Since Android’s introduction in the smartphone market, Google touted “choice” as Android’s big advantage over other mobile platforms. Choice of carriers, choice of manufacturers and choice of handsets.
It did work out pretty well for them, looking at their market share right now, but you’ve got to wonder: Why have Android phones in the past one or two years grown so big? Why aren’t there a lot of options when it comes to smaller screen sizes, when small screen sizes are, in fact, easier to operate with one hand?
Jin Kim over at Display Blog has an interesting theory, which puts the blame on the way Android renders text and graphics:
Android OEMs and Google responded to the 3.5-inch 960×640 Retina display by improving the pixel format to 1280×720. But because Android renders text and graphics like desktop OSes (e.g. Windows, OS X) increasing resolution above 320 ppi means smaller UI elements. The display had to grow in size to compensate for shrinking UI elements. iOS renders the Retina display not by shrinking UI elements by one fourth but by doubling clarity and sharpness. Unless Google adds an additional “DPI level” beyond XHDPI, Android smartphones that match or beat the iPhone 4/4S in resolution will always be bigger, much bigger.
To understand what Kim talks about, try changing the resolution of your Windows PC or Mac. The size of UI Elements on your screen would increase or decrease depending on whether the resolution of your PC decreased or increased. Now compare that with an iPhone, where the size of UI Elements remain the same, irrespective of the device’s resolution.
Android follows the PC approach of rendering text and graphics, which means that as display resolution grows, screen sizes follow. If manufacturers were to keep screen sizes at around 3.7 inches and support high resolutions, the text and graphics would become “microscopic,” as Kim puts it, making them very difficult to be tapped.
John Gruber proposes an alternate theory, which doesn’t necessarily dismiss Kim’s theory:
Android smartphones have grown enormously in order to accommodate LTE. Currently-available LTE chipsets are physically bigger (AnandTech made the case months ago that none of them would fit in the iPhone 4/4S case design), and because they’re so power-hungry, they require bigger batteries. Thicker phones aren’t going to fly. Thus: wider and taller phones with displays expanding to fill the surface.
“The first generation of LTE chip-sets force a lot of design compromises with the handset, and some of those we are just not willing to make”
Notice that Cook brought up “design compromises” and not battery life issues, which adds a lot of credence to Gruber’s theory.
Gruber backs up his theory by taking the example of Nokia’s Lumia series of phones. The Lumia 800, Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone product came with a 3.7 inch screen, while its U.S. LTE counterpart, the Lumia 900, has a 4.3 inch screen.