Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber seems quite convinced about the latest iPhone rumours, which claim the device will move to a 16:9 display, which in portrait will be 9:16. On Gizmodo, Jesus Diaz wrote a rebuttal to this rumour, making salient arguments: no-one’s been screaming for this; the iPhone still outsells other smarphones; fragmentation would be introduced; universal apps would be tough, because 16:9 is further from the iPad’s 4:3 display than the current iPhone’s 3:2.

Of course, some people have been clamouring for a larger iPhone screen, but as far as I can tell, these are the reasons:

  • Video would be in full widescreen, without black bars (if not necessarily 720p).
  • Bigger screens are better, just because.
  • Everyone else is doing it, and, more specifically, it’s what those Android guys do.

These don’t seem particularly compelling arguments to me, and if Gruber’s right in the next iPhone sporting a screen that effectively adds 176 or so pixels to the top of the display (making it 1136 × 640 rather than 960 × 640), you get black bars around all non-optimised apps, and those that are optimised will require more work for developers. Fixed-width apps (i.e. many games, most interactive books, lots of music-creation apps, and so on) will require another bespoke layout. Games that are more flexible (3D racers, say, or 2D action puzzlers like Angry birds that have scrolling levels) will require clever gameplay balancing and plenty of testing regarding any on-screen controls. Even ‘flexible’ apps will require a ton of usability testing and optimisation. In many cases, the ‘extra’ space would be largely empty, because filling it with something important would risk alienating every single current iPhone and iPod touch user.

For more flexible apps, there could be minor benefits—an extra tweet, an extra couple of lines of text—but 16:9/9:16 is sub-optimal for books, magazines, photos and other content types, and so it strikes me as a strange decision. Gruber argues:

I suspect the answer is, why not? The design tension in post-iPhone mobile phones is between screen size (where bigger is better) and device size (where smaller is better). You want a physical device that is small enough to fit easily in your pockets and is comfortable and easy to use while holding it in one hand.

But I still simply say: why?