How Will Apple’s iPhone 6 Affect Mobile Web Browsing?

We’re almost as thrilled with the iPhone 6 as the people who waited in line for 24 hours… almost. It’s packed with powerful new features deserving of a new model number and that simple, sleek design. Other than the Apple Pay (NFC) feature, which could revolutionize how we use money, the most notable are the two new iPhone 6 screen sizes of 4.7 and 5.5 inches. While this reflects Apple’s continuing defensive posture by reacting to larger Android screen sizes in a market they created in 2007, it’s still a welcome advance.

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Savvy web designers have been moving toward responsive design in the past two or three years, which is web code that automatically scales to accommodate different mobile screen sizes. These different sizes are expressed as “break points,” starting with mobile-first design on the smallest size and expanding from there until another design is needed to accommodate the content. Physical devices are not typically the measure of break points, but rather the nature of the content and purpose of the site.

WordPress and other open platforms have accelerated this by providing inexpensive templates and themes that include responsive capabilities out of the box. You’ll never get the same results with a DIY template as you would working with a seasoned web designer, but if you’re on your own with a small budget, it’s a great way to get started.

The iPhone 6 4.7-inch screen is only slightly larger than the 4-inch iPhone 5/5s/5c screen, so I don’t see that changing mobile web design. The iPhone 6 Plus 5.5-inch screen is a bigger leap, getting closer to the iPad mini size and placing it in the “phablet” category. This will be a little trickier as the larger size does present some possible opportunities for a web designer to use the extra space. But my instinct is that this will still mostly fall into the smallest break point category with larger images.

Android devices have embraced just about every conceivable screen size already, so that idea is not new. And Android marketshare dwarfs Apple’s worldwide. However, it is virtually impossible to design a perfect mobile experience for every device and it’s certainly impossible to test every possible device.

Now here’s something interesting that is coincidentally timed with the iPhone 6 launch. For years, Apple has not embraced the idea of a mobile/responsive website at apple.com. I always thought this was to highlight the superior mobile browser experience that they brought to market in 2007 with the original iPhone, making the mobile web truly usable for the first time. Now they finally have a mobile website, which signals yet another defensive market move. The mobile site is far better in my humble opinion.

One of the more quiet aspects of the iPhone 6 announcement is how it changed the rest of the iPhone line. The iPhone 5c is now free with a new cell phone contract. Not only do I think this will have a larger overall impact on getting iPhones into the world, but those iPhones will all have the “old” iPhone 5 screen size, which will dilute the impact of the new screen sizes that much more. The iPhone 5c is a very powerful device to get for free and for most people and purposes won’t even seem that much different than the newer models.

Overall market share of iPhones worldwide is still much smaller than other platforms, and it will take awhile for the new Apple screen sizes to penetrate the market in a serious way.

So I predict that web designers may tip toward adding another responsive break point in their designs as a general accommodation of the phablet devices, if they’re inclined to change at all. But I don’t think the iPhone 6 will radically change the way we design websites any time soon. After all, the beauty of responsive design is that it adapts to new screen sizes for those of us who plan ahead since the design is done independently of specific physical devices.

iOS apps are expected to work perfectly on the new screen sizes since Apple has planned for scalability all along, but expect app developers to upgrade graphics with higher resolution images where they would provide benefit. What’s more impactful are the Swift programming language and iOS 8, which includes a ton of under-the-hood enhancements for developers, including making it much easier for apps to talk to each other and for your phone to work with your Mac in real time.

Now, web browsing on your Apple Watch? That’s a whole other story.

Still have questions about how Apple’s iPhone 6 / iPhone 6 Plus will affect the readability of your website? Give us a ping, we’re happy to answer your questions.

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