Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
3.5 Inches (dcurt.is)
302 points by corywatilo on Oct 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments

The reason the iPhone 4's screen is 3.5 inches is because the iPhone 3GS was 3.5 inches is because the iPhone 3G was 3.5 inches is because the original iPhone was 3.5 inches.

A consistent platform is a huge deal. The whole point of the iPhone is that it's touch friendly. Part of the iOS user interface guidelines is making sure touch areas are the size of a finger tip. This is heavily emphasized.

If there were different sized iPhone screens with incompatible aspect ratios this guideline would be meaningless. An app that has finger sized touch zones on a 4.3 inch widescreen phone would not on a 3.5 inch standard screen phone.

Apple's designers know this. It's on purpose. And Apple's designers decide what its devices look like. That's why the iPhone 4 has a 3.5 inch screen.

If you want to wonder why the original iPhone had a 3.5 screen, you've got to go back to 2007 when everyone else was still trying to copy the Blackberry. A 3.5 inch screen at that time was already unprecedented.

I don't doubt Apple prototypes iPhones with different screen sizes and there is pressure to upgrade. But the fact Apple has not just shows how reluctant it is to break with consistency. If Apple moves to a new screen size, I think it will have to be larger for backward compatibility with old apps. I highly doubt it will go smaller, ever. All old apps would suck on a smaller screen, and Apple doesn't deliver sucky user experiences. And if it does go larger, it will be a big deal. I wouldn't expect a new screen size for a long time after that.

They've also locked themselves into a resolution, in some sense. IPhone apps, unlike Android apps, are built using absolute coordinates. Developers can make assumptions about the width and height of the screen. And widths and heights are described, believe it or not, with floats, not ints. They've been able to maintain compatibility between devices because they've doubled the resolution every time they wanted to increase it. This has in some sense made life easier for developers, while it's allowed Apple to not build the UI abstractions that Android had to. It seems fundamentally unsustainable though, surely they can't keep doubling forever?

I have yet to se a UI system that is resolution independent (not even mentioning aspect ratio independent), that doesnt look like crap.

Notice for example how the buttons in Android seem to have the wrong dimensions all the time, they sort of look chunky or stretched.

I think Apple made the right choice with solving this with resolution doubling.

Does this mean that you haven't seen a desktop OS UI that doesn't look like crap? All desktop operating systems have to deal with different resolutions as they have to support different monitors. Even laptops generally have a video output for a second, unknown-sized monitor.

Desktop UIs are generally not resolution independent, they just have resizable windows. The UI component sizes stays the same.

Ah, I see what you mean. Yes, fair call - you see this a lot in games, where the interface is based off static images - as you increase the resolution for better main view experience, the UI shrinks along with it, and it's tough if you like a high res main view but want larger control surfaces.

That being said, I have seen some games with nice UIs that scale appropriately with resolution, that is, changing resolution doesn't change the screen size of the controls. I can't for the life of me think of any at the moment - they're not that common, but they do exist.

OSX is not resolution independent, the UI shrinks when the resolution increases. This is not the case for Windows 7 (and older versions) though, dont know about Linux.

True, but it's the absolute size (in pixels) that matters on the desktop because the mouse (a pixel precise) pointing device is used. This becomes a problem on touch based devices with limited screen real estate where balancing info density and usability is crucial.

  A 3.5 inch screen at that time was already unprecedented.
Supposing that is true: so was a 3.6" screen. Your story does not explain why the 3.5" was initially chosen instead of 3.6".

It's not productive when a commenter completely ignores an argument and instead proposes his own theory, without considering that the arguments need not be mutually exclusive.

Retina was Apple's "screen size upgrade" for the forseeable future. The devices like the Sensation and SGS II have screen resolutions of 800x480; 480x320 just wasn't going to look good next to them. Apple's stuck at 3.5" like you mentioned, so to compete with the new high-resolution (and larger screen, as a result) devices, they doubled the iPhone 4's resolution, which is a pretty decent compromise. One of the benefits of increasing resolution without increasing the display size is that your DPI skyrockets, and they jumped on that and marketed the crap out of it. The display looks "better", even if it's not larger. I would be genuinely surprised if Apple released an iPhone variant at >3.5". They might release an iPod Touch around ~3.75", but that's as high as they can really go before the 3:2 aspect ratio starts to make the device width prohibitive.

In order to maintain "Retina" display, they'd need to keep their 300 pixels per square inch or more density. That also doesn't leave them a whole lot of room to bump up the screen size without bumping up the resolution again. They've got some small room to play with in terms of the screen bezel though, so we could see a screen size bump without a resolution bump that still offered both the 300 ppi and the ability to touch all of the screen with one hand. (Think about some of the "iPhone 5" leaked images). Time will tell.

They can maintain that "retina" claim as long as the marketing department gets away with it. I think they can easily get away with that down to 200 pixels per inch or so (anecdata: I am myopic, but cannot really see the individual pixels on an iPad 1 Or current iPod touch)

I guess that the extra wiring needed for retina resolution means that you need more backlight to get the same display brightness. If so, one way to market a slightly larger display with say 250 pixels per inch would be by stressing it as having better battery life ('easier to see for the elderly' would work, too, but such a line does not fit Apple's image well)

Your prediction that Apple will not switch to a smaller screen size is illuminating...

The problem as I see it is that for marketing pressure they could switch to 4 inches displays, and the issue showed by the original poster is a bad one for smart users interacting with their device with just one hand (this is at least how I use it and how I see all my friends interacting with it).

Actually the iPhone software keyboard appears to be designed for a good one hand interaction since it works incredibly well even when you think you are putting your thumb in a too wide and imprecise area but actually you end pressing exactly the intended letter.

If there was a reason for the original display to be 3.5" is likely exactly that: the largest screen that is possible to get while preserving one hand interaction and reasonable size for holding it in your pocket.

"A 3.5 inch screen at that time was already unprecedented."

3.5 inch screens were a standard size for PDA screens.

Yup. Today's smartphones (and even tablets) are pretty much rebadged PDAs. The only advances have been a stylus-less UI, a vastly improved image (PDAs are for stodgy business men), and realizing that a package manager is a really good idea.

"The only advances have been a stylus-less UI,"

That's like saying 'the only difference between driving a car and riding a horse is that you feed the horse hay'. Not having a stylus makes a world of difference, both in how easy it is to use (using a stylus sucks donkey balls, and I did it for 10 years (using a stylus, not sucking donkey balls)) and what you can do with it (e.g. swiping is, in practice, impossible with a stylus)

And the switch to non-stylus screens required vastly different screen tech, so it's not like Palm in the 1990's just made an unfortunate choice and they could've switched at any time.


I lost my PDA stylus years ago. Adjusted the setting slightly and my finger worked fine. Palm did not need any radical new tech to hypothetically make touch.

Apple did need a different tech (transparent capacitive touch) for multitouch. But stylus-less finger friendly touch screen interfaces were around for 20 years before the iPhone.

The multiple finger manipulation was innovative and an improvement. (Though the Synaptics touchpad driver permitted basic multi touch years earlier.) Finger-based UI was not innovative and has a long history before Apple.

I don't know about you, but before the iPhone, I hated touch screens. Before the iPhone, most people have only been exposed to touch via shitty kiosks, credit card readers and ATM machines.

I remember the skepticism around Jan 2007 when the iPhone was announced. They said, "Pure touch? No way. Won't work. You need to have a keyboard." I was one them! Even I said, "yeah, the UI is pretty, but the touch screen probably sucks." However, once I played around with my first iPhone, I bought one the next day based purely on the amazing performance of the touch keyboard.

Pure touch phones already existed in 2007 before the iPhone, but they sucked donkey balls. In fact, many of them still do. To downplay the iPhone's touch UI is disingenuous. To this day, the iPhone still has the best touch response on the market. Followed by WP7, WebOS, Android and lastly BB OS in that order. I own an iPhone, WP7 and a Nexus One and use them everyday. Typing on Android is like eating fried chicken with a chopstick.

Well I'm not sure what kind of PDA you were using then, but all the Palm, Handspring and various Linux ones (can't remember what they were called) that I used worked only with a finger when you used your nail, and even then there was no telling what exact 'touch point' the screen/OS was going to use.

It's much like today's TomTom devices. They are advertised as being 'touchscreen', and the UI is designed as such (with big buttons etc) but they're still a bitch to operate. I mistype at least 20% of my interactions with it, and like I mentioned I have a decade of experience with working around finicky touchscreen technology (as much as I hate to admit).

I'm not saying you or anyone else wasn't able to operate a previous-generation touch screen with their finger, but the experience simply wasn't good enough to make it mainstream. For example an on-screen keyboard is/was out of the question on a Palm.

I think you missed the point.

Hold an iPhone in your right hand with your fingers wrapped securely around the device. Now type Q with your thumb. It's perfectly comfortable for me. But if I try to reach literally any further, I can start feeling a tightness in the tendons of my thumb to stretch further.

It really is the perfect size for me, and I'm a 6'0" lumberjack of a human. Any bigger and it would be less comfortable to use.

his post is pretty deceiving, plus i'm pretty sure he just has small thumbs


The diagrams drawn are highly misleading - my thumb goes well over the edge of a 3.7" device, and afaik I have pretty normal sized thumbs. The diagram there shows the thumb ending on a 3.5" device.

I may even buy the 4.2" is too large argument since devices do get a bit unwieldy, but why not anything between 3.5" & 4"? I own a Nexus One (3.7") and I think its a perfect size - I can usually reach my thumb across with minimal effort on a 4" screen as well.

tl:dr; Claims about perfect size of phone, without any data, except images of phones superimposed with one random sample of thumb size.

They aren't accurate, either; the SGS is shown as relatively larger than it actually is (not much, but when making comparisons like this, percentage points matter), and the SGS's "thumb circle" is smaller!

I guess the moral of the story is that if you have 2-inch range of motion with your thumb, you shouldn't get anything larger than an iPhone and probably can't draw consistent diagrams.

Nice catch - not only is the thumb-circle several pixels thinner, it's also clearly shorter top-to-bottom. Good old selection bias at work!

There is no perfect size any more than there is a perfect sized glove, shirt, chair, etc. We programmers have gotten away with ignoring anthropometric variation till now.

Agreed, I have large hands I typically wear xl gloves, and I wish the iphone was larger. Some people may not have large hands but long fingers, there are many variations.

I drew the diagrams from my perspective, holding the phone in my palm, and extending my thumb over the screen. I don't think I have particularly large or small hands. If you hold the phone further out in your fingers, you can extend your thumb farther, but the phone is less stable in your hand. The instability is where the "annoyance" comes from, when I'm using the Galaxy S II.

Do you have elf hands? I've got pretty small hands (I wear a small or medium in men's gloves depending on the brand), and with the iPhone tucked into my thumb as close as reasonably possible, I can reach every pixel on the screen, and I can reach past in spots. If I hold the phone so that it's most comfortable (and most secure feeling), I can reach way past the edge and slightly past the far corners.

Possibly more interesting is where you've put the centre of the arc, half way up the left hand side. As I hold mine, the centre would be over the bottom right corner of the screen, and at "maximum extension" my thumb is just over the top left corner. (I've got "Nash equilibrium" in the back of my head writing this... if I couldn't reach the whole screen, I'd probably change the way I hold my phone.)

I have pretty small hands, but I can hold my 4.2" Xperia Arc phone in a stable way and reach the opposite corner with my thumb.

If you say his diagrams are 'highly misleading', then you should also realize that your counterclaim is equally 'highly misleading' and that it doesn't actually add anything to our understanding of the situation.

He does not claim 'this size was chosen because my thumb is this large'. The blog post suggests: this size is chosen so the device can be used optimally by most of the population and he demonstrates the argument with his own thumb, without claiming it is therefore true.

Now you may very well be unconvinced by the argument and point out that you wonder whether there is any data available to test the suggestion and that it may be coincidental otherwise. However, that does not warrant the statement 'the diagrams are highly misleading'. It warrants 'the diagram may be misleading'.

I would like it very much if HN commenters would appreciate such subtleties and argue "I'm not sure you're right, because ...", instead of "You're wrong, because ...". His argument makes perfect sense and deserves to be recognized as such.

I think his diagrams are misleading because, as far as I can make out, they are based on a particularly small hand size (perhaps a 9 year old child?). By rotating my thumb, and adjusting the angle I hold the device with my fingers, I reckon I can cope with approximately a 6" diagonal screen, and I don't have big hands. For example, I wear small-size male motorcycle gloves, and most of them are still slightly too long in the finger and glove; my girlfriend wears small size female gloves, and they are only slightly too snug for me. On the basis that glove manufacturers have an economic incentive to know the size distribution of their customers' hands, I think it's implausible to say that anything bigger than 3.5" is too big.

  and adjusting the angle I hold the device with my fingers
If you're going to do that, all is lost. One: having to move the entire device in your hand takes a lot of time. This is about fast access to every part of the screen. Two: chances of dropping the device increase very much. The question is: can you reach all parts of the screen with your thumb when you hold the device as you normally do. I most certainly can't.

I think a lot of folks here are not actually considering how they hold their devices and can easily operate them. I have found over and over again that I can't reach the upper corner of the other side and have been annoyed I had to shift the device around in my hand to reach it (for instance while eating an apple with the other hand). I've dropped it once that way. I'm not small, I'm not clumsy. I don't have arthritis or any lack of agility in my hand. Of course I can reach the whole screen with my thumb, if I change the way I hold the device. The point is that you don't want that. The article makes perfect sense to me and completely stacks up with my experience of using my iPhone.

I can reach all the way around the far edge of the device, holding it as I normally do. Perhaps what you are missing is the way I hold my device.

I hold my device resting on my fingers, not gripped in my hand. The first knuckle joint (i.e. the one closest to the fingernail) of my index and pinky fingers are aligned with the center line of the back of the device; the device is balanced on top of my fingers. This gives me the biggest range of movement over the surface of the device, and more importantly gives me better fine control over what my thumb hits - not only is thumb movement a factor, but fine finger movement as well. Adjusting the angle of holding the phone doesn't mean "shifting the device around in my hand" - it merely means changing the angle of my fingers.

I think a bigger factor in how the iPhone is better designed than most other phones is how touchscreen sensitivity drops off around the edges (if this behaviour is indeed deliberate). Before I moved to Android, I used to hold my device gripped between my fingertips and the center of my palm, but I found this didn't work as well with the Nexus One, because the sensitive edge of the touchscreen meant that the little fold of skin from my palm was creating phantom touches on the screen edge. So I stopped gripping my devices; I now hold them all resting on my fingers when I'm using the touchscreen.

"The diagrams drawn are highly misleading - my thumb goes well over the edge of a 3.7" device, and afaik I have pretty normal sized thumbs."

For a man? For a woman? For an American? For an Asian?

Ever considered those differences?

I was refuting his anecdotal claim with mine - I meant this to illustrate the futility of using anecdotal evidence, but the words didn't convey the sentiment as well as I intended.

I fully understand there is most likely some of normal distribution of sizes, but that's a fact that the author seems to have largely ignored as well.

On an unrelated note, the site seems to be down.

Here is some data to help someone answer such questions: http://dined.io.tudelft.nl/en,dined2003,102. It shows that, for Dutchmen, the difference in _average_ hand length between males and females is about 2cm. Looking at the standard deviation and across ages, one gets (at one sd) a variation between long male and short female hands of (I guesstimate) about 5cm. Thumb reach distance will be, say, about half that. I would guess elderly users not only have shorter hands, but also have less dexterity, and of course there are plenty of people outside of the +/- one stadard deviation range (37%, IIRC), so it would not surprise me at all to see difference in 'reach' of over an inch, even in small grouos of users.

And to add to this: it may be acceptable for Apple that 10% of people can't use the device optimally, but it certainly won't be acceptable if 50% of people can't use the device optimally. So you have to err on the smaller side of caution.

My Sensation has a 4.3" screen and I have no issues navigating it. I had a Nexus One prior to that, and its 3.7" screen likewise felt fine.

I'd be willing to bet that the iPhone's original screen size was dictated more by battery concerns than the average mobile thumb length of tea drinkers in the midwest or whatever crazy metric people want to use. Bigger screens use exponentially more energy. Once that size was decided, Apple's basically stuck with it, since iPhone apps use absolute layouts and are designed for a 3:2 screen. You can't just scale the app to the new aspect ratio without stretching assets (squares become rectangles, circles become ellipses), and iPhone apps are designed against a specific aspect ratio.

Increasing a 3:2 screen to 4.3" would make the screen 2.4" wide; the iPhone's screen is currently 1.9" wide, and the Sensation/SGS II have 2.1" wide screens, by comparison. If you think the SGS is hard to use, a 3:2 screen of the same size would be downright intolerable.

Phone weight is fairly meaningless limitation in these size ranges, so battery size is mostly limited by form factor - internal components so a larger screen should give you better battery to surface area ratio and thus longer life.

Most of the arguments here are that "well my thumbs can reach far past the iPhone screen".

That's not what he's arguing. I can reach the pedals of my car with the seat all the way back, too, but I'll probably plow into someone as a result.

He's arguing that it's not comfortable to do so, and I agree. Stretching my thumb across the iPhone screen (top-left / top right) is as close to uncomfortable as I'd like to be. When my thumb is over there, the phone arches forward because of the position of my index finger, almost moving the phone out of my hand. Any larger of a screen and it'll go flying.

Whether or not Apple decided on the original screen size because of this, it was a good decision to not increase the size of the screen with the 4S.

This is the only response to the article that gets it. When I read the article, I immediately picked up my iPod touch and put my thumb into the top-right corner as far as I could stretch it while remaining comfortable. It rests right on the corner, covering it nearly perfectly. I can keep stretching it to the point where the last joint in my thumb meets the edge, but it feels terrible to do so. I'm sure this wasn't the only factor that went into the decision for the screen size, but I have to think it was an inflexible maximum boundary for it.

To add to this point, it's not comfortable for the majority of users. If you look at a normal distribution of users, they want to cover some sort of number and I'd wager that this screen size is hitting that number.

EDIT: Spelling. I don't know why I mentioned "normal" either.Apple simply wants to cover a majority of users.

Evidence? Citation? Or are you saying that on blind faith simply because it's Apple?

Because Apple generally tries to create products that appeal to a large percentage of the population, not "blind faith". It's an observation based on common sense.

I disagree, and I'm presenting as much evidence for it as you are (i.e. none). In which conference was Apple's finding published? Where can I download a PDF of the paper?

One thing I don't see pointed out much is how the iPhone is just about as wide as iPods with a docking connector (dating back to 2003 with the 3rd gen.)

Specifically, the original iPhone was 1.1 mm narrower than iPods, and iPhone 4 is 3.2 mm narrower.

I definitely think the iPhone is the size that it is because the iPod was also around the same size. It's entirely possible they were both part of an overarching plan in the transition from "Apple computer" to Apple, the shiny thingy consumer company. Some considerations for the form factor would have been similar for both - eg, able to be manipulated with one hand, fits in the pocket, consistency and compatibility with third-party ecosystem.

It only makes sense if every person on the planet all have the same size hands and the same length thumbs.

So you're suggesting the iPhone have a resizable screen?

No I'm saying not every person has the same size hands or thumbs.

I would suspect it has a lot to do with being early in the market segment.

Sorry but I disagree. I'm not sure how he holds his iPhone but I cradle it with my 4 fingers with my pinky supporting it from the bottom. This allows my thumb to extend well past the edge of the iPhone.

I think he's reading too much into the design. Larger isn't necessarily better. The iPhone 4's screen is good enough for me, I've never had any issues except for trying to read pdfs, which is one reason why I keep considering getting an iPad. But for everything else, I find the screen more than good enough and it's still small enough to fit in my pocket.

I own both an iPhone and an iPad and a Kindle. I'd tell you: for reading stuff, nothing beats the Kindle. PDFs though, not so much. You just can't comfortably put a letter page on a 7 inch screen.

That said, I would not buy an iPad again. I would by a Kindle instead. Just some food for thought regarding your PDF reading needs.

I can recommend the onyx boox m91s for reading pdfs, as long as it's books/papers and not magazines.


The author states that the iPhone screen is perfectly sized to allow your thumb to reach the opposite edge. You seem to be agreeing with him.

I think you got his argument backwards.

No, I'm saying that his argument is nonsensical. I can go well past the edges of the iPhone with my thumb, probably by another 33%. I'm sure most people can, my fingers are quite average length (much to the disappointment of my wife).

I could probably extend well past the edges of the Android phone, as well. So I don't think that "average thumb length" had anything to do with the size of the iPhone screen.

I've got pretty average-sized hands and finger reach (which I know from piano lessons). With an iPhone 4 firmly gripped in what I consider a natural way, my thumb can reach comfortably to the top-right corner of the iPhone display and very little further.

So, while I think the diagram is exaggerated, the writer does have a point. My guess is that the 3.5" screen works very well a very large percentage of adult hands (say 75%) and acceptably for, say, 95%. I think a 4" display would probably pull things out of the bell curve. I suspect given that Apple probably made a LOT of prototypes that the iPhone's screen size was determined empirically.

To me, the iPhone4 feels almost exactly right in terms of width (I think it could be up to half as thick without feeling flimsy).

That's a fair observation, but you must admit it takes more effort to tap with a thumb fully extended like that. Especially taking precision into account, since you end up tapping with the flat part.

Post-facto rationalization: everything's so perfect!

Or, perhaps, they thought about it beforehand? Do you know that Apple did not, in fact, consider something like this when deciding on screen size?

I have no doubt that they did. Attention to detail is the game.

He tried two devices and liked one more than the other. That's not rationalization; it's just reality.

And then he says that the one he prefers is the one objectively correct way, which is silly. Personally, I find the minor inconvenience on the rare occasions I have to hit a corner of the 4" Nexus S one-handed is far outweighed by the increased reading comfort of the larger screen.

Post facto? You reeeeally believe Apple hadn't build tons of prototypes in various sizes PRE FACTO (sic), and made extensive research in what is more comfortable for the largest majority of people?

Stating that this "seems like something Apple would consider" is a far cry from what this blog post does: take one data point's worth of design value from an existing design for one user, extrapolate that to be one of the lead drivers of said design for all users.

I'm all for giving Apple's designs as much credit as possible, but it's still a far cry from even that to "wow this thing about the design I just noticed that works for me must have been something they considered for the populace at large."

The author made a very astute point that I haven't seen mentioned online before (but one that immediately occurred to me when I heard people bitching about Apple not going to 4+ inch screens). His single data point illustrates a general problem: one handed operation for people with a wide-range of hand sizes.

Remember, Apple sells one basic body shape to its entire market. No single Android phone sells anything comparable to as many units as the iPhone. The body shape has to be usable for 95% of Apple's potential market, which includes everything from teenage girls to grown men. Apple undoubtedly thought about exactly the problem the author raised.

Is this a twist on the No True Scotsman?

Surely Apple would have done that on purpose!

I was guilty of that yesterday.

I was looking at notebooks and thinking I want a big screen but with the keyboard in the center. I want my hands write in front of me, but I don't want to look to one side. I 'know' apple do it that way. Then I found an HP that was almost like that but the F was more left than the J was right, which are the home keys, so I thought still no good. Then I looked at the Apple and it was the same the F was more left that J was right. So I decided it must be right to do that, because Apple know best.

I want my hands write in front of me

I like this typo, intentional or not!

Yes, it's a "No True Scotsman variation" that takes into account the fact that a particular company gives TONS of attention to detail, builds lots of internal prototypes, and values usability and good industrial design ("how it works") greatly.

The fact that you don't know if something specific happened does not mean that you cannot reason about the high possibility of it happening given the historical information you have available.

Given what we know about Apple, Ives et al, what exactly do you believe of the two:

1) Apple picked the dimensions at random or without thought 2) Apple studied to find the best compromise for the device's dimensions

... yes, actually, that sounds like they would think about.

"Median hand comfort" vs "maximum screen real estate" is probably something they at least toyed with.

Given your 3.5" measurement, a 7" screen for the iPad would have been much better, would it have not?

Apple's not shipping a bigger phone yet because it's something they can hold back on until they need to do it. The iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5XL iPhone 6... one of these will eventually do it so as to sell you something new.

Yup, I wonder what the author will say, if the next iPhone has larger screen.

His thumbs will magically grow and Apple will be hailed as genius for evolving to the perfect size to accommodate journalists newly larger digits.

As long as the larger screen wasn't a battery leech, I'm pretty sure nobody would complain "aw, my poor thumbs!"

Maybe that's why Apple is pushing for voice recognition with Siri.

I still think people like big screens on smartphones and thumbs be damned plus nobody seems to like voice recognition or Dragon Dictate would be on every PC.

People like voice recognition, but its uses are limited. I use voice search on my Android phone every time I get in the car to go somewhere that I need navigation to, or if I need a map. That's about it, though; having conversations with your phone makes you look rather special.

> "a 7" screen for the iPad would have been much better, would it have not?"

There's a reason iOS5 features a "splittable" keyboard that brings all keys within thumb reach of both edges of the screen.

Ok... that fixes the keyboard, not the entire reach, which is what OP is discussing.

If we want a device that would be comfortably operable two-handed you still wouldn't have a 7" tablet - the 7" tablet would still have a huge swathe of dead zones where no finger can reach.

You'd have basically two iPhone screens next to each other, portrait - that gives us 4.9" diagonal, maybe a smidge wider would still work, but nowhere close to 7".

That's the only way to guarantee a comfortable reach for all screen locations. A 7" tablet is still way too large if the goal is complete two-hand operability. That's not a design goal of a table though, in its normal use case.

In any case, I have no problems against the 7" tablet form factor, so I'm not sure what the issue is.

The Samsung Galaxy S II has sold more than ten million units these past few months, the screen size doesn't seem to bother anyone.

Apple gets a lot of things right, but come on, let's not imagine that every single thing they do is perfectly thought out.

3.5" I consider too small. Even for my little 12 year old sister I plan on buying a 3.7" Motorola Defy+ soon. I wouldn't get anything less than 4" for myself, and my next device is probably going to be a 4.3" one unless the Nexus Prime is just too awesome to pass up.

I have a defy. It has some poor points (though it is a cheaper smartphone anyway), but what sold me on it was that the screen size was 'big enough' while the form factor barely bigger than the screen. Easy to pocket, light, and tough.

Compare to the iphone 4, which while being a nicer phone, has huge great lumps off the top and bottom of the screen - which means less pocketability / ease of management - not to mention that most iPhone 4s are even larger (and less attractive) due to the plastic bumper.

The form factor is what sold me on the defy over the first-class range of android phones, despite it being a bit underpowered and having one or two other issues, some of which were due to Motorola bloatware that went away when CM7 went on.

I find that in portable devices, getting the right size for you is a much underrated question when people look to buy tech.

I'm getting a defy+ for exactly that reason (that and the fact that it might actually not break on me). I've got several friends with with Galaxy S phones and I simply find them to damn big. Uncomfortable to hold when making calls and uncomfortable to shove into my front jeans pocket. While I'm obviously not begrudging people the right to buy huge phones, I just hope someone will stay off that bandwagon and keep making reasonable sized phones. If I need a big screen I've got my 7" tablet.

Plus, it runs underwater. :D

Didn't get a Defy in the end, went for the still-cheaper ZTE Blade, but the new Defy+ is very tempting.

Rumor is that the Prime will have a 4.65 inch screen. Why stop there? The Galaxy Note is 5.3 inches.

Android handsets are becoming ridiculous. We spent all this time trying to make things small, but in an effort to differentiate themselves, manufacturers started making things huge again.

Most of the high end phones would not even fit comfortably in my jeans pockets.

The make things huge because it sells well.

There's definitively a large market segment for whom the iPhone form factor is too small. Myself included - it was one of the big things that stopped me from getting one; I just can't type on the thing at a reasonable speed.

My HTC Desire HD is more than small enough to fit in my pocket, and rests comfortably in my hand, and I love having a decent sized display and I can actually type on it at a tolerable speed. I could easily handle a device a bit bigger than that with one hand, I might just get one because it reduces the number of situations where the screen is "too small" for it to be nice to use.

Different strokes for different folks. I would like a bigger screen and I don't wear jeans. If you don't want a big screen, there will be plenty of Android phones with smaller screens.

That's one big advantage Android has over the iphone. Android can cater to different segments while the iphone is one-size-fits-all (literally and figuratively).

The iPhone 4S has a 3.5 diagonal screen, but a 5.1 inch diagonal frame.

Most Android phones are increasing the screen size while decreasing the bezel, but only the increased screen size gets quoted. The next generation using Ice-Cream Sandwich, such as the Prime you mention, can replace the capacitive keys at the bottom with on-screen buttons, just like Honeycomb tablets. The screen size alone doesn't tell you everything about the device size.

This site shows a comparison (note you can click in the top right corner to resize the pictures to actual size)


It's only slightly bigger, yet has nearly double the screen area.

You should really compare sizes by lining up edges.

They have not really decreased the bezel that much either. But area increases as a square so you get good returns.

http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_i9100_galaxy_s_ii-pictures-3... http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_evo_3d-pictures-3901.php http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_desire_hd-pictures-3468.php http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_galaxy_s_ii_hd_lte-4198.php

I'd handled the HTC Desire HD a fair bit (someone at work has one). The opposite end of increasing as a square is that small increases are bigger than they sound. It's a lot of phone there.

I am sure a lot of people are fine with it.

If they could make everything edge to edge, I'l be right there with with.

At least with Firefox you can drag the images and get a trasparent onion-skin image to move around and compare any edges you want. It's still not much bigger.

Maybe, just maybe, they factored in supply chains, costs and re-engineering effort and decided that it can happen later.

Sometimes you wonder why such speculative (not to mention defensive) articles get on the front page on HN. Aren't we supposed to be more rational and balanced?

> Aren't we supposed to be more rational and balanced?

Reddit has the same misconception. In reality, voting-based aggregators are at the whims of the user's personal feelings and preconceived beliefs, no matter the community guidelines.

HN has one nice benefit in that misleading titles can be changed, which I greatly appreciate.

Different strokes for different folks. Ive had an iPhone 4 and I have Galaxy S2 with 4.5 screen now. Both are manageable.

The one thing that android is missing out of course is the Appstore eco system, it has a long way to go to match software availability/quality of Apple appstore apps.

Camera in Samsung GS2 is probably best among android phones, but i dont think its a match for iPhone 4 and definitely not a match for iPhone 4S.

The app or the hardware?

Trying to guess why decisions are made, while an interesting exercise, is somewhat pointless. The author has decided, based on his own opinion, that the iPhone has a 3.5" screen because that is a size comfortable for many users. You can come up with equally possible reasons such as:

Apple wants to maintain a consistent environment for users, and a larger screen may cause problems for some apps. Apple was unable to secure a sufficient number of larger screens and chose to keep the current size due to availability. Alternative to the last possibility, Apple may have committed to buying a larger number of screens than they needed and do not want to take the financial hit of writing them off. A larger device may have required more testing time, pushing the release date past the holiday season. *etc.

Apple isn't likely to confirm or deny reasons they chose not to increase the screen size, so no matter how sure you are of your reasoning, it's still speculation.

It's weird that everyone here is assuming that the user is a man. Lot's of 13 y/o girls have iPhones. Heck, I just did an experiment with my girlfriend. She's got pretty long fingers for a girl, and the iPhone is just about the right size for her to reach most of the screen with her thumb without stretching.

This type of stories of a perfect size when small handed children use smartphones remind me of dogma created in the name of religion, which were easily falsified by science.

What on earth are you talking about? If you were designing a phone for the mass market, wouldn't you consider one-handed operability?

Apparently, this is why Apple makes so much money. Because some people design phones without considering that 13 y/o girls texting and posting on Facebook are a core demographic.

The (somewhat clumsy) point alperakgun was trying to make is that there's no such thing as one-size-fits-all, and it would be somewhat silly to only release a phone in a single size if your goal is to let everyone comfortably operate their phone with one hand. There's too much variation in hand sizes to properly achieve that goal. For some it will be too small, for others too large, and for some just right.

I took his point to be that the hand-size explanation is something made up after the fact to justify the iPhone's 3.5 inch screen. I don't think that's a sensible critique. Apple undoubtedly considered the hand-size issue when choosing the iPhone's screen size.

Clearly Apple's only goal wasn't to release a phone that everyone could comfortably operate. But consideration of hand sizes was undoubtedly a spec, to be balanced against other specs. The engineers probably got some ultimatum along the lines of: "we're only going to have one basic model, to maximize our margin, so figure out the screen size that hits the greatest number of target customers."

The iPhone is a reasonable size for people ranging from teenage girls to guys with pretty large hands. Probably too big for people with child-like hands, and too small for the big guys with massive paws, but very likely hits 90% of the potential market. I don't think the 4.3" Android phones hit the same sweet spot. My girlfriend probably couldn't operate one comfortably with one hand. That's okay for Samsung, which has a segmented product line, but not for Apple.

I don't buy that it's automatically inferior if you can't operate it with one hand. Larger carries trade-offs, smaller carries different trade-offs, and those trade-offs are different for everyone. You can't hit 90% with one size. I'd buy that you can make 90% happy, but not if the people you're marketing to have used decent smartphones in the form factor that hits the "sweet spot" for them.

In addition the arguments attributed to apple are usually void, and usually vain rumors, (see bunches of contradictory iphone5 rumors), they read like early people talking things like, of course god wanted 7 planets, because it is perfect. average palm size in some asian countries are small and 3.5 inches are already unusable to them. Samsung has in this case even a better strategy, because they offer variations for diversity of sex, age and ethnicities rather than making totalitarian assumptions :-)

i believe apple will release larger screens at some point and all this apple-mind readings will be forgotten even by their writers. And those people will search miracles elsewise.

The real question is why you're dating a 13 y/o girl.</joke>

Ironically, this is something that is really bad about the iPad, while 7 inch Android tablets are much better. I recently wrote something about this, should you care: http://micheljansen.org/blog/entry/1111

FWIW, Apple has added a movable split keyboard to the iPad in iOS 5.

Oh the other hand. I can touch type at a pretty good clip on the iPad keyboard in landscape mode something I've never been able to do on a netbook or a 7" tablet.

For what it is worth, iOS 5 helps with thumb typing on the iPad.

My actually quite small hand, compared to a Logitech G7 and the SGSII. I'm guessing.. the guy made a guess compared to his iPhone4, without really using a SGS2, only seeing some.

Before getting it, I too though it might be too big. But nope. Using it since 6 month. As long as the body is thin like the SGS2 its perfect. There's only a small region at the top right I can't reach and which I don't need to. Also note that his graphic is wrong, as the SGSII is much higher, but not much wider than the iPhone (and thats probably why it works so well despite the size)

'nuff said, here's the pic:


I don't think you read the article fully. The author has a SGS2 and while using it he realised that it was not as comfortable to reach the edges and corners as it was on an iPhone.

Sadly, I've got below average sized hands. I can't even reach all the way across my Palm Pre. Even holding a iphone is just a touch uncomfortable. One of the things that's kept me off the device. You can't please everyone.

When using their thumb to press, how often are right handed people using their right hand versus their left hand to hold the phone?

I'm right handed and almost always am using my right hand, but the image in the article looks like the left hand is the common case.

Anyway, if the right hand is the common case then the Galaxy is actually the ergonomically superior format because you have to ask yourself, what is most commonly in the furthest position that you would be pressing with your thumb? The back button. Yet on the Galaxy, with it's dedicated button, it's well within reach.

This is probably also based on user study data. I actually took part in a user study where we had to play with about 10 different phone and tablet sized lucite rectangles. They all had numbered grids and you had to hold it different ways and say how far up/down/over you could reach.

You also had to note your thoughts on holding, storing in pockets, etc.

Afterwards we had an open discussion period and most people seemed to agree that the iphone size was close to best, but that perhaps the screen should take up more of the real-estate, like how it does on the droid.

Very presumptuous that your fingers are the size of everyone elses that uses the iPhone.

The average length of an adult male hand is 189 mm, while the average length of an adult female hand is 172 mm. The Females had at AVERAGE is 17mm smaller than their male counterpart.

With this in mind and simple mathematics, your theory is completely wrong.

Looks like the site is down. HN effect?

I could easily mean that Apple actually did some research to find out what the average user felt was a confortable horizontal stretch of their thumbs when using a touch based phone with one hand.

Even if that was not the case, companies making phone's these days are forgetting that regardless of the myriad of features that smart phones might have these days, they're still mobile phones... and not small tablets. Mobile phone's should be confortable to use and confortable to keep in your jeans pocket in my opinion.

I must have freakishly large hands, because my thumb has no problem covering any part of the screen on my Galaxy S II. My vote is with @ansy about keeping aspect ratios the same.

I have a 4.3 inch windows phone, have slightly below average hands and can reach all the way across just fine. Maybe the OP has really small hands.

i dunno, very skeptical about the conclusion here. w/ the nexus prime (purportedly) at 4.65", that seems pretty ideal -- decently big enough to read a pdf, but still small enough for portability (pocket transport, unlike a tablet needing to be tossed into a backpack/bag of some sort). nice merging/compromise of smartphone & tablet (which i suppose is the point w/ this new ics os).

Comfortable thumb reach? I don't think so.

If anything, I'd say it was chosen because the size 'feels' about right.

For me the SGS II is way too big; it doesn't fit in my pockets comfortably and it feels awkward when holding it to my ear.

There's a balance - bigger is better in terms of a touch interface but smaller is better in terms of convenience. Somewhere around 3.5" seems about the best compromise for a smartphone.

For me at least.

I have both, but I very often end up holding SGSII on left Hand and use right hand for navigation and keyboard input

The ability to reach the whole screen with my thumb, while still having a high resolution was one of the main reasons i bought my Motorola Defy. It has a 3.7" screen with 858x480 resolution. The other main reason was that a waterproof phone is a good idea when you have a two-year old toddler.

Am I the only person who holds their phone such that the base of their thumb is over the bottom corner of their phone and with the end of the thumb hovering over the middle of the screen?

In this diagram the base of thumb seems to be halfway up one side of the phone which seems restrictive to me.

Somewhat amusingly the site is down and we’re left to guess what exactly is 3.5 inches in length ...?

Not to mention the minutes spent marveling after reading comments that say the article claims 3.5 inches is the perfect length

I had assumed it was some nostalgia about floppy disks. Turns out this guy just holds his phone wrong.

Reminds me of why a 27" screen is perfect, but a 30" screen is too big. Sure, 3" may not sound like a big difference, but when 27" is already the absolute max, any more is a waste of space and provides negative return (e.g., parallax issues). Bigger is not always better.

Yeah, like everyone on the planet has the exact same hand size and thumb length of the author.

In my opinion, a phone needs to be extremely portable and easy to use with a single hand. I'm a tall man and the thumbs on my large hands have no trouble reaching anywhere in a 3.5" screen. I'm also rather athletic in build, so a device the size and weight of an iphone is just within the bounds of what I consider acceptable to carry all day in a front trouser pocket. I've experimented with phones that came in other sizes. The smaller ones sacrificed too much screen real estate, the larger ones were a bit unwieldy to touch / carry.

This is only my opinion and YMMV, of course. But for me at least, it's so wonderful that there are products out there that take ergonomics into account instead of just dashing for the biggest possible spec.

When starting to read the article, the first thing I noticed was the "iPhone 4′s".

For some reason I really react annoyed at people using an accent instead of an apostrophe (4′s vs 4's).

I'm not sure why, but this always gets me

To add a little nitpicking to your nitpicking, it should've been a right single quotation mark (’, U+2017). In fact it's not an accent (´, U+00B4), but a prime (′, U+2032).

Since none of these characters can be easily produced on a standard US keyboard, I suspect that the blame belongs not on the author but on his publishing system that thought he meant "4 feet" (or perhaps "4 arcminutes").

It ain't all about hand size. My beat-up 3G definitely spends more time in my left front pocket than in my hand, so that's a personal priority.

Why do you have to touch the upper right corner with your thumb while walking and looking at Google maps? Some "problems" are overblown...

I do not doubt that Apple not only did a lot of research on the perfect screen size, but they probably went overboard with it. They are nuts about these kinds of things. When I worked for Apple, I would always hear stories like how they created hundreds of different colored casings for the iPod mini and spent an entire week just to figure out which 5 to pick. Any other company would make that kind of decision in a matter of hours.

I'd argue it's that attention to detail that has made Apple great - Apple doesn't settle for merely competent decision-making, and this is plainly visible in the end product.

I now work for a company that has some of the highest-rated and most perennially popular apps on the app store, and the focus on details is insane. We will go in and fix a tiny animation inconsistency that would last barely half a second on screen - but people perceive this polish, whether they are conscious of it or not, and it crosses that gap between merely functional and actually pleasurable to use.

I have no problem holding my 4" HTC HD7 in one hand and reaching the entire screen with my thumb.

Maybe the blogger has small hands?

Some men's thumbs are bigger than others.

True, but if you're designing a product, you want to target the 80% and the average thumb length.

As I see it, that's how the iPhone penetrated enterprise. Everyone is a consumer, but not everyone is a business consumer. Regular people go to work and turn into business people. If regular people love the iPhone at home, why wouldn't they want to take it to work? Why were companies in 2006 designing smartphones only for business people instead of for everyone?

When I hold my iPhone horizontally, these arches make a lot more sense.

Circular reasoning:

The iPhone is well designed.

Therefore they used a 3.5" screen.

Therefore the iPhone is well designed.

3.5" is very practical. Any larger it will surely fall out of your jeans pocket. And the screen is enough to complete all tasks since it is a productivity and communications device.

This. It's all very well talking about how suitable the screen size is for thumb reach, but I bet being a decent size to fit in a pocket was also very much part of the decision too.

that's wild conjecture unless you helped design the iphone.

This is the dumbest analysis about design.

You have small hands. :)

server down?

he's holding it wrong

Also check this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HandAnthropometry.JPG

Statistical hand breadth is around 3.8-3.5 inches (men, women).

I'm getting a 500 error. Could it be the HN effect? Cached:


Designing for Humans: Design Research - Ergonomics - Human Factors - Usability


This will hold true until the iPhone 5 comes with a 4"+ screen. Then it will become magical and revolutionary.

Mark my words...

You know what they say about a man with small hands.

Small gloves?

Wow, nice observation, very interesting. I've never seen that other phone before, amazing how much it looks like the iPhone.

Its interesting how much energy people are putting into shutting his observation down. It might make sense to ask someone at Apple how they decide on product dimensions for mobile devices. I'm pretty sure some thought goes into the size of their products.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact