Apple is currently testing larger iPhones, according to a handful of sources cited by Reuters. There are two models being considered at the moment: one has a 4.7-inch screen and the other has a 5.7-inch screen. Phones with displays this large are often called phablets, because they bridge the gap between smartphones and tablets. Reuters' sources, which include Asian component suppliers, believe that Apple is still researching these models and hasn't made any final decisions on whether or not to bring them to market. This report echoes similar reports from earlier this year.
If Apple were to bring either device to market, it would represent a departure from Apple's long-held belief that the iPhone needs to be operable in one hand. The reason the iPhones 1, 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S all had 3.5-inch screens is because the late and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs believed that was the perfect sized screen for consumers.
The crux is reach. With all the earlier iPhones and even the iPhone 5 (which has a 4.0-inch display), consumers can easily reach the entire screen with their thumbs. Larger screens often require users to reposition their hand or the phone in order to reach the far corner of the display. This is what Jobs wanted to avoid.
[ Is the market saying Jobs was wrong? Read Samsung Galaxy S4 Outsells iPhone 5. ]
Earlier this year, when asked directly if Apple would introduce larger iPhones, CEO Tim Cook said Apple would not sell devices that have a compromised user experience. He reiterated Apple's position that larger phones are often harder to use. He didn't say, "No." He left the door open for the possibility that there might one day be larger iPhones without confirming the company's plans.
Samsung has sprayed new products into the marketplace with the ferocity of a firehose. In the last several months, it introduced the Galaxy S4, S4 Mini and S4 Zoom, as well as the Galaxy Mega 5.8 and 6.3 -- all hard-hitting smartphones with larger screens. Apple needs to respond with more than one phone per year.
It might do just that this fall with the next-generation iPhone.
Both Reuters and The Wall Street Journal suggest that Apple will release a new iPhone that is nearly identical to the iPhone 5. It will be called the iPhone 5S. It will be similar in most respects, the only real difference being a fingerprint scanner. (Apple bought a fingerprint company called AuthenTec several years ago.) With the 5S, Apple will follow the pattern it has followed for years by offering an incremental update to an existing chassis.
Apple's ace-in-the-hole this year will be a new, less expensive iPhone. Long rumored, this lesser iPhone will have most of the same features as the iPhone 5/5S, but will trade the slim aluminum body for a plastic one. Further, Apple will offer this plastic iPhone in several different colors rather than the black or white models it typically offers. The device is expected to have a price point of $99 rather than the $199 - $399 of the iPhone 5/5S. What's not clear is how Apple will treat the existing iPhone 4S and 4, which it still sells at lower price points.