Phones with large displays: a challenge for the UX designer (and human hands)

I’m sure my hands are not much smaller than the average woman’s. I started looking for an answer to the question “Is it in me?” The average arm length of an adult male is 7.6 inches (19.3 cm). For women, the average decreases to 6.8 inches (17.2 cm). Suppose I fall within these limits. This comforted me a little. So it’s not my fault that I dropped my phone 26 times, until the screen looked like Schwarzenegger peeling off the skin from his hand in the movie “The Terminator”

The 7 most potentially successful small smartphones for 2020 have an average screen size of 6.3 inches (16 cm), and a person’s thumb averages about 3.11 inches (7.8 cm), obviously there is a problem. The smallest smartphone in 2020 is the 5.8-inch (14.7 cm) diagonal iPhone 11 Pro, while the largest is somewhere around 6.8-inches (17.2 cm).

Phones with large displays: a challenge for the UX designer (and human hands)
Average user’s thumb vs. 6.3-inch screen
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I can’t be the only person who dropped my phone because of this. The polls I conducted confirmed my suspicion. For example, the average American drops the phone four times a week, and a third of those simplified even more often. Some companies are addressing this problem by selling phone lanyards and straps so you can feel safer when holding your phone with one hand.

The situation is aggravated by a clear trend towards increasing the size of phones. “Phablets” do exist, and everything is so bad that you do not necessarily distinguish them from “regular” smartphones. Not only are phones bigger, but their screens are.

Why are phone screens getting bigger?

When trying to get an answer to this question, several reasons come up.

  1. Manufacturers have to squeeze a larger battery into the device, thereby increasing the size of the device itself.
  2. Phones are becoming media centers for a multitude of tasks… If we look beyond the content sourced from Instagram, Youtube, etc., we will reach a point where Netflix and other similar services will also invest in the mobile streaming market. Even if they admit that after about 6 months of using their service, 70% of streaming video ends up being consumed on TVs.
Phones with large displays: a challenge for the UX designer (and human hands)
Netflix View Statistics on Various Devices (VOX)

Not only does content demand large screens, it leads us to another reason why phones are getting bigger:

  1. Users need more processing power and memory. It makes sense that with the addition of more powerful processors, RAM, extra megapixels, or two additional cameras, the phones will need space. Not only for these cells, but also for large batteries. This completes the loop: after all, we don’t just crave big screens.

But nonetheless, obsession with big screens led to phone designsin which the front cameras are removed to make room for the display. They are hidden under the screen or made retractable.

Phones with large displays: a challenge for the UX designer (and human hands)
An innovative pivot camera smartphone (Xiaomi, Techgoondu)

Moreover: mobile UX-design supported this trend and found a way to remove all system buttons, which also take up screen space. You no longer need the bottom navigation bar, you now have several swipe options to go back, close the app, etc.

A friend of mine helped me choose a new phone after I smashed the screen of the previous one. He pointed to the model with a pop-up camera, because “wow, this is an extra centimeter of the display.” I didn’t think about it at the time, but doesn’t it exacerbate the “small hand” problem? This is definitely the case.

When I told him that I was going to write this article, he advised me to try gestures that replaced the bottom navigation. Because they require less precision than pressing the bottom buttons. This means that I can hold my phone a little closer to the middle.

Are Android gestures the solution to the problem?

I resisted Android gestures, saying that my memory was too terrible to remember all those swipes and drags. They didn’t seem intuitive enough to me. I ended up learning how to use them in one day, but sometimes I still get stuck, not knowing what to do. These gestures often do not match the movements of items on the screen. They helped me switch between apps faster, but they hardly solved my problem.

This raised a number of questions regarding these movements. When I swipe from right to left, where is the logic that this gesture brings me back? In Western culture, our brains read from left to right, and this is how we usually arrange things. If I drag an element from right to left, I move it back and the next one takes its place. Despite the fact that for me it is very illogical, swiping from right to left is the movement to go back, used by default in the operating system of my smartphone.

But what if this movement is replaced by a push? For example, I’m not swiping to the left, but pushing the app / page to the left. I would say that this does not reflect our current logic of screen layout, but in any case, the animation should match it.

Phones with large displays: a challenge for the UX designer (and human hands)
Gesture Navigation Example (C.MI.COM)

Each OS version has its own UX-animationbut at the end of the day, the truth is that many of the navigation elements are still positioned at the top of the screen, with an emphasis on the top-left corner. Show me these UX-designers with huge hands? Can’t we fix this?

Whatsapp has top navigation and Facebook doesn’t seem to care about my hand size either. But Instagram took care of me. Indeed, on Instagram people use bottom navigation the most. The items placed at the top are stories, which, in my opinion, are considered content, since the scenario of scrolling stories instead of viewing them in an automatic order is not so common.

New products should follow the example of Instagram. Of course, keep the back button in the upper left corner, but I think I’ll use gestures instead. If you’re a designer, ask yourself which is more important to an app’s usability: an extra 30px of content, or the ability to move around the screen without dropping your phone? Isn’t the extra 50px that the camera has freed up at the top of the screen not enough?

I know it might seem like I have more questions than answers, but I feel like we are missing a very simple solution to the screen size problem. Manufacturers have done so much to increase screen size, processing power and battery capacity while keeping the phones slim that switch app navigation to the bottom of the screen was to be an automatic response to this new paradigm.

Despite the overwhelming discrepancy between the average hand and screen sizes, I’m willing to admit that there is no hardware solution for this problem yet … yet.

I miss you tiny Motorola from the past.

Author: Clark Douglas

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