Apple Lacks Display Aspect Ratio Consistency

Android, relative to Apple, is quite fragmented when it comes to the experience of using smartphones or tablets. But when it comes to smartphone displays, it’s better than Apple. All Android smartphone manufacturers are moving toward wide: 800×480, 960×540, 1280×720, 1280×768, 1920×1080, etc.

Rumors were all over the place, but I was surprised and disappointed nonetheless when Apple announced the elongated iPhone 5. It seemed to me Apple broke consistency due to competitive pressures. It also seems Apple is becoming less focused on trailblazing and more focused on what everyone else is doing. I wanted to find out if Apple is losing its focus on providing a consistent experience across a line of products. When it comes to display aspect ratio the tightly integrated Apple is all over the place:

  • 3:2 – iPod touch (up to 4th generation), iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S
  • 4:3 – iPad, iPad 2, iPad (3), iPad (4), iPad mini
  • 16:9 – iPod touch (5th generation), iPhone 5, 11.6-inch MacBook Air, 13.3-inch MacBook Air, 21.5-inch iMac, 27-inch iMac, 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display
  • 16:10 – 13.3-inch MacBook Pro, 13.3-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, 15.4-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display

Apple has four aspect ratios. The iPad, Thunderbolt Display, and iMac stick to a single one while the iPhone, iPod touch and MacBook sport two. 16:9 versus 16:10 is not a big deal, but wouldn’t it be better if Apple stuck to one?

I disagree with Apple’s move to change the display size and aspect ratio on the iPhone 5. Apple went from an aspect ratio of 3:2 to 16:9 and from a pixel format of 960×640 to 1136×640. 960×640 was itself unusual, surrounded by a world of smartphones with 800×480, 960×540, 1280×720. Those are unusual too, except for 1280×720. But 1136×640? That’s ridiculous; it’s good for nothing. Apple went from weird but consistent—we’ve had 3:2 through five generations of iPhones—to weirder and inconsistent.

Yes, smart iOS developers will take beautiful advantage of the extra 176 pixels and make the more squarish apps look outdated. But the 16:9 aspect ratio of the iPhone 5 tells me Apple was keen on making HD viewers happy. Scaling technology has improved a great deal and on a high-ppi display most of us won’t be able to tell the difference, but the better option—if 16:9 was paramount—would have been 1280×720. 1136×640 isn’t even technically HD.

Let’s focus on iPhones versus Android smartphones and compare aspect ratios. Here is a list of Android smartphones at Verizon as of 2012.10.28:

  • Casio G’zOne Commando: 16:9, 800×480
  • HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE: 16:9, 960×540
  • HTC Rezound: 16:9, 1280×720
  • HTC Rhyme: 16:9, 800×480
  • LG Enlighten: 3:2, 480×320
  • LG Intuition: 4:3, 1024×768
  • LG Lucid: 16:9, 800×480
  • LG Spectrum: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Motorola Droid 4: 16:9, 960×540
  • Motorola Droid RAZR HD: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Motorola Droid RAZR M: 16:9, 960×540
  • Pantech Breakout: 16:9, 800×480
  • Pantech Marauder: 16:9, 800×480
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Samsung Galaxy S III: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Samsung Galaxy Stellar: 16:9, 800×480
  • Samsung Stratosphere: 16:9, 800×480

Except for the 3:2 LG Enlighten and the 4:3 LG Intuition all Android smartphones on Verizon Wireless in the U.S. sport an aspect ratio of 16:9. That’s quite consistent over six smartphone manufacturers and 16 models. If LG is excluded from this list 16:9 makes up 100%.

Next up are Android smartphones on AT&T:

  • HTC One X: 16:9, 1280×720
  • HTC Vivid: 16:9, 960×540
  • LG Escape: 16:9, 960×540
  • LG Nitro HD: 16:9, 1280×720
  • LG Optimus G: 15:9, 1280×768
  • Motorola Atrix HD: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Pantech Burst: 16:9, 800×480
  • Pantech Flex: 16:9, 960×540
  • Pantech Pocket: 4:3, 800×600
  • Samsung Captivate Glide: 16:9, 800×480
  • Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate: 16:9, 800×480
  • Samsung Galaxy Note: 16:10, 1280×800
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro: 16:9, 800×480
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket: 16:9, 800×480
  • Samsung Galaxy S III: 16:9, 1280×720
  • Samsung Rugby Smart: 16:9, 800×480
  • Sony Xperia ion: 16:9, 1280×720

Android smartphones on AT&T has a bit more variety with the 4:3 Pantech Pocket, the 15:9 LG Optimus G, and the 16:10 Samsung Galaxy Note. All the rest (15 models*) sport a 16:9 aspect ratio, and all but the Pantech Pocket packs a wide aspect ratio display.

Apple sells the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5. The first two have a 3:2 aspect ratio while the iPhone 5 has 16:9. Google has been working aggressively to limit the fragmentation problem regarding the experience of using Android smartphones, but when it comes to display aspect ratio Android seems to be more consistent than Apple.

*It’s interesting to note both Verizon Wireless and AT&T have 18 Android smartphone models for sale.