Tuesday, February 5, 2013

5-Inch iPhone: Rumblings, Cravings, And Lots of Speculations

I’m sure Apple has iPhone prototypes in Jony Ives’ lab ranging from 3” all the way up to 6”.  It makes sense that Apple would play around with different screen sizes and UI to see what is best for users.  Now, it’s anyone’s guess whether Apple will ever release an iPhone with a bigger than 4” screen current on the iPhone 5.  


However, momentum is building within the Apple blog circle that Apple could conceivable release a 5” iPhone and they speculated how Apple could go about it.  The way they’re doing it is through mockups, speculating about resolutions, DPI, and icon sizes.  I read just about every post I could find on it and love every one of them and hope to God that they’re right.

Here are the more recent ones in the last week or so (Marco, iMore, Daring Fireball).

There are just a few problems.  One is Tim Cook saying that they found the perfect size with the 4” screen that is great for one handed use.  However, Apple has a history of saying one thing and doing another.  What Apple tells us today is what they want the media and its customers to think for today.  Tomorrow is another matter.  It’s an issue but not a major one.  Apple has been known, rather notoriously, for saying one thing only to do the complete opposite a moment later.

The second is that many of these mockups and speculations talk about the 5” DPI being less than the Retina Display.  If falls somewhere between the iPad mini and the iPad Retina Display.  Between this issue and the one-handed use, I think this is much more problematic.  It would not be Retina anymore by Apple’s own definition (as it is today).  Okay, fine.  Neither is the iPad mini or the iPad 2, two Apple products on sale that do not have Retina Displays.

However, a 5” iPhone will be considered a flagship device that will go just against competing flagship phones from Samsung, HTC, Nokia, and RIM.  And basically any punk on the mobile mean street looking to knock off Apple.  By keeping the same as the 4” at 1136x640, Apple leaves itself to cheap marketing shots by its competitors.

In fact, the upcoming Galaxy S 4 will have a 5” 1080p display.  That’s about 440 dpi.  If Apple keeps the 5” display at 1136x640.  I see the marketing from just about everyone who wants to tear one into Apple even if they don’t succeed in destroying iPhone’s good name.

What I Like Apple To Do

What Apple has to do increase the resolution again to keep the DPI within the parameters so that it can call its 5” iPhone display a Retina Display.  Go even as high as 2272x1280, twice the resolution of today’s iPhone 5 display and 4X the number of pixels. There will be added cost but Apple is free to price this higher than the regular 4” iPhone display.  I’m okay with even a 1.5X increase in resolution at 1704x960.  It’s quite feasible from a technical standpoint.  As for the apps, well, I believe app developers will fall in line.

And you know what? I’ll buy it.  Tens of millions of Apple fans will buy it.  Millions will wait eager wait in line for it.  At 2272x1280 or 1704x960, it would blow my socks off!

It would be Apple’s crowning achievement in mobile but it would cost more.  For instance, I see Apple release a 5” iPhone with a $100-150 premium over a comparable 4” iPhone.  And it’ll come with a 32 GB as a base model rather than 16 GB and go all the way up to 128 GB.  Depending on Apple’s willingness to absorb some margin hit and it has shown that in the last couple of financial quarters, Apple could really take the 5” and up segment of the market from Samsung.

My guess is that Apple has already laid the ground work for this.  For one thing, Apple already has the chips capable of running in the iPad 4 when it refreshed the 9.7” iPad with a better CPU just before the Christmas.  According to Apple, the A6X chip inside the iPad 4 has about 50-100% the processing and graphics power as the iPad 3.  And they both run the same display.  So you have to ask yourself what kind of awesomeness this chip will do in a 5” iPhone.  (If you like tech analysis and benchmarks, check out BareFeats and Anantech on the A6X chip.)

Will It or Won’t It?

All these speculations aside, which I’m loving it, it’s hard to say if Apple is going to go for it.  Times have changed since the original iPhone came out of Steve Jobs’ pocket in 2007.  A lot.  The incumbent leaders in mobile have come and gone with Palm being gone and Blackberry look at its new Blackberry 10 devices as make or break for 2013.  Microsoft has yet to mount a comeback (though I think Redmond’s patience will win the day eventually).  Nokia is in the same bed with Microsoft.

For the Android device makers, they’ve gone the bigger screen route and with a lot of success.  Apple’s biggest foe, Samsung, has differentiated itself from the rest of the Android pack with brilliant branding, copy Apple’s success to one degree or another, and really innovated with the bigger screens in the Galaxy Note line.

On top of that, the 5”-ish Galaxy S line is lighting up the high-end segment of the market where Apple usually like to have all to itself.

More than just phones getting bigger, so are the habits of mobile warriors and their behaviors towards their smartphones.  Calling is out.  Texting and other forms of social communication is in.  Twitter, Facebook, blogging as well surfing the Web or using apps take up more time than before.  Bigger screens helps.

We simply don’t use our phones to make calls as much anymore.  Our smartphones are for absorbing information.

I think Apple will eventually relent just as they have with the iPad mini.  However, when it happens, it’ll be on Apple’s terms and parameters.  It will not because investors, pundits, or market forces dictate it so.

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