If we consider the physical shape of phones, they have since their inception, to this date, followed a bell curve. From the decidedly gigantic antennae toting Nokia 5110, to today’s Note series of phablets, much has changed yet the size seems to have come full circle. While in the days of old the large size was due to technical constraints, most of the large smartphones are adorned at the front by a gigantic high-resolution display. Phones have evolved from communication devices to daily companions, and our pocket computers are well equipped to keep us entertained be it with media or applications.
But as a recent report has from Localytics have revealed, some phones do it better than others. How much better you wonder? Well, studies indicate that devices sporting 5 inch or bigger screens have, on average, 23% more app engagement from their users compared to their smaller brethren. But why are bigger screen sizes promoting more user interaction? And does this mean that the smaller phones, like the iPhone SE, are fated to be unsuccessful? Is it just screen size that matters to the end user or does the underlying operating system influence how much we use our devices? We answer all these questions and raise some more in today’s analysis!
Bigger is Better, At Least For Mobile App Users
The graph above makes it pretty clear that people with phones larger than 5 inches spend a lot more time on their apps. What does, this time, translate into? Well, for starters, people with larger devices launch apps 21% more than people with smaller screen ones. And that’s just not all, on an average it has been found that the session time for 5+ inch devices is more by 3.53% as compared to 4-inch devices.
Combining these two stats together, we find phablet class of users is more engaged in their devices spending almost 66 minutes per app on their phones in a month, a whopping 27% more than 4-inch smartphone users whose monthly per app usage hovers around 52 minutes. The reason behind this can be quite simple devices with larger screen real estate provide a much better Internet experience whether it be consuming media or browsing social media or even games.
So does this mean that the 4-inch devices are going the way of the dinosaurs? Initial reports might say so, but we take an in-depth look at the smaller phones in our next segment.
The iPhone SE: Small Phone, Big Failure?
Although the iPhone SE hasn’t yet been out for a much of a while, we find that it has been doing a fair bit worse than the rest of it’s smaller screened brothers. At a mere 34 minutes, the SE lags behind other older iPhones as well as Samsung’s mini flagship offering, the S4 Mini.
While one of the potential causes could be that this is just a settling in phase and usage times on the iPhone SE are bound to pick up as time goes along, it does sound a few warning bells for Apple. At a day and age where 5 inches are no longer classified as phablets and companies like Xiaomi are coming out with behemoths at 6 inches, Apple’s controversial decision to go with a 4-inch screen to cut corners might just come back to bite them.
As a more astute among you might have already noticed, iOS has lagged behind Android when it has come to time spent per app. What does this tell us about users on each ecosystem and, in a wider perspective, about the ecosystem themselves? We discuss in our final segment.
Final Thoughts on User Behaviour and Choice of Mobile OS
The trend we saw holds true for not just devices with smaller screens but across the entire range of Samsung’s vast devices. On an average, Samsung users spend 22.9% more time on their apps as compared to Apple users. However, it is not the OEM branding that causes this change in user interactions, rather the Operating System’s underneath. Thus, at a very basic level, it comes down to TouchWiz (Samsung’s take on Android) vs. iOS and as the graph above shows, Touchwiz leads the way with 72 minutes per app compared to iOS’s 52 minutes for that app over a period of one month.
The gulf widens even further if we put all Android devices into the fray as apps are opened 15% more frequently on Android devices which increase user interaction on the OS by 29% compared to their iOS counterpart. While puzzling at first glance, the nature of the two OS reveals this gap in user interaction. While the simplistic easy to use iOS draws in many users with its fluidity and polished UX, power users tend to shy away from the restrictive iOS. Instead, Android is the preferred OS for power users who seek to be deeply invested in their mobile experience and thus have a higher rate of engagement.
This, however, doesn’t bode well for app developers who seek to develop more for iOS as the App Store boasts of higher revenue on a yearly basis which directly translates into more money for the app developers. Faced with such a tough situation, we have outlined below few of the optimizations that the App developers can employ to make sure that their app engagement remains high.
- Optimize for a particular OS: Optimizing a game or an app for iOS is a fair margin easier than doing it for Android. This is due to the fact that Android has a dynamic scaling process which allows apps to scale themselves to any screen size. However, iOS with its limited number of screen sizes gives developers the added freedom to hard code values for each specific model, an optimization that not only guarantees a proper layout but also helps with the processing power.
- Optimize for Processing Power: As we touched upon in the previous point, one of the major advantages of iOS is the fact that apps can be mapped directly on a pixel to pixel basis rather than the GPU intensive scaling process. However, that does not mean that there is no optimization that can be done for Android devices. In fact, in one of the fastest growing smartphone markets, India we see that a vast majority of the mobile gaming is done on lower end devices which provide a perfect example of a situation where the user demographic demands app optimization to maximize engagement and revenue from IAP.
It has been proven time and again that user interaction is the one vital statistic that can literally decide the fate of an app. So in order to break into the small circle of elite developers, app creators must focus on optimizing their experience for all device sizes across different versions of Operating Systems.
As Gartner points out, “Smartphones and their myriad individual features will become less important in the future as consumers continue to find that the devices are becoming commodities while the apps that run on them bring more value to their lives.”
Looks like phablets are just the vessels for content consumption on mobile and why the screen size does matter, in a world where large screens are increasingly becoming the norm, what sets them apart is what is being displayed on them. The content revolution is on the cusp of fruition and app developers are head into a new era where they control the user experience. How well can they utilize all the hardware at their disposal is what remains to be seen!