So the latest hype this week is the new iPhone 5. With long queues at the telco outlets in Singapore, Apple fans and iPhone lovers are eager to get their hands on the lighter, but longer, iPhone 5. Other than the weight, one of the most debated issues about the new iPhone is its increased screen size. The iPhone 5 now features a 4″ (previously 3.5″) screen size and an increase in resolution from 960×640 to 1,136×640.
While smartphone users are divided in opinion, we spoke to a few iOS developers to find out what they think about the new iPhone screen size and resolution. We also tried to find out how the change affects their job as iOS developers, and whether this marks the beginning of the fragmentation issues for iOS devices, which has been haunting Android developers for the longest time.
Concern about the deprecation of iOS4.2 and below
First, we spoke to Erwan Mace, who recently stepped down from his role as Google’s head of Developer Relations at Southeast Asia to focus on his own ventures. Erwan runs Bitsmedia, which recently gave its Muslim Pro app a huge update. Muslim Pro has been downloaded more than 2 million times since its launch. When asked about the new screen size, Erwan shared that supporting the three screen resolutions of the iOS ecosystem is still easier than the Andriod platform.
By maintaining the same width, Apple has made it very easy for developers to adapt their screen layouts and artworks to the new taller resolution of the iPhone 5. Top navigation bars and bottom tab bars do not change. Content lists automatically scale. Most non-game developers will only need to adapt their background assets if any. Supporting all three screen resolutions of the iOS eco-system is still much easier than addressing the Android fragmentation. I am much more concerned about the fact that Apple has quietly deprecated iOS 4.2 and below. Any new iOS app built for iOS 6 with the latest version of Xcode (4.5) will NOT run on ARMv6 devices (the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G and the first two generations of iPod Touch).
Migrating existing apps were fairly straight forward
We also spoke to Mugunth Kumar, author of one of the best selling iOS programming books to date. Mugunth also helped developed iOS apps for two man startups like Found and Squiryl to fortune 500 companies like Oracle and Microsoft. Mugunth agreed that the new screen resolution is still manageble.
I’ve been playing with the beta SDK released last week and migrating existing apps were fairly straight forward. Unlike android you don’t have to maintain multiple versions of your interfaces. Adding the 4″ support for universal apps was even easier and I added it for one of my clients’ app (with a pretty complex layout) in about half a day. However, rotation support, is hard (though most iPhone apps don’t fully support landscape mode). Apple introduced something called Auto Layout last year for Mac and this year for iOS to make rotation easier. When adoption of iOS 6 becomes high enough to stop supporting iOS 5, devs can adopt Auto Layout.
The new screen size brings more opportunities
Subhransu Behera, one of the main guys running the local iOS dev scout, added on by saying that the new screen size actually provides more opportunities.
The taller screen on iPhone5 is an engineering decision. It’s not a bigger phone it’s just tall, there’s no change in width and it’s thinner than iPhone4S and hence more comfortable. The taller design ensures better signal reception through it’s dual antenna technology.
From development point of view app developers need to support all form factors (older iPhones, new iPhone, existing iPads and yet to release iPad mini). Thankfully iOS6 has got auto-layout that calculates the positions of UI components automatically based on the available screen size. This makes iPhone apps built for iPhone4 to work seamlessly on iPhone5 with minimal changes. However, if developers have hardcoded the frame positions of UI components in their apps then it won’t be displayed properly on newer iPhone.
I won’t compare it with the fragmentation issue that has been haunting Android. As Android is open source, each of it’s vendor designs the phones, tweak the os differently. They all even have individual app markets. In my opinion the cause of fragmentation in Android market is because there’s no standard UI guidelines to support different form factors. Often developers support two or three popular models where there are over hundred other models existing in the market and each one have different hardware functionalities. Apple has addressed and controlled the issue both through software and hardware.
It’s definitely an additional work for developers to understand more about auto layout but I don’t think it’s an issue. I see it more as an opportunity to attract a diverse customer base.
Additional time needed to support and test an app
Ong Junda, lead developer for Hoiio, feels that the new screen size translate to additional time needed to support and test the app.
The bigger screen is not so good news to me, since that equates to additional time needed to support and test an app. But if that brings more users to the platform, then it’s not too big of a deal either. Fragmentation on iOS devices is exaggerated, and is definitely not as painful as Android. I winced when iPhone 5 was announced, but after a while, realized even with no code change, existing apps work very well (with nice black letterboxing).
Additional space for banner ads
Finally, we spoke to Steve Sng, the cofounder of recently launched LoveByte. LoveByte is a private app for partners or lovers and has managed to garner more than 20,000 downloads to date. On a lighter and less technical note, Steve shared that the space can actually be used for banner ads and in turn help solve the revenue problem many app developers are facing.
I actually found this change quite amusing. That additional screen space (320×88) seems oddly perfect for a banner ad! So I often joke with people that the additional screen space can conveniently be used to put ads. That will solve the revenue problem many app developers face! You have an extra screen space but don’t want to screw up your current layout? Put ads! It will be even better if Apple can provide an option to automatically display iAds in the extra screen space such that the app developers do not have to change anything!
Image Credits: Wired