Australian Smartphone and Tablet Data / Mobile Trends

Smartphones – Screen Size Matters

A few months ago, analyst Alex Barredo published some fascinating data about the changing size of our smartphone screens.   He analysed the specs of 4096 smartphone models, all of which were released since the iPhone was announced in 2007.  His goal was to capture size trends in the modern smartphone industry.

If you’ve paid any attention to smartphones recently, you’ll have noticed that they’re getting bigger.  It wasn’t always this way.  After the 3.2 inch iPhone was launched back in 2007, manufacturers worked hard to reduce the size of the smartphone, and we saw average screen sizes pull back a little in size, up until around 2010.

 

Overall device size chart

Since mid 2011 we’ve seen an explosion of screens larger than 4.5 inches. (For reference, the early iPhones were 3.2 inches, with the most recent iPhone 5 model increasing to 4.3 inches.)   Back in 2012 only 10% of available smartphones had 4.5 inch screens, whereas now 80% of smartphones are 4.5 inches or more.

The iPhone has bucked these trends however, maintaining consistent screen sizes since the first iPhone launch 7 years ago.  Initially Apple’s smartphone offering was comparatively large, but these days the iPhone is one of the smaller devices on the market.  If manufacturing trends reflect market demand, iPhones are looking positively obsolete at the moment.  Since 2010, the clear trend has been for larger devices, with average size increasing consistently over time.

Apple vs other smartphone sizes

Comparatively, while Apple has stuck with consistent (and now smaller) device sizes, Samsung has led the way in larger and larger screens since their first Android device in 2009.  The data from Barredo shows Samsung ahead of the market in screen size for the last 4 years.

It’s worth noting that Barredo’s research does not take into account smartphone sales or volumes, and that he is simply measuring the number of different smartphone models on the market.   The trend is reflected in sales data as well however, with a  recent study by Canalys showing smartphones with screens over 5 inches now make up more than a third of all smartphone shipments globally.

Australian research from Telsyte identified that screen size was a large factor in Android’s dominance in this market. Customers today prefer larger devices.  While we have traditionally been a strong iPhone market here in Australia, the data from Telsyte suggests that 40% of potential iPhone 6 customers would only consider the device if it launched with a larger screen than the current iPhone 5.

Screen size, rather than brand, has become a dominant demand factor in smartphone sales.  For example, findings from Telsyte’s Australian Smartphone Market Study 2014-2018 suggest as many as 20% of Australians currently considering Android devices would actually switch to a larger iPhone if it were available.

Another interesting point is that while screens have been getting bigger, bezels are getting smaller.  The bezel is the area around the screen, used for holding the device and placing buttons, speakers, cameras, keyboards etc.   The average screen to bezel ratio of new smartphone models has increased consistently since 2007, with the average screen to bezel ratio now sitting at just under 70%.   In case you were wondering how today’s most popular devices compare, Barredo has created the useful chart below, so you can work it out at a glance!

how much phone is actually screen

 

While bezel sizes continue to shrink and screen sizes grow, Barredo predicts screen sizes will ultimately stabilize at around 5 or 5.5 inches over the next few years.  This may be true for smartphones, but there is increasing demand for a new kind of device that sits somewhere between a smartphone and a tablet.   So called “Phablets” (surely the name will never catch on??) are predicted to overtake smartphones in sales volume by 2017.  Does this mean we’ll ditch our smartphones or tablets in favour of the new mid-sized device, or will we simply absorb yet another type of device into the increasingly connected household?

I wonder if we will eventually settle on the ultimate combination of device sizes and types for the average modern human, or will we continue to explore the options ad infinitum?   The rollercoaster is showing little sign of slowing down, so brands and content publishers need to keep their finger on the pulse or risk being left behind.  Certainly locking into a particular device size or category at this point would be unwise.

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