When is big too big?

The debate on the ever-expanding size of smartphone screens had been opened, argued and put to rest almost 18 months ago. The final conclusion was that companies would keep building bigger devices, till the customer keeps buying them. Once they became too big, they would be rejected by the public, and market share would thus be the final determining factor. That argument has just been blown to small little bits.

Size matters: Screen size and screen resolution are two of the most sought-after criteria for upgrading a phone

The giant enemy cometh
Samsung released two giant phones (one measures a mind-bending 6.3 inches) and fittingly called them Mega. Huawei has the colossal 6.1-inch screen Ascend Mate; rumours of a Motorola Google phone with a humongous 6-inch screen are doing the rounds; HTC apparently has a 6.1-inch full HD phone ready, and LG and Sony may be just weeks away from bringing in their own 6-inch devices. So who is asking for these barn door-sized phones; are they really selling that well, and what’s the real reason companies are so gung-ho about putting out these impossible-to-hold-and-pocket phones?

Reason 1: Those crazy ass engineers have lost it
Rumour has it that Samsung’s first Note phone was a fluke. That an engineer at their R&D centre came up with a ridiculous-sized phone and became the most laughed-at employee there. That the phone was released as a lark, but went on to become one of their all-time best -sellers and therefore engineers are given a free hand nowadays. So, drunk in all their new-found powers, these chaps have lost all sense of equating form factor to the human hand, and are just building monstrous phones. It’s a nice story, but that’s not how most tech firms work. Phones aren’t released as a ‘lark’ and a single phone’s release has billions of dollars riding on it.

DaviD vs Goliath: The Nokia Lumia 920 has a pretty big screen as well, but looks tiny in front of the Samsung Mega

Reason 2: You like small, I like big
We all don’t wear the same size pants and drive the same car. Why should phones be any different? Let’s have as many sizes as we can. Some people have no issues pressing ludicrously big tablets against their faces to make a voice call. If you have a problem about how stupid they look, then don’t look! Let’s keep making phones bigger and bring in more options. That’s how the argument goes. Unfortunately, it tends to ignore the most obvious part. Very few people are okay about the impracticality of a phone that is just too big and there is no business model for so many companies to come out with so many large phones for a very small niche market.

Reason 3: The last bastion of a spec sheet race
Smartphone companies don’t have much left to offer or differentiate their products, and are thus focusing their efforts on easy specs like screen size to lure customers. If you really look closely at the market, the other specs and hardware listings don’t make your mouth water. Firms are hoping that the bigger screen size may make you do just that. This is where the reasoning moves to a slightly sounder wicket, as recent surveys have shown that screen size and screen resolution are two of the most sought-after criteria for upgrading a phone. In a world where each company must have an earth-shaking flagship phone every six months, screen size and the amazing pixels-per-inch is pure chest-thumping bragging rights.

Reason 4: It’s not a voice call machine anymore
You can make a voice call with a phone that has no screen. The very idea of a smartphone is that it’s so much more. It’s your ‘apps, gaming, mail, ebook reading, Net browsing, Facebooking, Tweeting, and a billion other things’ machine. Your screen is your primary interface to 99 per cent of what you do with your smartphone. It’s what you stare at all day, what you use to interact with, and each of those things looks and feels that much better on a larger screen. Well, once again – that starts to make more sense. The smartphone is morphing into a completely different device, and the screen and size has to keep pace.

A big move: This is going a bit too far, but big phones are in

Reason 5: Utility over convenience
Yes, a large screen phone is a little difficult to carry, doesn’t fit in all pockets and can be a handful in a small hand – but look at what it gives you in convenience. It’s great for the old and aged, ditto for people with failing eyes, fantastic for watching a movie or reading a book, excellent for creating a spreadsheet or Word document, and heaven sent for people who browse the Net on the go. It’s the classic battle of function overriding form.

Reason 6: They are a preview of the future
In the future, we will all carry one device. Foldable, bendable screens will ensure that our 4-inch smartphone opens out to become an 8-inch tablet, and that will expand to a 15-inch laptop, all at the press of a button. Till then, super-sized smartphones are a good preview of our ‘one single device’ future. While this may take a while to ‘unfold’ (they have to solve the biggest problem, besides the screen, everything like the battery and the electronics inside must bend and fold too), a 6-inch plus full HD smartphone does make for a super portable, almost pocketable, always-with-you tablet.

Thus, it seems that all these new phones aren’t an anomaly; rather smartphones with small screens may soon be niche devices. And thus, it may well be time for you to make a ‘big' move and move to one of them. After all, you can always try to convince yourself that cargo pants with huge pockets are back in fashion (they are not) and that a Bluetooth headset actually looks cool (they don’t)!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, June 16

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