What the Bigger iPhone 5 Screen Means to App Designers

The iPhone™ 5 came out last Friday – though that is not obviously news to anyone. Neither are many of the new features; I think mostly everyone who is interested in this stuff probably knows that among the many new things the iPhone 5 touts, the increased screen size might be most notable. It is taller, by about a half an inch, and has an improved Retina™ display. According to Apple’s® Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Philip Schiller, the “iPhone 5 is the most beautiful device [they have] ever created.”

It is really pretty, I’ll admit. (And I am a stout Android supporter, so that is saying a lot!) But the new screen ratio is causing some problems for mobile app developers. I sat down with Amadeus Consulting’s Creative Services lead, and asked her about the implications this new screen size will have when designing an iPhone app.

App letterboxing

So far, nothing really crazy. Apps that were designed for the older versions of the iPhone are still displaying decently– they just letterbox. Letterboxing is a term used to describe the matte (black bar) that shows up on screens when the screen display is different than the original ratio that a film was shot in (usually widescreen) to preserve the image quality. Our Creative Service Lead, Melissa, mentioned that the biggest issue with an app letterboxing is it negatively impacts the user experience and takes away some of the appeal the user may have had for your app. The user may be distracted by the letterboxes, and honestly now that you have more real estate for your app you might as well take advantage of it.

Should you redesign your app?

Because of the potential user experience challenges we discussed above, we would recommend that you redesign your app for the new iPhone. This is different than how things have been done in the past for iPhone apps, because you will have two different apps now, one for iPhone 5 and one for everything else. But as Melissa points out, it isn’t really any different than designing one app for iPhone and one for iPad to ensure that UX doesn’t suffer from one platform to the other.

If you use traditional iOS controls, you will have an easier time ensuring that the app layout is correct for both ratios. The more advanced or complex your design, the more time intensive it will be to update the app for the new iPhone.

It may be attractive for some app developers to attempt to design apps that display somewhat OK on all iOS devices. But Melissa cautions against this, saying that in the end it could cause more problems. You really should just be designing your app for what the user wants to see, which means you design for each device individually and not across platforms.


Isn’t this challenge typical for Android?

There are hundreds of devices that employ the Android OS, all with varying display resolutions. One would think that this is always a problem for mobile app developers who develop across all platforms. However, it actually isn’t as big a deal for Android because although the sizes of the device are different and the resolution might change, the ratio is all the same. So an app will display correctly among most Android devices if it is designed correctly – meaning that your designer kept differing screen resolutions in mind when developing the design.

So, in the end, if your app is letterboxing or otherwise just behaving strangely on the new iPhone, you might consider contacting someone to redesign the app for the new platform. You can feel free to contact us to learn more about how we can help you with this process.


About the Author

As Marketing Manager at Amadeus Consulting, Melanie Moffett is passionate about how technology is changing the world of marketing. Melanie is also very interested in how mobile technology is constantly redefining how users interact with the world. Melanie's experience and knowledge in communications and brand management has helped Amadeus Consulting and its clients succeed since joining the company in 2008.

Join the Conversation via Facebook

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.

5 × 1 =