When The Screen Size Changes

Steve Jobs:

We think as a software-driven company. We think about the software strategies first, and we know that software developers aren’t going to have – they’re not going to deal real well with all these different size products when they have to redo their software every time the screen size changes, and they are not going to deal well with products where they can’t put enough elements on the screen to build the kind of apps they want to build.

This is how I am understanding Steve Jobs’ take on the interplay between software and screen sizes. The iPhone is the culmination of hardware (primarily determined by the size and aspect ratio of the display) and software geared toward providing information in particular ways that are fitting to someone using a mobile phone. This doesn’t preclude the iPhone from being used to accomplish tasks that are meant for devices with larger displays but the iPhone does what smartphone users want smartphones to do very well, precisely because it was designed to do them well from the very beginning. The same logic applies to the larger iPads, but a bit loosely.

The iPad mini has a 4:3 7.9-inch display while the iPad Air is much larger at 9.7 inches but with the same aspect ratio. The same aspect ratio suggests Apple was assuming most iPad users will use both iPads for similar things. Most probably do. But the size makes one more portable than the other. The iPad mini is more portable so people who use the iPad mini will probably use it for more iPhone-like stuff than the people who use the iPad Air. Should there be iPad apps that are tuned more for one or the other? Based on Steve Jobs’ argument and my understanding of it, I would guess so. An iPad app specifically designed for an iPad mini would probably be a superior experience than an iPad app that was designed to work with either.

Take this logic all the way to the end and the iPhone and the iPad, in terms of functionality, will become very similar with the only difference being the size and aspect ratio of the screen. For instance, very soon voice will travel over LTE data connections via Voice over LTE or VoLTE. At that point there is no point in having additional communications protocols or chips. The iPhone will connect to the Internet via LTE with voice data traveling through that pipe. And the cellular iPads will gain voice communications capability through VoLTE. In terms of hardware communications capability the two will be virtually be the same. With only the display being the difference: 5-inch, 7.9-inch, and 9.7-inch iDevices.

With that in mind I think Apple will build one more size between 5 inches and 7.9 inches. I’m not sure Apple will simply split the difference between 5 inches and 7.9 inches to get something around 6.5 inches. It’ll probably be smaller, at around 5 or 5.5 inches, and at most 6 inches. This iDevice would be a phone/tablet hybrid, but at that point the distinction between phone and tablet would be moot.

If Apple ends up with four different iPhone/iPad sizes with the distinction among them being only the display, my guess is software will be the differentiating factor among them. The smallest would be used by those who want it primarily to be something like a phone, while the largest will be used by those who want it primarily to be something like a tablet. The two in between would be more tricky, but there will be distinctions in usage patterns clear enough for differentiated software apps among all four.

Technologies — like VoLTE — will make hardware distinctions among iPhones and iPads moot, save for the display. The distinction will then be found in software and the apps developed for the different sized displays. App developers will have more work cut out for them, but it will be worth it as the end users will be delighted with the differentiated experience. There will also be more incentive for users to buy more than one iDevice for the unique experience each iDevice provides. This is probably not what Steve Jobs meant in the quote above, but I’m guessing this is probably what is going to happen.