iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Plus: Fragmentation in the iDevice Lineup6
For the past several years, as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems have competed across multiple fronts (for consumers, for developer support), one point that has frequently been called out is the issue of Android fragmentation. This refers primarily to the numerous versions of Android that developers must target, since OEMs may or may not provide Android updates to consumers. However, it also refers to the various differences in hardware that developers must support for Android devices, from low- to high-powered devices with differing specs, such as screen size. Until a couple years ago, this was a non-issue for iOS devices. Most users were on the most up-to-date software, and developers needed only focus on one screen size. Even with the iPhone 5 and it’s introduction of a 4” screen, not much needed to change; the increase was incremental and developers only had two screen sizes to target. And with the introduction of the iPad Mini last year, it was the same resolution, pixel-for-pixel, as its larger sibling, the iPad Air. With the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple is again increasing the resolution of the phone, but doing so in a slightly less consistent manner. Both devices have a higher resolution than previous iPhones, but the iPhone 6 Plus has a higher resolution than the iPhone 6.
Now of course, this is nowhere near the level of fragmentation across Android devices, and both versions of the iPhone 6 are almost certainly going to be a massive success. But this does introduce some concerns that developers will need to be mindful of to ensure an ideal user experience. Most notably, the iPhone 6 Plus, like the Galaxy Note and others before it, is what many would call a “phablet.” It is a phone, but with the size that approaches a tablet. And this is where the potential issues arise. This discrepancy was already illustrated in Apple’s keynote: the iPhone 6 Plus has a different user experience than the iPhone 6 in some apps. Should the user experience in this device be designed more like the slightly smaller iPhone 6 or the slightly larger iPad Mini?
It will be crucial for developers to target both devices in their development. Apple helps to some degree with their “Auto Layout” but it will be up to developers to ensure that the correct user experience is being provided for each device. Designers and developers are faced with significant decisions about how to present full functionality in two different packages. Developing for these devices means needing to provide all the features and functionality across both versions, but understanding that tradeoff of utilizing the extra screen real estate vs. providing disparate experiences will require significant user experience expertise. We’ve seen issues like this before, from developers creating for an iPhone and simply extrapolating from that for an Android version, to the question of mobile-first vs. desktop first and beyond (responsive design?). It has always proved extremely beneficial to put the user experience in front of the users. This helps to ensure the correct decisions are made in design and development and that a great product, with a great user experience, is the result.
-Matt Daughtry, Senior User Experience Analyst, Usability Sciences