Larger Phone Screens Drive More Data Use

Samsung Galaxy S4Larger phone screens lead to more mobile content use. Data consumption on smartphones with screens 4.5 inches and up was 44% greater than those with screens below that size, at 7.2 GB to 5.0 GB.

Larger-screen devices make up a growing portion of the smartphone market. During the past year, they have risen from only 11% of retail models to 28% at the end of the third quarter, per a new NPD Group study. That trend has pushed up data usage on smartphones overall by 19% over that period.

Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones helped popularize bigger screen sizes -- and Android-based phones from other manufacturers, like Motorola and HTC, have followed that pattern with their own top-of-the line devices. The Samsung Galaxy S4, for instance, has a 5-inch screen, and the Galaxy Note 3 “phablet” boasts a 6-inch screen. Expect more of the same.

“OEMs are poised to continue increasing the product assortment and availability of smartphones with larger screen sizes in the coming years,” said John Buffone, director of NPD’s Connected Intelligence service, in releasing the findings. That should benefit carriers in particular, since it means data consumption will continue to rise.

A report from Chetan Sharma Consulting last week showed that mobile data revenue now makes up nearly half (48%) of total U.S. carrier services' revenue. The NPD study found that people with 4.5-inch or larger screens consumed more app content across categories including social media, navigation, video, retail and music.

“Larger screens open up the ability to do more of these activities,” noted Buffone. “It just makes it easier.” The bigger the better then for brands that tend to dominate smartphone app and Web use like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Amazon and Pandora.

So far, the most conspicuous holdout in the shift toward larger screens is Apple. The new flagship iPhone 5s sports a 4-inch screen -- the same as its predecessor. However, the next-generation iPhone is rumored to feature larger displays -- 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches -- that “curve” downward at the edges.

In the past, Apple has said it doesn’t want to make screen sizes so big it requires two hands to use a phone for basic tasks like answering the phone or quick email responses. At the same time, it’s under heightened competitive pressure to enlarge displays, as its 4-inch screen seems increasingly undersized compared to Android-based alternatives.

The NPD findings are drawn from its on-device "SmartMeter," which uses a three-month rolling panel providing the equivalent of 4,500 smartphone users. The panel is weighted toward U.S. Android and iPhone smartphone users; the usage data was collected between May and July 2013.

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