Three years ago, I was deeply concerned about the direction the smartphone market seemed to be heading. Samsung had created a massive market of people who wanted larger phones with the Galaxy Note series, and their competition was scrambling to release something to compete in that space.
Sony, LG, HTC, and eventually even Apple stepped into this larger phone space in variously failed attempts to keep Samsung from dominating this market. Meanwhile Samsung was pushing further with things like the Galaxy Mega, making phones that weren't all that different from small tablets being released at the same time.
Fast forward to today, and it looks like the giant phone revolution has calmed down considerably. There are still some big options out there for folks who want that experience, but this year it looks like there will be plenty of options for those who shy away from the 6-inch phone.
We've come a long way from folks joking about that old TV-sized Galaxy S3 promo in Best Buy stores being a glimpse at what would be considered normal before long. Samsung's Galaxy S7 looks positively tiny compared to the Nexus 6P and Galaxy Note 5, the sizes of which had basically been deemed the new normal over the last year. Even these larger phones last year were a minor step back from the Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6 in terms of overall size. Some of this has to do with manufacturers getting much better at eliminating bezel without increasing the potential for damage to the phone, but this year we're also seeing reductions in display size away from 6-inches.
The space Samsung created for folks who appreciate these larger phones isn't going away anytime soon.
When screen sizes were ramping up, it was difficult to get a single answer when asking why these design decisions were being made. Several folks from different companies talked about Asian markets, and how their usage was different from U.S. and Euro markets. These markets focused on larger screen size because the phone display was frequently the only display, where in the U.S. nearly everyone with a smartphone has a television for consuming a significant amount of entertainment. This was one of the explanations for the design of the Nintendo Wii U as well, offering a console-quality gaming experience that played nice with a television but didn't require one for everything. In those markets, the dramatic increase in display size makes sense. If it's your only display, bigger is certainly better for entertainment and chat.
Some of that carried over to the U.S. and Europe as well. There are plenty of folks who appreciated the larger display sizes of phones released in the last year or two. Ask anyone who jumped at the opportunity to own an Xperia Z Ultra how they feel about the new Galaxy S7, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one of them happy with the display size. Having these giant screens are great for games and videos, and a significant portion of Android users consumer a ton of media so it makes sense.
At the same time, there are still plenty of folks out there who appreciate phones that fit in their hands and pockets. It's undoubtedly why Samsung went with different display sizes for the S7 and S7 edge this year, and why it's likely we'll see something different when it comes to display size with the Note 6 later this year. The LG G5 and Galaxy S7 are fantastic for those of us who prefer a phone that can be enjoyed in one hand without stretching, but the space Samsung created for folks who appreciate these larger phones isn't going away anytime soon.
The end result is more choice for everyone, and fewer opportunities to see whether you need bigger pants to hold your phone once you put it in a case. This particular trend will hopefully stick around for a while, as not only is there no such thing as one perfect screen size but it's clear more options means more opportunity for differentiation.
It's unlikely that we'll see every manufacturer go the Samsung and Apple route in releasing two difference sizes with every launch, but if you look at options for HTC and LG you can see the efforts to cater to each of these groups throughout the year, and that's good for everyone.
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