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So Apple Is Working On A — What?

There’s a published report this week indicating that Apple may want to go large with the iPhone and iPad. There’s talk of prototypes of the former with a 4.94-inch screen, close enough to five inches to be identical to the Samsung Galaxy S4. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the iPad prototype has a screen that’s “slightly less than 13 inches diagonally.”

Now if this report came from one of those Apple or Mac rumor sites, I suppose you might just ignore it. But the WSJ is evidently getting this information from the Asian supply chain, where such products have reportedly been built for testing. So it’s quite possible that the story is true, that Apple is indeed testing alternate form factors for their best-selling products.

I suppose it’s also possible such products may appear some time in the future. When it comes to an iPhone with a larger screen, it’s not that Apple CEO Tim Cook has dismissed the possibility that there will ever be such an animal, although he has talked about problems with current technology when it comes to color quality, longevity, battery life, and so on and so forth. Usually when Apple speaks of problems of this sort, it indicates there has been a lot of thought into how best to deal with those problems.

Take the iPad mini. Steve Jobs said, in a widely quoted remark, that you’d need to sandpaper your fingers to use one of the 7-inch tablets. Was he just blowing smoke, knowing a smaller iPad was under development? Yes, the iPad mini arrived after his passing, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t approve the early designs. True to tell, it may well be that most of the new Apple gear we’ll be seeing for another year or two was first green lit by Jobs.

Regardless, notice how Apple VP Philip Schiller demonstrated how the standard aspect ratio of the 7.9-inch iPad mini gave you far more usable area than a 7-inch widescreen tablet. So Apple went to the larger form factor, and avoided widescreens, to give you more screen real estate, particularly in landscape mode. There’s no denying the mini’s success, and the reports that sales have actually exceeded that of the regular iPad.

What this means is that, if Apple feels they can build a 5-inch iPhone that would meet their standards, you can bet one will appear. The same is true for a larger iPad, assuming there is much demand for such a beast.

At the same time, however, these prototypes, if they exist, may never, ever see the light of day. It would be foolish to believe that every single product that enters the test labs and makes it to the prototype stage will actually be cleared for release. So Apple, as rumored, may have indeed ordered 55-inch and 65-inch flat panels for a proposed Apple connected TV. Indeed, I heard about a 42-inch version some time back, but you know what happened with that. Nothing of course. It’s very possible that Apple may not have reached the stage where they are ready to commit to production, or maybe it will be produced, but we don’t know when.

However, when such rumors arise, even when they appear in mainstream publications with at least some measure of credibility, it would seem you have to take them seriously. After all, Apple is not going to release a new gadget just because the competition has been there already. The media has exhorted Apple to make various and sundry products for years without much impact. And when Apple released the iPhone and the iPad, the response was derision from many quarters, even before they had a chance to try them out. I can’t tell you how many times both were declared failures, but the same was true for the iPod.

That there may be a larger iPhone in our future doesn’t mean that a less expensive model isn’t also on the horizon. Clearly the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4s continue to sell extremely well, and that should serve as a huge incentive for Apple to want to continue to reach a growing market of people who want a great smartphone, but aren’t willing to pay for the state of the art without the carrier subsidy. Perhaps they don’t even care about having the most powerful components either, or have other priorities.

But that assumes the iPhone Lite, or whatever it’ll be called, will have a 3.5-inch or 4-inch display. If Apple does have a larger iPhone under development, they would also have to make allowances in the iOS developer tools to make it easy to optimize apps for the new form factor, unless it has a display size in direct proportion to current models, with the same screen resolution. But that would also mean Apple would have to fudge slightly on the Retina display requirements, and that might limit the increase in screen size.

However, I am anxious to see what Apple delivers come this fall, though I don’t expect to see most of the products said to be in prototype stage. More to the point, there probably won’t be an iPhone Phablet.