More Chatter About the Next iPhone

January 24th, 2014

It is really early as such things go, but there is a surprising amount of speculation about the form and shape of the next iPhone, or iPhones if you assume more than one new model will be launched. There’s so much of it out there, you wonder whether you should call your favorite wireless carrier and place an advance order.

Of course, nobody out there is ready to take your order–at least not yet.

But one thing the discussions seem fairly consistent about is the possibility that the so-called iPhone 6, whether in comes in just one or more models, will sport a larger display. The Wall Street Journal is now reporting, for example, that there will be both a 4.5-inch version and one larger than five inches, which means, if you believe the story, that Apple is planning on making a phablet.

All right, there’s nothing particularly strange about this possibility, since these claims aren’t unique. And that’s before you consider whether or not it stands a chance of being true in any respect. What is interesting in the WSJ’s speculation is that the iPhone 5c, the plastic model, will be history. This appears to fit with the media meme that this model has been an abject failure, and that people don’t care about plastic iPhones, even if they come in neat colors.

Now I don’t know what is meant by failure, except to point out that the iPhone 5c has shown up among the most popular smartphones among online listings, even though many more are reportedly buying the iPhone 5s. But that plays to Apple’s advantage, since it means that the average sale price is higher. That also should appeal to Wall Street, which has shown concern in the past when transaction prices have declined, even though Apple does better than the competition.

Without knowing Apple’s real plans, I’ve long felt that the iPhone 5c was designed to offer a better alternative for shoppers on a budget rather than simply offering the previous year’s model at a lower price. The cost of making them is lower, obviously. If Apple sells more units than they would have sold had the original iPhone 5 remained in the lineup, or even the same number, it has to be a success. If fewer units are sold than projected, it won’t be a success.

So this seems to mostly argue for keeping the iPhone 5c in the lineup as a free-with-wireless-contract model, and offering the iPhone 5s for $99 when the iPhone 6 arrives. At least that seems to make sense t o me, if you look at Apple’s prior iPhone history. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be followed.

So if the iPhone 5c vanishes, it might seem that it wasn’t as successful as Apple hoped. Or maybe Apple decided to take a different approach. It’s not that Apple hasn’t killed successful products before, witness some of those iPod revisions over the years.

So if there are larger iPhones in our future, the question is how they will integrate into the iOS ecosystem. If Apple keeps the 16:9 form factor used in the 4-inch iPhone 5 series, it would mean a gadget that would be larger in length and width. Or maybe not. A narrower bezel on all sides might accommodate a somewhat larger screen without increasing the size of the device, or seriously hampering usability.

Obviously there would be a period of migration as iOS developers revised their apps to accommodate one or two additional display sizes. At the end of the day, it may also mean somewhat larger apps to include the extra artwork, unless the OS just scales it down to the appropriate sizes, assuming aspect ratios are the same. That should help reduce the bloat, so maybe there won’t be so much of a difference after all.

But an iPhone phablet would appear to work against Apple’s claims about one-handed operation, unless you have the hands of a basketball player. And maybe not even then. There seems to be just so much a smartphone’s display can be increased without making the user experience more awkward. That’s a major advantage Apple has over the competition, which doesn’t care about anything but building enough varieties in an attempt to catch a wave.

Yet the clear success of phablets, particularly in Asia, may count for something in Apple’s future marketing schemes.

As to the accuracy of these rumors, assuming iOS 8 and the new iPhone will appear around fall, in keeping with recent tradition, I suppose it makes sense that the final size and shape would have to be nailed down around now to assure an efficient production ramp. That means getting the supply chain set up to start things rolling.

Since the most recent Apple rumors appear to have emerged from the supply chain, it may well be that the WSJ and other publications and industry analysts are getting the correct scoop after all. Sure, some final hardware features may still be in flux, and the next iOS would be in a very early development stage. But there’s little reason to disbelieve these reports. As things go, however, there’s no reason to take them seriously either — at least not yet!

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