Apple has indirectly dared iPhone developers to find the best solution regarding the different screen dimensions of the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
Perfectly-pixelated screen designs have been a trademark of native iOS development from the start. It is a tradition that may have to give way to adaptive screen design across the platform. Native iOS developers tend to fulfill specific devices more than mobile web and Android developers. However, when the screen sizes vary, all the developers can do is put more effort towards an adaptive or responsive approach in their app’s design. Before iPhone 6, there are very few screen size differences to contend with in the iOS world compared to Android.
When looking at the screen dimensions for each of the different iPhone models supported by iOS 8, only the iPhone 4S supports a 3:2 aspect ratio. The iPhone 5, 5C, 5S as well as the new iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus all support a 16:9 aspect ratio. Moving from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5, Apple kept the pixel width of the different screens constant at 640. It was the pixel height that changed from 960 to 1136, which transitioned the iPhone from a 3:2 ratio to 16:9. With the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, both the width and the height changed keeping the aspect ratio fixed at 16:9 across all iOS 8 supported iPhones, except the iPhone 4S.
The shorter dimensions of the iPhone 4S compared to the other iOS 8 supported iPhone series makes it more difficult to support when it comes to screen design. Designs don’t scale well when crossing over to a different aspect ratio. Still, this is not a new challenge for iOS developers to contend with, as this has been a part of iOS 7 development all along. As a result, there are still some iOS 6 apps out there that do not conform to the 16:9 screen dimensions of the iPhone 5 and center themselves on the screen, leaving blank black bars of space across the top and bottom of the device.
The good news about the screen dimensions on both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is that all of the effort put into redesigning apps to take full advantage of the iPhone 5 screen size will, for the most part, scale nicely on both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus.
Meanwhile, Apple has made every effort to keep apps that were specifically redesigned in iOS 7 for the iPhone 5, 5C and 5S to look as good as possible in iOS 8 on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The auto-scaling capabilities built into iOS will look better than the letter-boxing effect app that owners had to deal with as developers redesigned their screens from the 3:2 aspect ratio inherent to the iPhone 4 and 4S to the taller, more slender 16:9 ratio of the iPhone 5.
What is likely to prompt developers to redesign some of your favorite iPhone apps will be the changes introduced by the iPhone 6 Plus and its enhanced support for landscape mode. Many iPhone specific apps lock their orientation to portrait mode. You may have noticed that these particular apps do not rotate when you tilt your screen. This is primarily because in many scenarios on the iPhone, landscape mode just does not have enough space to design a decent app.
With the iPhone 6 Plus’s larger screen, Apple has started supporting the home screen in landscape mode as well as a more iPad-like split view for iPhone 6 Plus apps. This will likely require some major updates to customize the user experience on the iPhone 6 Plus, especially when designing app extensions. The time it will take to redesign portrait-only screen layouts of an iPhone only app could equal that of transition to a universal app that also supports the iPad.