Why are our phones getting bigger?


Meme via Reddit

Obi Wan Kenobi demonstrating the iPhone 20 and Samsung S23.

In 2007, Steve Jobs presented the world with the first generation of iPhone. Almost everyone was shocked at its huge screen, compared to other types of phones at that time. Indeed, with a capacitive touch screen and its comparatively big size, the first generation of the iPhone was really an epochal product for the phone industry.

Following the iPhone’s step, Android phones began their renovation. Blackberry seemed to be the only one left who was making a keyboard phone—typical phone model for that era.

As time progressed to 2010, Samsung started to significantly improve its flagship phones: the size of the Galaxy S series was becoming bigger from then on.

In 2012, Apple released the iPhone 5 series. Compared to the previous generations, the biggest change to the iPhone 5 series was the dramatic stretch of the body. There was a famous meme for the distinct renovation between iPhone and Galaxy series: However, the customers welcomed the enlargement more than the elongation. Under the trend—Android phones are becoming larger in size—Apple decided to make phones with a bigger screen. Two years later, the iPhone 6 series was presented to the public. Finally, the iPhone was becoming larger as well.

Then, here comes the question: why did the phones get larger in size?
First, the size of the early iPhone series, 3.5 inches, was far smaller than the normal size of a palm. Therefore, a bigger screen meant higher sales. After all, a bigger screen meant a more pleasant visual experience, clearer pictures, one more message displayed on the screen, and more precise typing. Thus, when the touch-screen-phone was at its early stage, a big screen was the absolute advantage; just like a person never wants to enjoy a type of food again, when he or she tasted a better quality of the same type of food.

Second, the bigger the size, the easier to make. Every space inside the phone is precious, and the phone designers have to make sure every space is explored with full potential. Since the evolution of the smartphone, wares inside the phone rarely get smaller. Although the concentration density of different functionality for each ware increases, there is always a limit for engineers to pack any more stuff into it. As a result, the performance and functionality of each ware would improve, just by enlarging the size and space.

So, the phone engineers are definitely willing to enlarge the phone size as it is a win-win scenario: not only increases the sale but also takes them less time trying to figure out how to pack maximum components into limited space.

However, there is a maximum palm-size limit on the phone size: when the size of the screen is progressed to 5.5 inches, a watershed is formed: 5.5-inch-phone has the best sales, the sales for 5.7-inch-phone falls, and hardly anyone buys phones that are in size bigger than 6 inches. It was at this point, the seemly ever-increasing trend of unlimited growth in phone size finally reached its bottleneck.

Furthermore, the current sense that the phone size is getting larger is actually an illusion. As the phone size reaches its limit, phone producers have to explore the potential of the screen itself. In 2017, the year when the full-screen-phone went viral, most of the length to width proportion of the screen elongated from 16:9 to 18:9. Therefore, the larger area of the screen that is used for display gives the user a false sense of the phone size continuing to enlarge.

So, why do we care about the illusion of an increasing pattern in phone size? In the future, it is less possible that we will see a dramatic change in the appearance of phones. Rather, the major focuses of innovation of the phone companies will be on user interfaces, like the new IOS 14 Apple released recently, and the performances of the components inside the phone.