Apple Inc. AAPL +1.22% has made it official: Smartphone screens are expanding. The trend is sending developers and others with a stake scrambling over how to use the extra space.
Apple said Wednesday the new iPhone 5 will have 18% more digital real estate than previous models by extending the screen’s diagonal length by half an inch to a total of four inches.
The move puts the iPhone 5 more in line with the industry, where mobile-phone screens of more than four inches are increasingly common.
It also is causing software developers to rush to adjust the size of their apps ahead of the iPhone 5′s Sept. 21 launch date.
If they don’t update their apps, the design will look largely the way it does on the old iPhone but with black borders on either side. Developers worry that competitors could one-up them by taking advantage of the extra space, making their apps look out of date.
Apple gave a handful of companies an early briefing so they could prepare demonstrations for Wednesday’s event. But most learned about the change Wednesday, just nine days before customers will get their hands on the device.
Developers are figuring out how to take advantage of the extra space. Nik Fletcher, product manager for app maker Realmac Software Ltd., said the company’s Clear to-do list app could use the extra space to display a particular list and an overall menu at the same time.
To ensure that Clear’s design will fit the new phone as soon as possible, Realmac will start by adjusting and adding images to extend the length of the existing interface. “It’s not a huge amount of work,” he said, saying they hope to finish in time for the iPhone launch.
Mobile video developers and advertising firms are particularly set to benefit from the bigger iPhone screen size.
The screen’s aspect ratioâequal to what movies are usually displayed inâcould encourage more video-watching, as will its faster wireless speeds. In turn, that could boost sales of mobile video and interactive ads, said Krishna Subramanian, chief marketing officer for mobile-advertising firm Velti PLC. VELT +2.43%
Gaming companies are salivating over making their apps more lifelike. Rob Murray, executive producer at Electronic Arts Inc.’s EA +1.83% Firemonkeys development studio, said his team is using the extra space to show a left-side mirror in its latest racing videogame, “Real Racing 3.”
“When you’re looking outside the car, and can see what’s coming up on the corner; it’s a big deal,” he said.
During Wednesday’s keynote address unveiling the iPhone 5, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller discussed the company’s own ideas about how to use the space. He demonstrated how people could read more stories on a news site and add an extra row of icons to the device’s home screen.
Apple joins other mobile phone makers, including Samsung Electronics Co., 005930.SE +2.69% which have bumped up screen sizes to accommodate the growing number of tasks migrating to mobile. A commercial for Samsung’s Galaxy III, which sports a 4.8-inch display, touts benefits like texting while watching a video.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said larger screens could spur new app ideas for Apple’s iOS mobile operating system and increase by 10% to 20% the number of apps developed. As of Wednesday, Apple had more than 700,000 apps in the app store.
Some developers are concerned about having to maintain multiple apps with different screen sizes. “The variety of screen sizes drives up the cost because of the need to test the devices,” said Phil Costa, director of product management at Brightcove Inc., BCOV +0.24% which develops tools to help businesses manage mobile video.
Bruno Bergher, head of product design for Lookout Inc., a mobile security company, said it has coped with the proliferation of screen sizes by giving the main content area a flexible height and by positioning elements relative to each other rather than at fixed points.
People used to covet the smallest phones, he said. Now that people work from their phones, “the trend is definitely that they are getting bigger.”