What .2 of an inch could do for the iPhone 5

Note: this is a post I wrote for my blog a few months ago with some additional thoughts. It’s still as relevant today as it was then.

Something occurred to me the other day regarding iOS 5, the iPhone 5 and their impact together on the iOS UI (namely notifications). Prior to this I'd been writing an essay on the shortcomings of notifications on iOS 5 and how I felt they could be fixed. With that essay in mind I was reflecting on how Apple could have gotten notifications so wrong when gradually the all the pieces, all the rumours and inconsistencies, came together for me. The ensuing image was brilliant. Let me explain:

In my previous essay I was highlighting the fact that iOS 5's notifications are still obtrusive as they hide critical UI elements in some apps (navigation and action buttons). My solution for this was to have iOS 5 resize apps below notifications using the same double height status bar method employed by the phone app, voice memo app and tethering function. The issue with this, I conceded, was that some apps don't resize properly to make room for the double height status bar. Apple must have also observed this resizing issue, regarded it as being unacceptable and chose to have notifications conceal all apps consistently rather than some apps inconsistently. Personally, I would have written off apps that didn't resize much the same way apps that didn't multitask were with iOS 4. Users would have naturally gravitated toward apps that do resize just is I found myself doing so with multitasking apps after the release of iOS 4. As it stands currently, notifications in iOS 5 are unacceptable and un-Apple in their implementation.

At the same time as my musings, rumors were surfacing regarding the next iPhone. Sites, including 'thisisnext.com', ran very exhaustive articles compiling the most credible rumours of what the iPhone 5 had in store. One rumours that struck me as odd was the suggestion of a larger 3.7" screen. Apple has stayed very true to the 3.5" screen of the original iPhone and to change it now would cause some very serious headaches for app developers. Also, that extra .2 of an inch isn't much, maybe enough for another line or two of text on screen. Why bother go through the trouble adding it for so little gain? It seems like an odd move from Apple which has distanced itself from the numbers game one-upmanship of the rest of the tech industry.

Then it hit me: a line or two of text could be handy for notifications. In fact, bumping up the screen size by .2" would provide exactly the right space for notifications to slip into. My back-of-the-envelope calculations confirm this. By my calculations iOS 5 notifications are 6mm in height. Expanding the iPhone’s screen in all directions to accommodate 3.7" would result in 2.8mm of additional screen width and 4.2mm in additional screen height, but constraining the screen width to that of the existing iPhone and only increasing the screen height to accommodate 3.7" result in... 6mm of additional screen height!

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Picture it, on the iPhone 5 old, iOS 2 to 4, apps would no longer be covered by incoming notifications; they would instead appear in the blank space made available by that .2 of an inch. This would be a genius move by Apple: what couldn't possibly be fixed through software (having all app developers code their apps to resize below notifications) would instead be fixed through hardware. Ideally Apple would then learn from the mistakes of the past and place stronger restrictions on new 3.7" screen apps, requiring them to resize properly upon the arrival of a notification.

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Further more, with the additional screen space incoming notifications could be moved to the bottom of the screen so when apps resized they did so by moving up as happens in WebOS. This is a much than resizing down as the eye travels down the screen so you are lest apt to have what you are currently reading moved out of the way by a notification. Also, by being unobtrusive and at the bottom of the screen notification could even linger on the screen until dismissed. In this situation if the keyboard where invoked it would simply push the notifications up the screen, resulting in no less screen space than was previously been available while typing.

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If Apple does this it will have paved the way for one of the best notification systems in the mobile space next to WebOS's. Yet, in an all too common move Apple will have thrown older generation hardware owners under the bus, leaving them with obstructive notifications and a subpar user experience.