Mobile App Screen Size Pitfalls

A few weeks ago, when I shared my thoughts on the iPad, I noted that while the iPad will run iPhone apps, they probably wouldn’t look that great. Instead, developers would have to create new iPad apps.

“That’s fine!” you exclaim, thinking that you’ll just uprez your widgets and artwork from your iPhone app to the new iPad screen size. Problem solved, right? Apparently Apple thought so too and tried creating iPad sized versions of their default iPhone apps. And apparently that idea sucked. From Daring Fireball:

It’s not that Apple couldn’t just create bigger versions of these apps and have them run on the iPad. It wasn’t a technical problem, it was a design problem. There were, internally to Apple (of course), versions of these apps (or at least some of them) with upscaled iPad-sized graphics, but otherwise the same UI and layout as the iPhone versions. Ends up that just blowing up iPhone apps to fill the iPad screen looks and feels weird, even if you use higher-resolution graphics so that nothing looks pixelated. So they were scrapped by you-know-who.

Think this is just an Apple problem? No, it’s a mobile device problem!

Desktop and web app developers have it easy. Most computer screens are large, and any variation in size can usually be glossed over by either the OS or web browser. Nobody really uses computer screens smaller than 640×480, while many people now have 48″ screens that leave HD in the dust.

Mobile is a totally different ball game. Apps are modal, meaning your app has to account for all of the screen real estate. If it’s too big or too small, it will either fail to display or display incorrectly. Even Engadget recently lamented how they had trouble getting apps to run on the Nexus One:

I recently tried to install one of the few good Android games and found it won’t work on Nexus One as it has a nonstandard screen resolution.

Fortunately, Android developers have it a little easier than iPhone/iPad developers. The Android platform comes with no guarantees about screen size, so the platform has supported dynamic screen size features since version 1.6. Android developers should read this article and become very familiar with how to use these techniques.

Apple developers have it a little tougher. The iPhone and the iPad are fundamentally differently sized devices, and if even mighty Apple’s iPhone apps work poorly at iPad sizes, then it looks more and more like the two are separate platforms entirely. That may mean iPhone developers need to start over for the iPad.

Mobile developers, what do you think? Any tips and tricks to share?

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(This post originally appeared on the uTest blog)

One Response to “Mobile App Screen Size Pitfalls”

  1. 5 Things To Consider When Testing Your Mobile App | Mobile App Testing said:

    [...] (Editor’s note: Our guest bloggers have dealt with subject many times before, here’s the most recent post). [...]

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