DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Maybe you've noticed after years of getting smaller and smaller, smartphones are now getting bigger. Mostly that trend has been led by Samsung, but later today Apple is expected to announce bigger iPhones. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, it's a sign that we're using our phones less for talking and more as mini-computers.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Renee Esses has a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. She works out at a gym where there are a lot of teenagers.
RENEE ESSES: And all of them - is your phone big enough? And they just are completely making fun of me.
SYDELL: But Esses doesn't care. She used to have an iPhone.
ESSES: And it had basically become kind of useless other than honestly as a phone.
SYDELL: The iPhone is 4 inches on the diagonal compared with 5.7 on the Galaxy. Esses says her Galaxy is much more useful.
ESSES: It allows you to not only check your email, but actually read it and respond without, like, getting a finger cramp. You can have two screens open, and look at the email that was sent, put something on your calendar. It's so much more functional.
SYDELL: Esses is clearly not alone in her preference. According to research firm Canalys, smartphones with screens of 5 inches or over now make up more than a third of all smartphone shipments globally. While he was alive, Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs didn't see what anyone would want with a larger phone. That had to do with some basic design principles.
JOSHUA PORTER: The number one physical constraint was the size of the hand.
SYDELL: Joshua Porter is a designer who works to make software work well with hardware.
PORTER: They could hold the phone in either their left or their right hand and essentially use their thumb to access any parts of the screen or to tap on any parts of the screen.
SYDELL: But being able to quickly tap out a phone number is increasingly less important. Studies show a consistent decrease in the number of hours Americans spend actually talking on their phones. Messay Shoakena is a photographer who started doing some editing on his iPhone but found it clunky and tried a Samsung Note 3.
MESSAY SHOAKENA: The bigger the image, the better it is. Not only that, reading on it was much easier, you know, using apps like Flipboard or even a Kindle app.
SYDELL: It makes sense that a Korean company like Samsung pioneered the larger screen. In many Asian countries, a larger percentage of the population only connect to the Internet with a mobile device, says Amy Schade, a director at Nielsen Norman, which studies usability. Samsung devices also have a stylus.
AMY SCHADE: So to have the larger screen size to allow for writing in Asian languages - actually writing the characters rather than using key presses is sometimes an easier way to enter information.
SYDELL: Along with larger phones Apple is also expected to introduce some sort of wearable device - a kind of smartwatch, another thing which Samsung has already done. J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester, says the Apple device is likely to keep track of vital health signs, sports scores, stock prices. He imagines it will be the perfect complement to a larger iPhone which you keep in your bag or back pocket.
J.P. GOWNDER: So you could imagine a world in which some sort of iWatch and maybe a large-size iPhone coexist on the same body, and they just offer people different kinds of information in different contexts.
SYDELL: Apple is coming late to smartwatches and bigger phones, but this was also true when Apple introduced its first iPod, iPhone and iPad. Apple is a company with a long history of opening up existing categories of technology and turning their devices into must-haves. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
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