Which comes first: screen size or content?

The steady increase in the size of smartphone screens is changing the way we consume content. A study by Pocket called “The screen-size debate: how the iPhone 6 Plus impacts where we read & watch shows, at least within the relatively limited range of Apple’s device, that people who buy a bigger device tend to consume more content on it, very much along the lines of: the bigger the screen, the more content. At the same time, as more of us are using our smartphones in this way, we are relegating tablets to a secondary role.

Bigger screens also affects when we watch content: we watch less while traveling to work, because holding up a larger screen is uncomfortable. Mid-range tablets are now being relegated to home use, with different use at weekends compared to weekdays.

Needless to say, Apple was not the first company to produce smartphones with 5-inch-plus screens. The company’s decision, which it says was prompted by global changes and preferences, was greeted by companies like Samsung with extreme skepticism, and even sarcasm:

But the reality is that phablets were a small part of the market prior to the iPhone 6 Plus, and it’s been Apple that gave the sub-segment the push it needed. Basically, carrying around a telephone with a five-inch-plus screen used to be seen as somewhat extravagant, if not nerdish, until Apple brought out its iPhone 6 Plus, but has since rapidly become coolish.

Seen in this context, the trend for bigger screens looks set to continue growing; a paradox that reflects the changes in the way we think about phones.

In the 1990s, small is beautiful was the guiding principle in cellphone design (it was the only time you’d hear men saying: “mine’s smaller than yours” :-) But now, driven by a completely different set of uses, among which voice is overshadowed by apps, navigation, and data downloading, along with content consumption, the general preference seems to be increasingly for bigger screens.

This change seems to be reflected, logically, in the way content for these devices is presented: we’re still in the process of simple adaptations of content created for the big screen, but growing numbers of designers now think mobile-first or even mobile-only, but as these screens increase in size, we’ll see further changes and new possibilities. Designing for the cellphone is not simply about changing the width of columns and font size: it means “thinking for the smartphone”, which means bearing in mind the ways that people interact with them.

As Pocket’s survey shows, bigger screens will determine new user preferences, and the successful companies will be those who bear them in mind. Now is the time to rethink content, to rethink interfaces, and above all, to use our imagination.

(En español, aquí)