Ex Post Facto Rationalizations and the iPhone

The iPhone 4S looks like a fantastic device: An incredible GPU coupled with a powerful dual-core processor, high density screen, and the surprisingly robust functionality of Siri comes together to deliver a very slick device. Apple will sell them in the tens of millions

Since it’s unveiling, however, quite a few have questioned why Apply didn’t bump up the screen size. Some of the popular competitive devices have larger screens (while others have smaller screens, but such goes a market where people choose devices ideal for them), so many expected Apple to respond in kind and grow the device from the size it adopted back when 3.5″ was actually a pretty huge display.

They didn’t. For whatever reason they stuck with 3.5″(*). Some declared it a weakness.

Most, though, started building justifications for why a 3.5″ screen is not just good — which it most certainly is for a large class of users — but rather that it is, in fact, superior to other options for all uses for all users.

Larger screens are undesirable, they say, because they project a need to compensate for something (taking a breather from its traditional utility in making jealous people feel better about people having nicer stuff), they’re like the tail fins on 1950s cars, or they’re too large for the single use case of walking in a parking lot while using your device with one hand.

The last one astounded me not for its irrational position but rather that it actually gained traction across the net: I’ve seen it linked and held as if it were a scientific truth on countless sites.

Ignoring some technical flaws in the presentation, it opined that because the smaller iPhone is arguably more usable for one-handed on-the-go usage, at least in the pre-voice recognition era, that validates the design as a superior choice.

But what about every other usage model? 99% of the time that I use my device I flip it to landscape mode and type with both hands, enjoying a large, clear, sharable-if-I-want display that doubles as a navigation device. Don’t those uses count Isn’t it just as brilliant and considerate for makers to satisfy those needs as well?

A modern smartphone has a lot of uses. You choose the size of device based upon how you use your device, not because someone is desperately trying to rationalize the heavenly design of one single option.

* – the iPhone features a 1.5:1 aspect ratio versus the 1.66:1 screen on most competitor devices. This is how the Galaxy S II, with 7.8 square inches of screen space (38% more than an iPhone 4’s 5.65 square inch screen) is just 12% wider than an iPhone 4. What this means in practice is that maintaining that aspect ratio while growing the screen leads to a quickly chubbifying device. To grow the iPhone screen to 4.3″ would increase the device width, assuming a similar bezel, to 15% larger than a Galaxy S II (or about 75mm wide). I would guess that Apple would rather gain resolution independence in their API before growing the device, with which they can start to vary the aspect ratios.