Report: Apple developing a larger-screen iPhone

The screens could be as large as 5.5 inches, pushing the company into the phablet category for the first time.

By Forbes Digital Nov 11, 2013 1:28PM
Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Phil Schiller speaks about the new iPhone 5C on September 10, 2013 in Cupertino, Calif. (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)By Mark Rogowsky, Forbes Contributor

Every few months a report surfaces that Apple (AAPL) is working on developing a larger-screen iPhone. This time the source is Bloomberg, and the report is that not one, but two such phones are likely in development.

Both are slated for release as soon with next year’s iPhone refresh, perhaps in September 2014. The models are believed to contain 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens, which would push Apple into the phablet category for the first time.

It’s possible the screens will also incorporate some curvature to the glass, though it’s more likely that would involve the screens partly wrapping around the phone as opposed to anything more radical like the new curved models from Samsung and LG.

If the rumors at last prove true, it will fit with Apple’s continued catering to the high-end customer. While the company doesn’t provide a sales breakdown, there are numerous reports that the new top-end iPhone 5s is doing even better than expected relative to the slightly less expensive 5c model.

What Apple would do to the lineup next year if it brought two larger models to market is unclear. Given its faith in the four-inch screen, it seems certain at least one of those models would carry over and become the free-on-contract phone in the U.S. and the lowest-price phone in unsubsidized markets. Most likely, that would be the 5c.

In addition to the larger screens, Apple is said to be working on new touch sensors that can detect differing amounts of pressure. The Bloomberg report suggests those won’t be ready for next year and, in fact, it seems likely that Apple wouldn’t combine too many major rollouts at once.

The reality is the 5s arguably brought too many changes with it to fit the Apple "it just works" mantra cleanly. Between iOS 7, the new 64-bit A7 processor and the TouchID fingerprint sensor, enough was changed that the 5s likely experiences more app crashes and reboots than any iPhone before it. (I say this with some first-hand experience). While the end result might still be acceptable, Apple is likely to be somewhat more cautious in changing out too many of the internals going forward in a single model year, especially if a major redesign of the screen and the externals finally comes to bear.

One unknown is whether Apple’s recent supply deal with GT Advanced Technology to make sapphire crystal would impact these designs. Apple currently uses sapphire to protect the fingerprint sensor and camera lens in the iPhone but there is speculation it might cover the entire screen with it going forward. It’s possible that these new designs will make use of the GT-supplied sapphire but not clear in what way.

Either way, should the larger iPhone finally materialize, it will be nothing but good news for Apple. The company has been ceding market share even at the high end as some number of customers has chosen Android-based phones due to Apple’s one-size-fits-all offering. With iPad, the company has been hugely successful offering two models and is rumored to be considering a third, larger model for 2014. Similarly, it offers notebook computers in multiple sizes.

A three iPhone lineup would likely add billions in incremental revenue to Apple’s fiscal 2015. Further a radical redesign of the iconic iPhone would similarly be well received. While the design has been refined with each generation, iPhone 5s is very much a derivative of the 2010 iPhone 4. Apple, as always, had no comment. But this bears following.

More on Forbes

Nov 11, 2013 3:06PM
I am hoping it's sooooooo big I'll need help strapping it to my back!
Nov 11, 2013 9:41PM
I'll keep my landline!

You idiots can buy Dumbphones!

Nov 12, 2013 2:15PM
I love my old Iphone 4. It works great and it seems funny they keep wanting to buy it back. It must be the quality of the phone.
Nov 11, 2013 3:24PM
larger screen iPhone = iPad, right?
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