The iPhone “Icon Ceiling” has been broken: is this the beginning of the end?

iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS boxescc:by The Pug Father

Since its inception, the iPhone has had a hard icon limit: At most, 20 apps are allowed on the home screen. As you can see from the boxes above, these boundaries have been pushed: the default iPhone home screen has become more crowded with each new generation. But—until yesterday—this limit put in place under Steve Jobs has never been broken.

Default iPhone home screen icon count

The "Icon Ceiling"

While Jobs still held the company reins, this “Icon Ceiling” was strictly enforced: the iPhone home screen had a hard and fast limit of 20 icons. Careful readers will note that the default home screen icon count hit that limit twice—once with the iPhone 3GS, and again with the iPhone 4S.

In the former case, the crisis was averted when Apple developed an innovative new UI paradigm to handle the added capacity: in iOS 4.1, Apple added folders, allowing them to drop back down to a safe home screen icon count.

But when disaster reared its head again, and the iPhone 4S shipped with a home screen chock full of default apps, the team was unable to deliver that good old Apple magic. Without Apple co-founder and longtime CEO Steve Jobs at the helm, the visionless Apple saw no way forward but to break the time-honored Icon Ceiling.

A taste of things to come?

The iPhone 5 ships with 21 home screen icons

For a year now, Apple has been chugging along on intertia and their war chest full of past profits, but will that be enough to last? Yesterday’s iPhone 5 announcement was a sign of the weakening resolve in the post-Jobs iPhone team. The iPhone 5 ships with 21 home screen icons.

Is it any coincidence that the “Icon Ceiling” was respected until this, the very first post-Jobs iPhone?

Twenty. One. Icons.

Sure, yesterday’s hardware refresh has given Apple a lifeline for another year or so. There are three empty slots at the bottom of the oversized new display, but how long will they last? What does this alarming trend say about the future of this once-great corporation?

Is this phone an harbinger of Apple’s impending doom?

Analysts’ projections are grave

Apple can’t hope to keep home screen icon escalation up indefinitely. Now that they’ve demonstrated their willingness to throw caution to the wind, will they ever stop?

Analysts estimate that at the current rate of growth, there will be over 45 icons on the home screen within two major hardware generations.

Projected iPhone home screen icon count

Analysts projections are grave

The Mac apologists, and Grubers, and Macalopes may try to spin these facts, but we all know they’ve been wrong before. And in this case, we’ve got numbers, and numbers don’t lie. The situation looks grave.

Early prototypes don’t provide much hope

I’ve been given exclusive access to a leaked early prototype of the not-even-announced-yet “iPhone 7”. The very model which analysts warn might spell the death of the iPhone family. And I’ve gotta say, it doesn’t look very promising. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t see anyone buying this so-called “iPhone 7”:

Early prototypes of the "iPhone 7"