.. then it wouldn’t fit in my hand.. 🙂

    • BTW: Ordered the 4S this Am around 060 CST to replace my 3G. The Apple site was exceptionally slow but the order went through. Couldn’t get logged back in till 1530 CST.

  • Grime

    Um, it would be a great argument if everyone had the same size hands, but I live in the real world. Most females hands on average are smaller than males. You have the Shaq’s, and the Danny Devito’s and everything in between. Weak argument period! I know plenty of people that are happy using a larger screen, big hands and small. It boils down to personal preference. After reading the article I felt as though using a 4 inch plus phone was like walking tight rope in category two hurricane, blindfolded with concrete boots. lol An exaggeration, my point exactly. All I’m saying is that I wish Apple would give the consumer a choice, like manufacturers of clothing, Tv’s, lawn mowers, tampons (wings or without lol) Its all about choice. Doesn’t Apple sell computer monitors with different screen sizes?
    Its not that important because after checking the website, I noticed that I’d be required to pay an extra $250 upgrade fee on top of the regular subsidized cost. For a marginal upgrade, its not up for debate I’ll be sticking with my Iphone 4 for awhile.

    • You are clearly a female…and man, it certainly shows in that response.

  • Brock


    Stop the complaining, if you want a bigger screen go to another phone. You all point out all the things you don’t like but you still buy the phone? There must be something you like even more then what you don’t like. Apple must be doing something right to sale millions of devices.

    • n1md4

      there is NO choice if you want to continue using your bought apps from the appstore! there is no choice if you want to use iOS. with an droid you have the choice using a small or big phone. but i hate droid. i really would love iOS on my SGS2! that would be awsome! wait… hey apple stop this patent trolling with samsung, go get them to make a 2nd iphone and let them pay licenses. so everyone could be happy and get money and a piece of cake. :O

  • I agree that this sounds bogus. I wouldn’t say I have large hands except that I’m a large guy. And I can easily encircle my 4.

    Secondly, making the screen larger doesn’t necessarily reduce the resolution. Change BOTH.

    • Grime


    • Pacomac

      No, as a developer an increase in pixel count is the last thing we want. Not only that it would render existing software useless until developers updated their software. For some developers they may never update their software so you as a customer have lost your money.

      I personally think that Apple should increase the screen size to 4 inch and keep the pixel count the same. It’s not as if you could see the difference anyway as the DPI would still be way above that of a desktop monitor. There is no point in a marginal pixel increase just for the sake of the retina display tag.

  • Scrooge

    Wow, worst read of the day…

  • Screenhogger

    You have got to be kidding me. Yeah, if you hold your phone in your palm your thumb reach will be limited. But from what I’ve noticed is many people hold their phone on their fingers, letting their palms flex and giving them more reach with their thumb. I know I do, and to me that’s a lot more functional to me as I can reach from side to side on my iPhone AND GS2. So this reason doesn’t hold much clout to finger-holders like myself.

  • Almost but not quite

    I think the writer has baby hands as my thumb overhangs my screen by A 1/2″ or more at the far corners and from the last knuckle mid screen. I am not a large guy at 5’11” a bigger screen would be a good update. All apps would not need to be rewritten & could display with black borders much like non hd content on a hd tv. This would still allow for better web use and more space for space between app icons & on the keyboard for others with gigantic hands like me.

  • mabbent

    Do you feel better now?

  • mabbent

    I’d like to know Dustin Curtis (or anyone else who has concurrent access to an iPhone 4 and a SGII) impressions about the readability between the two. Is the iPhone 4 with it’s higher resolution and pixel density or the SGII with a larger screen easier to read (web pages and books)?

    • Pacomac

      Good question, easy answer! The bigger screen wins every time, regardless of pixel density. I think Apple should have a 4 inch display using the same pixel count, then all existing software will remain compatible. I don’t feel the Galaxy 2 is any worse when I look at the pixels, the DPI is fine for my eyes.

  • ybt

    That makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve had no problems with the iPHone screen size.

  • Never had notice this before, it has sense for me, I am particularly comfortable with the actual design

  • Josh

    This is crazy. I actually tried the Galaxy sii asia version to see what all the hype was about. I kinda liked some of the features, but couldn’t stand that my thumb was not able to reach the whole screen. I always felt like I was about to drop it. I was talking to my friends who were complaining and told them my experience….and here it is in writing. Yes I have smaller hands, but not kid sized

  • ricengga

    if you want a bigger scene get an iPad the last thing apple needs is the iPhone looking like a big ass calculator

  • Tsk

    They couldve atleast made the phone’s screen size edge to edge. Would made it look nice and neat. Overall, i dont mind about the screen size. Siri, 8mp camera which is better probably better than any 8mp cam on a diff phone. Twice the speed of the ip4. What more can u ask when ip4 was a hit and here comes ip4s. People expected too much from all these
    Rumors. If you are fine with ur iphone 4 then nust upgrade to ios5 🙂 other smartphones by samsung and htc are nice and big nut doesnt have that smooth responsiveness of the iphone and useability is much easier on the ip4 without any complicated menu settings. All my opinion.

  • Tali

    I agree with the point of view of this article that the design of the 3.5 is just the right size for one handed use. Not everyone holds the phone the same way, but if you hold your phone in the typical “death grip” manner it can be difficult reaching for the furthest corners of the screen. I think an edge to edge screen would have been fine but I am happy to upgrade to the iPhone 4s. I have an iPad 2, that I use whenever I want the bigger screen for web surfing. I just wish more developers would get rid of the “back” button in APPs and would use swipe gestures to navigate to a previous page.

  • KR

    I think its the perfect size now. Physically bigger frame size would suck going in and out of pockets edge to edge screen OK.

  • sparky


    when will you use a phone with just one hand?
    … when you are driving?
    … when you are riding your horse, bike, jet ski?
    … when you are having lunch?
    … when you only have one hand?

  • JN

    Stop arguing. FACT: Apple did not release iPhone 5 because it’s already released by the copycat S2.

    • Screenhogger

      It’s hard to actually copy something that, you know, doesn’t exist yet… Just saying.

    • AAN

      That was a really hilarious comment (even if it was unintentional).

  • Wite Boy

    i use my Galaxy S2 all the time with one hand…

  • Tombo

    I am a 6′ 4″ male with large hands. Holding my ip4 with the death grip I can just reach the far corner of the screen with my thumb. Anything larger would be impossible to reach with one hand. There’s a reason why apple made the screen this size. It’s just right. Plus keeping the retina display in tact.

  • Great8

    iphone screen size is perfect. I dont want anything larger. I wont want to have to carry around a bigger phone in my pocket all the time. With a case the iphone is already big to have in a pocket.

  • Problem solved: I am doing free surgery at my house in Philadelphia to impalnt the inter-workings of the iPhone into your cerebral membrane, no more fuss over screen sizes and other trivial nonsense which you people argue over, contact me if you are interested. iPhone brain surgery implants from 7-3 Monday through thursday.

  • fas

    Wait till you compare it the Galaxy Note 🙂

  • AAN

    Well, I suppose 3.5 is the ideal size for a phone. Until Apple changes the size of course, then *that* will be the ideal size for a phone.

  • AAN

    Well, I suppose 3.5 is the ideal size for a phone. Until Apple changes the size of course, then THAT will be the ideal size for a phone.

  • RR

    Anything smaller than a 4.3 or 4.5 inch screen is gay and a waste of money. With content like movies and games now adays the larger screen is a must. Apple is retarded for making there phones with small ass screens and heavily underpowered hardware wise compared to the Android Phones.

  • Muaawiyah

    I had a HTC HD2 before getting my iPhone 4 and although I used to go on and on about how my screen was ‘bigger and better’ the reality was far from the truth (in my opinion). Just to get to the top of the screen you have to do some off key movement just to reach. Fitting into your pockets were always an issue on some clothes, and the ‘edge-to-edge’ screen was a massive fail for me as the flesh of my hand would always activate the capacitive screen. Typing text messages with one hand was slower as I had to travel greater distances and when your thumb reaches for the letters on the other side, you tend to cover a large area and thus press multiple buttons.
    I ran away from a 4.2″ screen to the beauty of a 3.5″ screen and have lived happily ever after.
    Apple is about usability, not about ‘catering to the geeky minority with an android inferiority complex’. Regardless of your own personal hand size, 3.5″ works best for the human average size. You can’t make a phone size for people with small hands or large hands, but you make it for the average.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • And another reason why I even think that having the same design for one more year was a good thing (even though we really wanted a new design) was so that we dont have to ‘re-buy’ all the accessories that we spent a lot of money on for the iPhone 4. No new car holder, hard case, dock (although not too much an issue with docks) etc. and accessory companies don’t have to re-design anything as that takes time. I remember when the iPad 2 came out…I could not find a good case for weeks.
      As Allaah says in the Qur’aan:
      “maybe you hate something that is better for you, and maybe you like something that is harmful to you…”
      Obviously that verse was not revealed specifically about the iPhone 4S, but its generic meaning fits. I was really disappointed in the same design, but after reflection, in realised that the only reason why I wanted a new design was to ‘wow’ my friends and to tick off fandroids. But the iPhone 4 design was spot on and will be hard to beat.

  • Long John Silver

    Well, I can reach across my iPad with my thumb.

  • nikos

    i used to be an apple hater. however i have to admit that a 4 inch screen is harder to use with one hand. i have an iphone now and i am very happy with the screen size..who cares about the big screen? you are not gonna watch movies or play fps games there..very inconvenient !!!

  • Kwopau

    The only reason why other android phone screen is huge is because most android phone uses the LTE chip, and compared to it’s size with the 3G chip, the LTE chip is big so that is why you see android phones bigger so that it evens out the design. Now if Apple in the future is going to use a LTE chip to support LTE, it will have to use that same big chip, so if Apple is going to do this in the future, it will have to have a bigger casing and a bigger screen to even it out.

  • Phil

    Target market might be mor a function of age (eyes, carrying habits) than hands size. I would have loved an iPhone with bigger home screen characters or a bigger search button in contacts (old eyes and fat fingers) but a bigger size by itself would cater to my needs only indirectly. On weekends the iPhone’s size is just about right to fit in my jeans pocket. One more thing: I just don’t see the market of those using a smartphone as their sole computing platform as a very major one. The iPhone’s size is ok for a phone and at last count it was a phone.

  • Xathura

    When someone decides to buy a phone,he will consider every properties of it’s…every phone got it’s fans,you have a small thumb and you can’t reach the other side of the screen? but you can enjoy watching movies or play games in a bigger screen instead,on the other hand iphone is twice as heavy and thicker than gsII but you can’t blame apple for making such heavy and thick phone cause it got it’s own advantages…