Rocketeer Wisdom: Mobile Isn’t a Screen Size

“What we’re gonna do is get rid of all these buttons and just make a giant screen.” 

Before Steve Jobs made this announcement in 2007, smartphones looked pretty different. At 3.5 inches, the iPhone’s seemingly giant screen was the largest anyone had ever seen. How has the mobile industry responded?

Six years later, the industry exploded with manufacturers racing to ‘one up’ the iPhone’s innovative screen. Some opted for smaller screens, like the Pebble Smart or Google Glass, but most have opted to grow larger. Even the iPhone 5 expanded to four inches.

Open Signal released a report that there are more than 12,000 devices on the market today – many with unique screen dimensions. The image below represents if you placed each device on top of each other, with the dark blue representing market share.

We believe the screen size explosion impacts the mobile industry in three ways:

  • There aren’t distinct device groups.
    Steve Jobs grouped devices into separate groups – phones, tablets and laptops. Today, there’s a device for every fraction of an inch – from the iPhone to desktop. Jobs’ distinct groups now indicate how they’ll be used more than a specific size.
  • Mobile is redefining the desktop.
    As new desktops launch, many are adapting mobile capabilities into their core experience. For example, Google’s Chromebook now includes touch screens, accelerometers and GPS capabilities. Apple’s Launchpad shows how even software is becoming more like mobile.
  • Content is just as important on small screens as big screens.
    The king of PC, IBM, saluted Apple and declared the PC era over. Whether you agree or disagree, it argues that critical content can’t be available only to desktop users – especially when a third of mobile users consider it their primary Internet device.

The mobile industry is still young and innovating daily. The screen size explosion only pushes us to rethink mobile application design from static boxes to something more responsive. Steve Jobs’ once giant screen is now standard, but it has certainly made an impact on what we call ‘mobile’.