Why a Bigger iPhone May Mean Lots of Work for App Makers

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Anytime Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) makes changes to the screen of the iPhone or iPad, the company has a big decision to make. One option is to leave the screen resolution alone, as it did when shrinking the display from the iPad Air to the iPad Mini with Retina — it just shrunk the pixels, too. That’s the easy way to adjust the screen on a device, because app developers don’t have to do a thing, and their apps still look fine on the Mini.

The more demanding way to change a screen size is to impose a new screen resolution, as Apple did when going from the iPhone 4s to the iPhone 5. When that happens, developers have to update their apps to support the new resolution, which can require a lot of time and work. Inevitably, some apps get left behind.

Since Apple is heavily rumored to release a larger 4.7-inch iPhone and possibly a 5.5-inch iPhone later this year, the company faces this choice once again. People familiar with Apple’s plans have told 9to5Mac that “Apple is preparing major resolution changes for the iPhone 6 that will require software changes by both Apple and developers.” Specifically, Apple is testing a 4.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1704 x 960. That would mean the 4.7-inch model would have 416 pixels per inch (ppi). Assuming the company keeps the same resolution for the 5.5-inch model, it would have 356 ppi. Both of those displays would be more pixel dense than the current line of iPhones, which have a density of 326 ppi, and thus display crisper text and sharper images.

No change is expected in the aspect ratio of the display. The display on the iPhone 6 would still be 16:9, just like the iPhone 5s, which would make the screen on the new phone both wider and taller than the current models.

So what will developers be able to do with the extra space? Presumably whatever they want. Apple is rumored to be in the process of optimizing all graphics throughout iOS for the new resolution, which comes as no surprise. And thanks to the minimalist design aesthetic used in iOS 7, many developers use vector graphics in their apps. Vector graphics can be rescaled easily (often automatically) for new display resolutions. The graphics for other apps, however, will need updated, or else they’ll appear blurry as they’re stretched across the extra pixels.

The new screen resolutions aren’t official, of course, and some have speculated that Apple may choose to keep the current iPhone 5s resolution for the larger iPhones. That seems unlikely, however, as that resolution would result in pixel densities that are lower than the 300 ppi Apple requires for their “Retina” label. In any case, the leaked details come from someone who says this is a screen Apple is testing, so the iPhone 6 could have this screen or another unknown screen being tested elsewhere.

Whichever way Apple chooses to go, we’ll find out when it announces the next iPhone, probably sometime this fall. In the meantime, many developers are on the edge of their seats, waiting to find out how much work they might have to put into their apps to keep them current.

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