An authoritative-looking New York Times report suggests that Apple is about to go whole-hog with larger screen sizes for its flagship iPhone. That’ll no doubt please Apple fans who’ve jealously eyed huge phones and phablets from its rival Samsung.
But what about the small-handed iPhone aficionado? What’s going to happen to today’s convenient device that nestles comfortably in your palm for one-handed operation?
Sadly, the smaller screen and narrow body of today’s iPhone 5S might very soon be history come Tuesday, when Apple reveals its mobile lineup. Here’s why.
Display sizes have long been a polarizing issue for Apple fans. When Apple first debuted a 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5, some were excited about getting a generous display. Others complained that it was too big to use with one hand.
It probably didn’t hurt that Apple also kept a smaller model, the iPhone 4S, in production at the time. Over time, users got comfortable with the new larger size, and complaints dwindled.
Now, though, comes this NYT report, apparently based on multiple conversations with Apple employees and other insiders. It is flush with details about the expected new iPhone models with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens, but says nothing about the possibility that Apple might retain a model with today’s 4-inch screen.
True, there’s an outside chance that Apple will hang onto the old size, either by retaining the iPhone 5S or by renaming and repacking it, the way the iPhone 5 turned into the iPhone 5C. But there has been a distinct lack of chatter about such a thing. And there’s a pretty solid argument as to why Apple wouldn’t want to keep the 4-inch screen around anyway.
Sizes, Sizes Everywhere
Originally, Apple’s mobile ecosystem was a model of simplicity. Both outside developers and Apple’s own iOS team had exactly one screen size to worry about—the original iPhone’s 3.5-inch display.
Then came the iPad, at 9.7 inches. Then the iPhone 5, at 4 inches, and the iPad mini at 7.9 inches. So instead of one display size, Apple has four.
And that looks likely to get a lot more complicated.
Apple will almost certainly discontinue the iPhone 4S, eliminating the 3.5-inch screen from its lineup (although developers who care about backward compatibility will still need to make their apps work with the smaller display.) But, assuming the NYT has it right, it’ll be adding two more iPhone screen sizes at 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches. That brings us to five display sizes.
Then there’s the rumor of a new 12.9-inch iPad—which still seems a bit iffy at this point—and the more likely launch of a pair of Apple smartwatches with curved displays in two sizes. (Perhaps a men’s version and a women’s model? Please?) So now we’re looking at as many as eight different displays for developers to juggle.
True, that’s still nowhere near the hundreds that fracture the Android landscape. But in one fell swoop, Apple may be about to double the number of sizes it offers. That may be no big deal for app developers who use the company’s Auto Layout tool, which can make apps work for different display sizes, but not everyone uses it. Phasing out the 4-inch iPhone would be one way to reduce some of the complexity. Every little bit helps.
Get Those Big Pockets Ready
Set aside the effect of the bigger iPhones on developers. New and upgrading iPhone users are going to be more directly affected by the experience of carrying a huge phone on a daily basis.
Some will undoubtedly cheer at the roomier display. Samsung, after all, has managed to succeed with giant mobile devices, proving that a substantial number of people want bigger smartphones or the even more humongous hybrid “phone-tablet” gizmos known as phablets. According to Counterpoint Research, even though Samsung earnings have started to lag, it still managed to capture 36% of U.S. smartphone shipments in the second quarter. Meanwhile, iPhones took just 20%.
Apple’s tactic now seems to be, well, copying Samsung on screen size, practically point for point. The smaller iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch screen comes closer to the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5’s 5.1-inch display. And the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 approaches the Note 3 and the Note 4’s 5.7-inch displays.
According to the NYT, the bigger phones are supposed to come with software designed to make one-handed operation possible, though it’s not yet clear how that will work. Still, that could be cold comfort for people resentful of cramming a huge device into their skinny jeans or clutch bags.
Lead photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite