Curved Screen iPhone is an Idea that Falls Flat

| Analysis

Apple is planning on releasing an iPhone with a curved screen next fall, according to insider sources. That's an interesting idea since Samsung has already jumped on the curvy bandwagon, but it's also wrong. It doesn't make sense for Apple to warp the iPhone's screen.

Apple already has a great curved screen smartphone concept: The iPhone's flat screenApple already has a great curved screen smartphone concept: The iPhone's flat screen


According to Bloomberg's sources, Apple is hard at work on an iPhone with a screen with a convex curve that leaves the edges lower than the center. The new models will also include pressure sensitivity, and will be available with bigger screens at 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches.

Samsung introduced its Galaxy Round oversized smartphone in October, leading to the notion that Apple needs to copy the idea to stay competitive. The Galaxy Round is an Android-based smartphone with a concave curve in its body and glass. Setting the smartphone on its back leaves you with a smartphone that can wobble from side to side -- something that Samsung is touting as a feature.

Since Samsung has a curved glass smartphone, the argument goes, then Apple needs one, too. That argument also says Apple needs a bigger screen iPhone to compete, which doesn't exactly fit with the company's sales figures.

The big problem with making a curved screen iPhone is figuring out what need it fulfills, and the answer is: none. Bending the screen could potentially let Apple put a wider display in the iPhone without increasing the body size, but only if that doesn't require users to rock the phone back and forth in their hand to see from edge to edge. That feels more like grasping at straws to find a use for curved screens instead of addressing a pressing user need.

What does sound compelling is the idea of pressure sensitivity. From an artist's standpoint, that would give more control when using drawing and painting apps. In other apps, it opens new interface options, like touching part of the screen to perform one function while pressing the same place performs another.

Using touches and presses together could replace multiple swipes in some apps and improve economy of motion. In a Twitter app, for example, touching a tweet could show a conversation where pressing could let you reply, no need for extra taps and swipes.

Pressure sensitivity has the potential to add a new layer of complexity to user interfaces, so developers would need to be careful how they use the feature. That said, it's easier to find uses for pressure sensitivity in the iPhone than it is to find a place for curved screens.

Considering Samsung's track record with new features, curved smartphone screens feels more like a marketing gimmick than a great addition to the market. Apple seems to have a perfectly good curved glass strategy already. It's called a flat screen.

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To play devil’s advocate, with my one minute of free time, permit me to speculate that the advantage would be for the larger screens, insofar as I can see. This has the practical advantage of enabling the screen to have more real estate, while not substantially increasing the grasp width.

The issue is, how convex is convex. My assumption is that Apple had already thought about this, had decided, correctly, that the functional morphology dictated convex rather than, as Samsung did, concave - and hence a phone with a bad case of the wobblies when set down. Apple’s convex phone, which, if done, I predict will be only mildly so, will lie not only still and functional to single handed use while on a flat surface, because its mass rests on a smaller surface area, resistance to movement will likely increase (the frictional specs of the backing material being similar to those used now), making it even more stable while lying on that flat surface.

Just a thought.

Lee Dronick

See today’s Joy of Tech comic


I concur with Mr. Gamet.

Curved screens are a bad idea for any kind of instrumentation. In a space with any directional or point light sources, there is NO ANGLE you can hold that will not cause screen glare. I discovered this when I installed an Alpine head unit with a mildly convex lens over its display. It blazed reflections at every sight angle - which made the display useless.

Also, using an convex screen one-handed, one would find fingers losing the intended angle of attack on the screen as the gesture spreads across the curve. An HTC One’s screen is big enough so I have that problem now.

Wouldn’t a convex screen be more vulnerable to scratching and bumps?

Increasing real-estate without additional grip-width? That is mathematically true, but would such a tiny increase outweighs the R&D? Geeze - look how long it took Apple to get the White iPhone’s glass right. In more practical terms, I use a magic mouse; its curved upper surface is a terrible swiping surface.

Can Samsung’s concave screen counter these issues? Meh.  Why bother.

Adrian Mann

What exactly is the problem that a curved screen solves? I trust Ive on this one - if it’s not essential, it’s out.

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