The first surprise I had with the iPhone XS Max was just how much more I preferred iOS 12 on a much larger screen than the iPhone XS. The other surprise, however, was that not all the apps were created equal, especially when it comes to making the most of a full 6.5-inch panel. While the iPhone XS Max can fill the hand, not all software fills the screen.
The biggest touch screen offered on an iPhone to date is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, websites have lots of real estate to play with, rivaling an iPad Mini for how much you can look at once. Videos and games look expansive and bright; even more if they support HDR10 or Dolby Vision, as the new iPhones do.
On the flip side, apps that are not built with 6.5 inches in mind are very obvious. Flip Twitter's app to landscape orientation, for example, and you get a maximum of two, maybe three tweets on the screen at the same time; less if they have attached the media. Everybody broke with big white bars with empty spaces on each side.
Other apps are just … bigger. Great if your primary motivation for choosing the iPhone XS Max is bad vision – I can see this big screen be a real boon there – but not if you want to put each pixel in the Retina resolution for maximum use. Interfaces Designed To Be Perfectly Made For A 5.8-inch iPhone XS Looks On iPhone XS Max.
It's not exactly a new situation for iOS developers to find themselves. Apple stuck with a 3.5-inch display for several generations of iPhone, but then things started to grow bigger from iPhone 5. Gradually, panel size and aspect ratio has evolved from handset to handset, with app manufacturers expected to update the software to make the most of each subsequent screen.
iPhone XS Max throws down the rubber bracket in much the same way as the first "Plus" phone, iPhone 6 Plus, came back in late 2015. Then iOS developers met a variety of new layout options, including users' expectations that more apps would provide interfaces for landscape orientation. Apple's own software led the way, with two column interfaces in the iPhone app, and a landscape orientation view for the home screen.
As always, it's a stick and it's a carrot. Apple has set developers a deadline for when they need to have apps created with the iPhone XS Max screen in mind: by March 2019, all software must be built with iOS 12 SDK, and with support for the largest screen. Then any new programs – or updates to existing apps – will be rejected.
With iPhone XR on the horizon, I realize, however, that developers will look to beat the March deadline as much as possible. Apple's third new smartphone for 2018 may not be as big as the iPhone XS Max, but its 6.1-inch is still expanding in iPhone terms. Considering that it is widely predicted to be the best seller of the three new devices, there is a large audience who will expect their favorite software to make the most of each pixel they've just paid for.