Apple won't make a larger screen iPhone while trade-offs exist

There's been rampant speculation, rumor mongering, and punditing that Apple must be, has to, is, or really should be making an even larger iPhone. Recall that from the original iPhone launch in 2007 up to the iPhone 4S of 2011, the screen size was a steady and unchanging 3.5-inches. Then with the iPhone 5 in September of 2012, Apple jumped to 4 inches while much of the rest of the smartphone industry was powering on to 5 inches and beyond. Heck, just two weeks ago Samsung announced a pair of new Android-powered smartphones with 5.8-inch and 6.3-inch screens.

Asked during today's Q2 2013 fiscal results conference call as to whether or not Apple's and CEO Tim Cook's disinclination towards larger screens has changed, Cook said that there are a number of trade-offs that have come with larger screens. He said that Apple's own research has revealed while some customers obviously place value on larger screen sizes (those giant Samsung, LG, and HTC phones wouldn't be selling otherwise), others value resolution, color quality, brightness, portability, and app compatibility. He said that "our competitors have made significant trade-offs in many of these areas" and that Apple would not launch a larger-screen iPhone while these trade-offs exist.

It's worth taking into consideration that Apple said similar things running up to the launch of the iPhone 5 and it's bigger screen, and Cook said as recently as the last quarter that he's happy with the 4-inch screen. It's also worth nothing that while Cook says he believes the iPhone 5 has "the absolute best display in the industry", the advent of 1080p smartphone screens has obviated some of his stated advantages such as resolution.

The "while these trade-offs exist" line implies that Apple does indeed have a larger-screen iPhone in development. It'd be silly to think that there aren't several 4.5-inch or 5-inch iPhones floating around the mad labs of Jony Ive. There are obviously trade-offs that would have to be overcome should Apple opt to jump up to a larger screen size, notably on the marks of portability and app compatibility. During the iPhone launch event in 2007, Steve Jobs pulled the iPhone out of his pocket like it hadn't even been there the entire lead-up to its unveiling. A +4-inch iPhone compromises that portability, especially when you still have to cram in a battery to power that display.

More pressing is the app compatibility issue. After several months since the iPhone 5 was released, we're still seeing new and updated apps that don't support the increased height of the new phone. The 4-inch screen didn't change the pixel density or horizontal width, while a 5-inch iPhone would almost certainly have to do just that. That creates a massive app compatibility headache, which Rene went to absurd lengths to analyze back in January.

Is there a five-inch iPhone sitting on a lab bench somewhere in Cupertino? Without a doubt, yes. Is it ready for release? We wouldn't say it is. Those trade-offs still exist, and it's going to take even Apple time to overcome them.

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.

  • Sounds like a cop out on apple's part. The 5" phones have 1080p screens now in all variations(amoled, lcd, etc)
  • Waiting for IGZO. No doubt now that 5" is coming.
  • A lot of people seem to be asking for a larger screen sized iPhone, including myself, but I definitely would want Apple to be able to do it without compromising on the quality of it. I checked out the HTC One phone the other day, and while the display is certainly great, I noticed that my iPhone's display had deeper blacks, brighter when maxed out, and colors seemed to pop more on it. If Apple were to make a larger display, I'd want them to make one just as good as this one; without compromise.
  • I hope he stays with where the 5 is now and doesn't go bigger. Eventually this ridiculous phablet trend will get old and they'll go smaller again.
  • That mock-up iPhone is way too big. No thank you.
  • Good, hopefully it stays the same size as the iPhone 5. 5 inch screens are stupidly big. Anyone with phones that big always look ridiculous to me. Anyone with a phone that big plus a case over it might as well carry around a brick.
  • I'm happy that Apple is considering a bigger screen for iPhone. Yes, there are a lot of things to consider when making those kinds of changes and the change should be implemented flawlessly to satisfy both consumers and app developers. However, I'm also sad that Apple isn't quick enough to do those things.
  • I do have to say for those of you who are saying you really want a lager screen iPhone that after jumping the iPhone ship and moving to the htc one x/ galaxy s3 ship, I am pleasantly happy with my new iPhone 5. The large screen gets really old and annoying after a while take it from me I left for a year and couldn't wait to come back. I thought that going to a smaller screen would be a difficult change but to my surprise it wasn't and I enjoy using my phone again not to mention I actually missed iOS.
  • I'm satisfied with my screen height, I would like more width would be cool. Overall I'm satisfied.
  • Tim Cook is full of S@#t! I don't see why its so difficult when every other company can do it. You have more than 100 billion in the bank but can't figure out how to make a larger screen?? The HTC One is what the iPhone 5 should be. They clearly capitalized off copying Ive's design with the big screen. They should at least offer multiple screen sizes for people who want larger phones but don't want to leave the apple ecosystem.
  • Bigger iphone coming next year. He basically danced around the issue while still champion his current iphone form factor. Smart move.
  • So what other companies are maker bigger phones, that's not what Apple is about. I like having a phone that fits in my pocket while I'm skateboarding, and isn't bothersome when walking to classes at school. One of the most important things about cell phones is their portability, and if they made the iPhone any bigger, it would compromise that.
  • How can they say there are trade offs?? iPad 9.7 inch with retina screen anybody?? Hmmmmm?
  • Make a 4 inch for those who want it and a 5 inch! Make 2 or 3 sizes like the MacBooks!
  • If Apple does make a larger screen iPhone, I hope it's no larger than 4.5". The 5" phones are way to big for my liking.
  • Apple could make the best 5" device if it wanted to. It would have the best hardware and potentially the best OS with improved iOS 7
  • A 5" iPhone would look silly. A 4.5" or 4.8" would just be about right...And please make it wider and include a built-in radio...Not an app radio that needs data usage or internet. Get on with it... P.S
    Don't forget to make it wider too,otherwise it would look like a tv remote control. SMH Sent from a nearby ATM machine
  • I currently have the iphone 5 and love it. I recently owned a 4.5 inch htc and really hated it. The screen was too big and the phone itself was cumbersome, plus it froze all the time. My bf has the new htc one and while it is nice it is far too big for me. I never bought an iphone before the 5 because the screen was too small. The 5 is perfect for me. I already have an ipad why would i want one i could cram in my pocket..