iPhone 5 Concept by Kris Groen

Kris Groen has some fantastic ideas. One-handed operability is efficient design. Instead of swiping with the other hand, pressing the left or right button gets you to app pages on the left or right. Once an app is running (taking up the entire screen), the left/right buttons acts like Alt-Tab/Shift-Alt-Tab allowing you to sequentially switch among apps. On the other hand I am not certain moving the mic location results in an improvement in voice communication. And having two speakers on the bottom so close to each other probably doesn’t result in stereo we can experience. Aside from these, there are two glaring problems.

One is the assumption the home button is impermanent. When I hold my iPhone my thumb goes to the home button, automatically, without thought. The thumb seeks that home button out of habit, out of muscle memory. It is muscle memory that has embedded itself deep in there somewhere. I expect there to be the home button to be where it is suppose to be. We not only expect it on our iPhones, but expect the same home button on our iPod touch as well as our iPad. If Apple ever decides to remove the home button the result would be identical to what happened when Coke introduced New Coke.

The second is the assumption that the next iPhone, likely called iPhone 5, will sport a larger display. I don’t think that’s going to happen. The competition, especially Android, has been getting bigger. Remember the G1, the first Android smartphone? It sported a 3.2-inch LCD. Three and a half years later the display on the Galaxy Nexus has grown to 4.65 inches. That’s about half an inch of growth ever year. Maybe Android smartphone OEMs are targeting a segment of the market who have giant hands. Maybe geeks who like to tinker with their phones generally have larger hands, I don’t know. But what I do know is the display size race on Android smartphones is absolutely necessary, because of how the user interface is rendered. More pixels with the same display means smaller UI elements. Android OEMs, to beat Apple at its own resolution game, also had to make their smartphones bigger. For Android bigger didn’t happen because it was better, it happened because it was necessary. I wouldn’t say Android beat Apple in the race for higher resolution because the two are not really competing. Higher resolution on Android means you have more pixel real estate: You can cram more information into it. But the display needs to be big enough, otherwise UI elements will be too small. Higher resolution, double resolution to be more precise, on iOS has zero impact on pixel real estate. Instead double resolution means double the clarity, double the sharpness. This is exactly what will happen if the next iPad goes Retina.

There’s one more thing actually: Increasing the display size to four inches while keeping the pixel format at 960×640 will reduce the resolution below the 300 ppi Retina threshold to 288.44 ppi. That doesn’t pose a problem if I use the iPhone 5 a bit father away from me, but most likely I’ll use it at the same distance I use my iPhone 4. Do you think the iPhone 5 will not sport a Retina display? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Kris Groen incorporated some smart design into his iPhone 5 concept, but he assumes two things—the impermanence of the home button and the 3.5-inch display size—that will render his idea a mere concept.