Big, bigger, biggest – handsets challenge computers : There were no surprises in the unveiling of the new Phone XS Max last month, but that is only from the perspective of the previous few months. Two years ago, the specs of the device would have sent shockwaves through the industry.

The most startling feature of Apple’s flagship smartphone, as viewed from 2016, would have been its size. Back then, the iPhone 7 Plus had settled into the new “large” 5.5-inch format that first arrived with the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014. That phone symbolised Apple caving into the market forces that had seen the Samsung Note series lead the way to larger phone screens. Big, bigger, biggest – handsets challenge computers.

The XS Max symbolises a different response to market forces: Apple no longer wants to be the follower, and its 6.5-inch display now claims bragging rights for the largest screen on a mainstream flagship phone.

It is astonishing how much bigger this display is than that of the first Samsung Note, back in 2011, when its 5.3-inch screen introduced a new term: the “phablet”, a combination of phone and tablet. The format was roundly mocked by iPhone users, who have since had to grow up as much as their phones grew bigger.

The main competitor to the XS Max, the Samsung Galaxy Note9, has only a marginally smaller screen, at 6.4-inches, so is essentially the same size. It has an added advantage, namely a stylus, which in previous editions was designed for writing, drawing and tapping on the screen. On the Note9, it introduces new functionality, acting as a remote control device for the phone. 

The significance of this feature is that Note9 was positioned from the start as a tool for productivity, with the stylus allowing it to be used for input in documents and spreadsheets, among other. Remote control functionality, sold as a great tool for selfies and underwater photography, also makes it an excellent presentation tool. Big, bigger, biggest – handsets challenge computers.

Slowly, then, we are seeing a joining of the dots that link the smartphone, the tablet, and the computer. For the first time, displays are big enough for effective viewing of documents and spreadsheets. On sub-6-inch screens, touchscreen keyboards tend to get in the way, and it is difficult to use the functionality that is theoretically available on productivity apps.

This does not mean laptops are about to vanish. Most laptop screens are double the size of the biggest smartphone displays, typically starting at 13-inches. However, just a few years ago the idea that a smartphone screen could be half as big as that of a laptop would have been unthinkable.

Now, all major manufacturers are pursuing this size bracket.

How Huawei and LG go large

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