The latest report comes from a Maeil Business Newspaper via Reuters and claims the next iPhone will sport a 4.6-inch display. An unnamed industry source provided this tidbit, so I wouldn’t place any bets just yet.
Android phones started getting bigger screens last year because hardware manufacturers were desperate to differentiate themselves from the iPhone. “Bigger is better” went the thinking. But I’d say the evidence is far from conclusive that this is what users actually wanted. Sure, these phones sold in decent quantities, but that’s because carrier store employees were pushing them like crack dealers. I know several people who walked out of the store with one of those giant leviathans and were immediately disappointed in the way the thing felt in their hands.
The big screen is far from a “must-have” feature. If that weren’t true, iPhone sales would be hurting right now, not growing.
Another speculation about the big screen phenomenon was that hardware makers needed bigger screens so that they could put in bigger batteries to make up for LTE’s lousy battery life. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but if it is, it didn’t work. Most 4G phones suck for battery life, anyway.
So that brings us back to Apple. Apple is not struggling to differentiate itself. The iPhone is iconic. Making it bigger actually would hurt the brand more than help it. Apple also never does anything just because everyone else is doing it. They don’t want to be seen as copycats on anything, even when they are copying other people’s ideas. If there were any value in a larger screen beyond marketing, Apple would have designed the original iPhone that way.
Furthermore, a larger screen requires either apps that need to be redesigned to take advantage of the larger real estate, or a lower resolution than the current retina iPhone 4s to stretch the same pixels over a wider area. This would mean the screen would look worse, and all the target areas we’ve grown used to would be bigger, causing a loss of familiarity in user experience. Can you remember the last time Apple made a new product that was worse in this fundamental a way than its predecessor?
Remember, for iOS, the screen is the device. You don’t follow up the awesome screen of the new Retina iPad with a lesser screen in the next iPhone.
With the battery thing, I have to think that Apple will come up with a more clever way to make an LTE iPhone work all day without strapping on a giant screen to make room for a larger battery. There are just too many downsides. Either Apple will wait another year for LTE chips to catch up on efficiency and take the slight negative press hit on that, or they’ll have some new chip up their sleeve that ekes more battery somehow. I just don’t buy all the “bigger iPhone” rumors.