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The first signs were there already. Both my parents recently bought new Android phones for their pay-as-you-go cellphone plans, and their research both ended up with them selecting middle of the line, big phones. They didn’t look for or wanted large-screened phones, but they came in only two sizes: big, and really big. With the iPhone SE gone, small-sized phones is now a "niche" feature, like headphone jacks and user-replaceable batteries. Tyranny of the majority, I guess.

Ever since the introduction of the iPhone, small-sized touch devices were doomed to be bigger. Previous "touch" devices like Palm and Windows CE could afford a GUI that mimicked the desktop computer’s since the input was a precise pen. But with our fat fingers, the whole GUI has to be scaled up.

For a while, bigger screens not only were too expensive, but their backlight would drain the batteries too fast. But as batteries became more efficient, increasing the screen surface area is more than compensated by the bigger battery placed underneath.

There are usability issues with those bigger phones. If you attempt to use them from a single hand, your thumb cannot reach the entirety of the screen, and for what it can reach, at the outer limit your thumb is at such a side angle that it is imprecise. At any rate, you should use your thumb to hold it well in your hand, otherwise the phone can easily be dropped. And there’s the obvious issue of just fitting that phone in your (front) pockets: For a "plus-sized” phone, you must use a purse, or take it out of your front pocket each time you sit down.

Personally, I preferred small phones because of their minimalism. Bigger phones feel more obnoxious, begging for your constant attention. When you place a phone on a table, the notifications they display pester you for interaction. Walking on the sidewalk, while using it with two hands, their large screen make you oblivious to your surroundings. Twenty years ago, you’d think I was using computers too much. Nowadays, phones are used like computers all the time, which makes my use of “actual” computers feel disciplined in comparison.

There was also almost this sense of pride to be able to do so much on such a small screen. Controlling my web site over SSH when half the screen is filled up with the keyboard. Editing a complex text document or spreadsheet on-the-go. Writing and publishing a blog (on the previously mentioned web site). But on a screen larger than 6 inches, where’s the challenge? At that size, I might be better off using a "Ultra-Mobile PCs"...

Published on September 16, 2018 at 20:29 EDT

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