A tale of two bigger iPhones

A tale of two bigger iPhones

One of the more popular rumors making the rounds right now is that Apple will release not one but two new, bigger iPhones this year. The first would be the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the second, a 5.5-inch Apple "phablet". These rumors aren't coming from overly sensational, overly outlandish sources, but from mainstream news outlets and some of the more reserved financial analysts. Even so, information gleaned from supply chain sources, many of whom are working on a wide array of products and prototypes from a range of vendors, this far in advance, is likely only slightly more reliable than a roll of the polyhedral dice. But beyond the rumors, what could all this mean?

Of densities and displays

Early versions of the "two bigger iPhones" rumor simply stated two larger phones — something between 4- and 5-inches, and something over 5-inches. Apple prototypes a lot of stuff before deciding what they think is the best product, so it's understandable that a lot of nebulous reports get surfaced. Recently, however, specifics have been attached — 4.7 inches at 1334x750 (@326ppi) and 5.5-inches at 1920 x 1080 (@401ppi).

Apple could take the current iPhone 5s display, 1136x640 (@326ppi) and stretch it out to 5-inches, but doing so would bring it down to iPad Air density (@264ppi). That would leave both the 4-inch iPhone and 7-inch iPad at the same density, and the 5-inch iPhone and 10-inch iPad at the same density, but the gain in size and accessibility wouldn't be matched by a gain in pixels and potential functionality.

If Apple changes the resolution of the iPhone screen, even if they go to a standard like 1920x1080p, it will cause pain for developers, but so did going Retina for iPhone 4, so did going 16:9 for iPhone 5, and temporary pain in the present for better products in the future is never something Apple's shied away from in the past.

Two new resolutions seems like an unnecessary amount of pain, however. (And Auto Layout — don't let the marketing name fool you — isn't a magic bullet.) Other manufacturers have put 1080p displays in 4.7-inch phones without a problem. It's a ludicrous density to be sure but it means that, instead of cropping/adding pixels to maintain size (like iPhone 4s vs. iPhone 5), they can be shrunk/enlarged to maintain count (like iPad mini/iPad Air). You'd lose nothing at 5.5-inches but gain a ton at 4.7.

I went over a bunch of different options, including stretching, @3x, @4x, 1080p, and more back in January of 2013 for Imagining a 5-inch iPhone and while I think the logic still holds, my personal opinion has evolved.

I'd love 1080p across the board at this point.

@3x (1704x960 @416ppi at 4.7-inches) may offer some advantages for developers in terms of scaling, though not as many as @4x (2272x1280 @554ppi at 4.7-inches), but those densities are beyond ludicrous. Even at 5.5-inches they work out to 356ppi and 474ppi respectively.

1080p is somewhat balanced between 4.7-inches, where it's 468dpi, and 5.5-inches, where it's 401dpi, and having the same resolution for both could lessen the pain, at least a little.

But the bottom line for me is that limited pixels will eventually limit software. Just like the iPad's larger size allowed for a higher class of software, so too could a larger iPhone.

Give me more pixels.

Of markets and madness

There are several reasons why a 4.7-inch (or thereabouts) iPhone 6 is a good idea for Apple in 2014. A couple of years ago the 4-inch iPhone 5 outsold not only every larger-than-4-inch phone in the U.S., but all of them combined on networks like AT&T and Verizon. Even over the course of the last year Apple's share of the premium smartphone market segment rose form 65% to 85%. Like I went over in Why a 5-inch iPhone 6 is far more important than a 13-inch iPad Pro, that leaves over 4-inch phones as a growth opportunity:

Once upon a time people had to choose between an iPhone on AT&T or a different phone on Verizon. Many chose the iPhone, but some didn't. When the iPhone hit Verizon, however, people no longer needed to choose. They could have both.

Right now people have to choose between a 4-inch iPhone or a larger phone from another manufacturer. Many still choose the 4-inch iPhone but some don't. When the iPhone goes to a larger screen size, people will no longer need to choose. They'll be able to have both.

That increases Apple's addressable market in a premium space (and removes a key differentiator for competitors), and that's what new devices are all about.

5.5-inch devices, or phablets, aren't so clear. They're incredibly popular in Asia and emerging markets where people want a primary computing device that serves as a phone but provides functionality closer to that of a tablet. Some geeks the world-over like them for the very same reason. However, in North America, they sell almost not at all.

Apple, by virtue of their brand and experience, could change that and do for phablets in North America what the iPad did for tablets, or they could simply target Asia and treat any traction they gain in North America as bonus.

Ben Bajarin discussed these market realities in more detail in Vector 36: Wearables, phablets, and the next big thing.

Of software and scale

On any new iOS hardware, the iOS part can't be ignored. How iOS would scale to the tablet was the big question prior to the iPad's release. How 9.7-inch iOS would scale down to 7.9-inches was the big question prior to the iPad mini's release. So, how iOS would scale up to bigger iPhones has to be considered as well.

The simple answer is just to scale it up the same way the iPad mini just scaled it down. It might look slightly comical on a 5.5-inch screen, but it would avoid introducing a third interface paradigm and the complexity that comes with it.

I wrote about this back in February of 2013 in ore on a 5-inch iPhone and scaling the interface. I'm starting to change my thinking on that as well, however.

Over time — maybe not with iOS 8 but with iOS 9 or others that follow — the iPhone interface itself could evolve to better make use of bigger, denser displays.

A single column list view has served us well. It's the back upon which the modern smartphone revolution was carrier. But as people become more sophisticated and devices become more capable, that too can and likely will evolve.

The bottom line

I've only heard about one new, bigger iPhone this year, the iPhone 6. Going to a bigger size solves a lot of problems for Apple and it makes a lot of sense to do it this year. That would, conceivably leave a 4-inch iPhone 5s-like device on the market for those still enamored with that form factor and size, and open up the addressable market with a 4.7-inch device.

A 5.5-inch iPhone is harder too see. Whether I've just not heard of it, whether it's not being treated as a phone but some third class of product, or whether it's not coming until later or next year, if at all, I don't know. But seeing Apple cover [every sweet spot on the mobile device spectrum at some point wouldn't surprise me in the least.

Announcing a second new iPhone or even phone-like phablet after September's iPhone 6 would. Releasing, not at all. Manufacturing constraints are manufacturing constraints. However, iPhone events are iPhone events. If there is more than one new size I'd expect to at least see them on stage at the same time.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

A tale of two bigger iPhones


It depends on how thin Apple wants to make the bigger iPhones.

If it remains the same width as iPhone 5S, the battery life will be drastically better. All of that extra space will be consumed by batteries, not anything else. The motherboard itself is likely to get more dense with smaller components.

If Apple goes thinner, then depending on how far they take it, the battery life probably won't be as drastic, it'll likely stay the same or slightly better.

Of course, this is depending on iOS 8 as well. If Apple continues to expand its multitasking capability, it's going to remain the same or get worse.

Provided they're smart and use the extra space for a larger battery. I have a Galaxy Note 3 and routinely get 2 days of battery life, I didn't look up the exact capacities but the Galaxy Note 3's battery is probably twice the size of the current iPhone.

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I have the iPhone 5 and it's too small, I don't want to see another stretch like 5, do it right and make it bigger, 4.7 inch???, but an even 5 inch would be better, they went from 3.5 to 4 and skip 4.5 and just go straight to 5 inch no bigger, or come out with two models 4.5 and 5 inch to satisfy everybody.

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Agree. Make it wider as well. Stretching was the easy way out to say they made it larger without causing too many problems for devs. IOS is a huge platform, if the devs want to keep making $$ they can deal with the inconvenience of a new resolution for their apps to adjust to.

How would you feel about an iPhone Pro (5.5" model) that is able to run both iPhone and iPad apps? Larger screen real estate allows for the iPad designed apps to run on a more portable device.

While as a consumer I wouldn't mind the choice between a 4.7 and a 5.5 inch phone, I just can't see Apple doing that. My best guess would be a 4.7 an the current size.

Off topic, what I would more like to see is a thicker phone for both better battery life and an optical zoom on the camera.

People used to say the same about iPad mini and yet it came out. The fact is it doesn't hurt Apple to target all parts of the market. The more iOS devices there are, the more money they can make off on the services (iTunes, iCloud, App Stores) and that's the next area where Apple have to seriously overhaul to survive the competition. They're horrible in this area.

I agree. Looking at the Mac lines and the iPad line, there are at least 2 size choices in each. It's logical at this point in the game. Either way Im excited and don't know which one Id rather have. My only hope is that Apple will not pull something like they did with the iPad Mini and go non-retina on one or both of them. I know that the Mini was so thin and that played into battery life but, Samsung and others have shown it is possible to go thin and still have a high density display. I think that would be a major blemish in their future history to do that.

iOS is currently not PPI independent. Auto-layout doesn't take care of this either. I strongly believe Apple won't go over 326 PPI.

The retina transition was easy because the PPI and resolution increased both by the same exact integer ratio (2x).

Some of the scenarios you propose involve density change ratios which are not round numbers. iOS devs never had to deal with this before. The 2x retina trick worked only in the specific case where the screen size did not change. Without PPI independence, an iPhone with a 400 PPI screen would make buttons and other UI elements too small to use.

Android is PPI independent, but it makes some of the UI blurry because logical pixels are more than often not aligned with physical pixels (a 1 pixel black line usually ends up as a 2 pixels gray line on Android). And because of this, Android phones -need- ultra-high PPI screens to hide these interpolation artifacts.

If Apple keeps iOS pixel perfect, which they did since 2007, the need for a higher resolution screen wouldn't be as important.

I am sure, Apple has some good plans to handle the big screen, like they handle the 4 inch, by giving good design clue to dev, and designer to show more content, and having same size UI elects, so transition was easy. The same way they handle change for iPad mini. I hope it will be easy for us dev, iOS8 will shed more lights on it :)

For the 9.7" iPad, Apple kept the same pixel size for system UI elements despite the lower PPI (265) compared to a retina iPhone. They also told developers to keep the same minimum pixel size for buttons and touch target as they were used to with the iPhone, which is 40 pixels (or 80 retina points).

That means that buttons, standard UI elements and touch targets appear slightly larger on a 9.7" iPad vs. an iPhone.

The iPad mini simply brings back the PPI to 326 like the iPhone, which means that the standard buttons and UI simply go back to the size they appear on an iPhone, which was already defined as the minimum size for buttons.

It's going -over- 326 PPI that would cause a problem as it would require much more work and auto-layout doesn't do anything to help since it doesn't resize the UI elements themselves, just the general layout.

While they could introduce some PPI independence in iOS8, it would save a lot of developers headaches if they simply kept 326 PPI as a maximum screen density.

I've been anticipating adding an iPhone to my rotation. I think 4.7 inches with a similar or higher PPI than the iPhone 5 series would seal the deal as long as the bezels are not too large. The Moto X is just about the perfect phone from a size and form perspective. So something similar would make me happy to buy one.

I am not sure about the practicalities of 5.5 inch this year or not....but if it is released....boy...people are gonna but like crazy...atleast me for sure..

I think a larger screen is almost essential for Apple now. But home they optimize iOS for the larger phone screen size is what is really going to be interesting. If you just took iOS7 in it's existing state and slapped it on a 4.7 in. screen it would be quite ugly.

Yes. Please please please keep the 4" screen in production, preferably with more than 64gb(I'm starting to run low). I will never ever buy a larger iphone! I will keep buying used 5s' if needed. Bigger is not better!

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My fear is how big the phone is. if they can fit a 4.7" screen in roughly the same size body of an iPhone 5/5s I think I would be ok with it. Even my Nexus 4 is just slightly bigger than I like.

Ideally i like the size of Blackberry Z 10 4.2, feels comfortable in both single and double hand use. The only thing looks odd in iPhone 5 size is its length to width ration looks odd, but after a while you get used to it.

I had originally scoffed at seeing all these huge phones from the competition and thought how comical they looked. But after giving it some thought based on the fact that I am getting older and my eyes are not what they used to be, I must say I am pretty excited for a bigger iPhone. I spend so much time looking at digital sources that it has taken a toll on my once great eyesight.

I'm probably in the minority on this, also it would never happen due to marketing realities, but I would be happy if they kept the 2x resolution of 960x540 at 4.7 inches.

That being said, I would think they would want to take advantage of the extra space with a third resolution between iPhone and iPad.

I'm a strong proponent of 2272 x 1280. Solving issues on the software end are lot harder than solving it on the hardware end. I assume that 500 to 600 DPI displays is something that can be mass produced. If it is, I see it as no-brainer and it solves all those pesky software issues, marketing issues, branding issues, user-facing issues, etc.

Ming Chi Kuo's rumored resolutions is going to be disaster for consumers. Maybe they'll use the OS X scaling technique, which renders apps at 2x the DPI and scales them down to the native res of the display. Maybe at 300+ DPI that can really work well. Wait and see.

2272 x 1280 wouldn't solve anything. The retina transition worked because -both- the density and resolution increased at the same time as a round number ratio (resulting in the same screen size).

This proposed resolution doubles the current iPhone 5 screen yes, but not the PPI (which increases by a non-integer ratio), forcing iOS developpers to throw out the window their assumption about pixel->physical size for buttons and UI, and have them resize all their UI elements by some non integer fraction.

funny i can use my 5 inch nexus 5 and my wives 5.7 inch note 3 one handed no problem and I have tiny hands for a guy.

People have this idea that bigger screen equals bigger phone, but that is not the case, your hand and body adjusts overtime and now anything between 4.7 - 5.5 inches is perfect for me and again I have tiny hands like almost women hands lol.

iPhone has the home button. One handed use requires holding phone comfortably while moving about, my thumb my primary finger. We need to reach home with our thumb and still be able to tap different areas of screen without adjusting phone position. Not gonna happen at 4.7 Not an issue for most but me and the constantly on the go crowd have an issue with it.

I just don't see Apple introducing 2 phones in one year. They never did. On the other hand there was always iPhone and iPod Touch. So when I saw these drawings of the 4.7 and 5.5 models coming up and the bigger one had the camera protruding from the back it hit me. The bigger one is the new iPod Touch. The rumors about it coming later in the year, same resolution makes it cheaper, as a phablet it brings new life in the product.

Good one Rene, although this screen size thing is getting a little boring by now. I'm waiting for the day when we will read about the great graphene breakthrough here.

"Recently, however, specifics have been attached — 4.7 inches at 1334x750 (@326ppi) and 5.5-inches at 1920 x 1080 (@401ppi)."

A little birdie tells me that Apple has been pushing Autolayout among iOS developers. It (supposedly) allows UI objects to reposition themselves and resize themselves automatically to adjust for different iPhone pixel geometries. It's been there since iOS 6, and Apple has been using phrases like "Modern apps should use Autolayout" at various developer events. Or so the little birdie tells me.

So guess what. Autolayout will be the perfect solution to the imminent 3-screen-size iPhone ecosystem. Interesting.

May be auto layout with iOS 7+ could work where apps, don't use ornaments, so that UI can be produced with colours or easily resizable images, but doesn't seems to go well with all apps. Worst case scenario, I think we will have to maintains two nibs (or storyboard) files, like we do in universal apps. And give right sizes images, and image assets will take care of it. The pieces are there. let see how they add up, excited for iOS 8

Analyst numbers, Ben Bajarin covered them on a previous episode of Vector.

Apple has 0% share of the under $400 phone market, which is huge, but which also bends the market perception as a whole.

It's why phones, like cars and other mature industries, need segmentation when this kind of stuff is being addressed.

Does it matter how much of a share Chery has of the car market compared to BMW?

When it comes to 4.7-5.5" phones, Apple isn't just competing with larger screens. These large phones, like Samsung's S5 or Blackberry's Z30, use the larger physical phone to also encompass a larger BATTERY and therefore tout battery life of 24(+) hours. The battery can't just be bigger to keep up with the screen and give the same use as it currently does. The battery should grow larger to overtake the screen's extra consumption and then some! If Apple competes at this size, it shouldn't only be to have a competitive screen size but also a proportionally larger, and more competitive, battery to feature all-day use.

These are two things that, individually, would increase iPhone sales and make current iPhone customers upgrade: larger screen (for some) and a larger, longer-lasting battery (for more). Together, it can be deadly. But with Apple's current track record of batteries and power consumption, this may be wishful thinking.

Though this was rather obvious even last year, current rumors have Apple interested in introducing a higher tier iphone at 299. Most likely the rumored 5.5 or 5.7" version with a new name. Looks like the 4.7" will take up the 199 tier.

With a bigger phone, doesn't Apple finally need to consider widgets and/or other homescreen layout options? A larger phone with a static grid filled with app icons, looks a bit ridiculous to me and seems to be a waste of real estate that could be better utilized.

If the purported 5.5" device is coming "later in the year" and is also a "phablet," maybe it's actually an "iPad nano" (as opposed to an iPhone at all) at a completely different aspect ratio. That might makes more sense out of the pixel numbers and it would explain why it's being released later in the year, basically when the iPads are released.

A 5.5" phone makes very little sense, and a tablet with a 16:9 aspect ratio makes very little sense. A tiny iPad that also doubles as a phone actually makes a lot of sense though.

5.7" would be exactly half the iPad mini screen which would make more sense than 5.5" (and wouldn't be 16:9 either).

True. I have been saying since the arrival of the very first iPad that for me, a 6" or so screen on a tablet that also has a phone function (and has stylus support for drawing) is basically the perfect machine.

I base that on the fact that those of us who's lives revolved around notepads before the arrival of this technology, typically used that size of notepad. Something along the lines of a paperback novel in size. I realise that 5.5" is a bit small for such a device, but I still have hope that instead of just a lame "big ass phone" Apple is actually going to do the right thing and create a more usable "iPad nano."

Edit: Actually 4" or so, would be "half the iPad mini" size, not 5.5".

If we round off the numbers the current dimensions for iPad are 8" and 10" models (with rumours of a 12"), so a 6" at the other end would fit rather nicely.

Cutting a 8" screen in half doesn't result in two 4" screens. It doesn't work like that.

The resulting diagonal is not halved because the aspect ratio changes.

Trust me on that, if you take an iPad mini in lanscape orientation and cut it in two halves vertically, you end up with two 5.7" screens not 4".

2048x1536 cut in half is 1024x1536, which at 326 PPI is exactly 5.7" diagonal (with a 3:2 aspect ratio)

Not only it would make it a little easier for devs because one resolution number (1536) is shared with the iPad, but it would also mean that you could run two of phablet optimized apps side by side on an iPad.

Well, it seems you are arguing with yourself, so I will leave you to that. You use an undefined term, ("half") then bitch at me for using one definition of it instead of the one that was "in your head."

Excuse me for not being psychic. :-/
None of this discussion has anything to do with my original post or my point, so ...

I wasn't bitching at you. I was simply correcting what I thought was a mistake when it was simply a misunderstanding.

Sorry if it came out the wrong way, I didn't mean any disrespect.

I just hope that if they do make two screen sizes, they don't go with a 'flagship' big screen and a a cut-down small screen like IIRC Samsung and HTC have with their Mini phones. As I understand it, they aren't just smaller but also have less features.
Apple has moved, with the iPad Air and Retina iPad Mini, to feature parity irrespective of screen size, I hope that sets a trend!

I've been using every iPhone except the 5s. I had instead switched to Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and I simply love the big screen although this is not its only advantage over the existing iPhones. Other key attractions include way way superior keyboards, photo albums management, and sharing functions where anything could be shared to anywhere.

After I cracked the screen on my Note 2 I picked up a 5s. First iphone I had since the 4. At first I loved the size, but it got old. It became work to use my phone. Juggling two small kids while trying to reply to work email or Skype was unbearable with a phone that big. Depends on your use case, but I'm loving the small form factor. iOS needs some work because there are so many useful features of android I miss, but I just couldn't handle the big screen anymore.

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I don't really find one hand usage a big deal. Even Steve Jobs uses two hands during his demos. What I want is not just a phone, but a small computer than fits nicely in the pocket without having to carry a back pack like I would have to with an iPad. That's why Samsung Galaxy Note 3's size is so perfect and appealing to me.

Yeah that makes sense. Perhaps it's just the kids that make one hand life so much easier. Or perhaps what I'm looking for in a phone. I use an iPad to get work done or for media consumption. I pretty much need a phone for quick/instant communication. That's probably why I held into my blackberry for so long lol. To each their own...but it's clear there is a huge audience for a bigger iphone.

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I want the iphone 6 to have bigger screen but also have good features such as air gesture, eye tracking, multi window. If the iphone 6 is only big and doesn't have any of those featurs then I might switch to note 4.

The multi window feature is really useful. I could do WhatsApp and Facebook at the same time without making the WhatsApp friend feeling that I'm inattentive as it would stay online at the time.

But Steve Jobs told me the only screen size I need is 3.5"!
Joking aside, I recently switched to iPhone from a 5" HTC Windows Phone. I thought the small iPhone screen would be a problem, but honestly it took me all of five minutes to get over it. I don't think it is as big of a deal as people make it out to be.
Plus, I like the small pocketable size of the iPhone 5

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They should announce the 4.7 inch version in September, and the 5.5 inch in March. That way, there's not a 12 month wait in between iPhones.

Or announce the 4.7 inch in August, the 4 inch in November, the 5.5 inch in February, and the 6C in May. A product launch every three months.

I am really looking forward to the possible 4.7 screen size as this will be my first iPhone purchase.

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I think a lot of people missing the point. Why we need a bigger screen? There is only one reason because like Samsung with there hardware needed room. They have a quad core chip inside and also 2 GB ram all that needs more space so a bigger phone! The other thing is the battery if they put a small battery in .... So that's why we find these 5 inch phones! However apple will go quad core in the next iPhone so again bigger phone!
I remember the time when phones were small and cool! I won't get a bigger iPhone because just doesn't fit my lifestyle with iPad and iPhone!

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I actually could see Apple consider a 5.5 inch device as a new category; iPhab. I think tailoring software to match its size could be the differentiating factor much like when many people called the iPad a "big iPod touch" only to realize that the software made the larger canvas an ideal device. People here in the states don't realize that this device isn't for them; it's for emerging markets with growth potential. There is minimal growth potential in the US, hence the slides that have come out in the Samsung trial. I also could see the iWatch as a companion to the bigger devices to make it easier to handle the bigger sizes.