iPhone 5 app letterboxing

Before the much anticipated launch of the iPhone 5 in September of last year, news of a possible increase in the device’s display size started some buzz in the mobile marketplace. One major perk of developing applications for the iPhone/iPod was that there was no need to worry about device fragmentation and accommodating a variety of device displays and resolutions (unlike developing for Android, which requires some extra creative magic), so many were already imagining the possible headaches to ensure after the launch of the new, larger device. Luckily the new aspect ratio didn’t cause as much of a stir as many thought, apps developed for older iPhone’s didn’t break on the new device, they just letterboxed (a term used to describe a small black bar that appears at the top of the app screen to account for the additional real estate without distorting the app).

Last week, the Apple Developer blog made a short announcement about a forced move to 4-inch optimized apps. Starting on May 1st, Apple will require that all apps submitted to the store support the retina display for the iPhone 5. Since it has only been about six months since the iPhone 5 hit shelves in the US, there are still many Apple users out there with fourth and even third generation devices (though my coworkers often harass me for it, even I still have the old iPhone 3GS). Does this mean that customers will have to cough up some change and buy the newest device in order to have access to new apps on the App Store?

Announcement from the Apple Developer Blog.

Not quite, though Apple customers are generally quite loyal and quick to abandon their old devices for newer, thinner, much more fragile ones. The burden of this announcement lies more upon developers, who will now have to build separate applications for the iPhone 5 and for older devices if they want to support all Apple smartphone users. Luckily, doing such does not take any extensive work on the backend of the application, only resizing creative assets for the larger display and increasing resolution and vibrancy for the retina display.

For those who already have applications on the App Store, my advice to you is to be wise when planning updates to your app(s). As long as your app remains on the store it will work on the iPhone 5 and letterbox as it did before (even after May 1 comes and goes). However, any updates to the application must be submitted for approval through the App Store and will be rejected if the whole app hasn’t been optimized for the iPhone 5. Therefore, if you were planning on pushing some new updates in the next couple months, it could be beneficial to optimize now or hold off on the updates until you have the ability to include the creative optimization as well. The good news is that adjusting the user interface to accommodate the retina display shouldn’t inflate the development budget by too much, though larger applications or those with more complex user interfaces could tack on an additional $5,000 to $10,000.

If you have questions about these upcoming changes to the Apple App Store Submission Guidelines you can view the iOS Human Interface Guidelines here or contact us to speak with one of our Apple mobile development experts today!