Melissa reported two weeks ago that Apple was mulling making larger iPhones. The reality is the decision has already been made, and Apple is just easing its substantial user base to the idea. For Apple, releasing new sizes for its iDevices is a big issue. A homebrewed one.
With the launch of the iPhone, Apple perpetuated the myth of the perfect size. Apple pushed the idea that the 3.5-inch display on the Apple iPhone was the correct size. An article on Gizmodo explained why a 3.5-inch display was the perfect szie and would not change. The theory was, with this size, your thumb could easily reach the edges of the display and physical button. This analysis discounted the simple fact that people have different sized hands.
Whatever reason Apple had to perpetuate the myth of the perfect size, it was a great marketing strategy because it reduced research, development and manufacturing costs. Had Apple offered its iPhone in multiple sizes, it would have resulted in lower profit margins per sale.
With the launch of the iPad, the 9.7-inch tablet, Apple took the same tack, The iPad’s display was deemed to be the smallest usable size. Steve Jobs was quoted as saying that “(t)here are clear limits to how close elements can be on the screen before users can’t touch accurately. We believe 10-inch screen is minimum necessary.” I never really understood this, since Apple already did make smaller touch products back then.
Image source: Reuters
The result of the strategy though was that Apple left the door open for differently sized and differently priced devices. By 2010, three years after the Apple iPhone release, Google’s Android already exceeded the market share of the Apple iPhone and the gap has been growing ever since. The same is true with the tablet market, by 2012, its market share was diminishing, mainly being eaten up by lower cost 7-inch Android tablets.
The now Tim Cook-led Apple launched the smaller and lower cost iPad mini last year. It was a bit odd having to hear Tim Cook explain why the Apple iPad mini was a good size. Two sizes are a good thing. Some people would prefer the larger size, while some the smaller size. Given Apple’s past pronouncements on matters of size though, it became an issue with many.
Fortunately, Tim Cook received less flak for the 4-inch iPhone 5.
Tim Cook has already confirmed that Apple will be releasing a larger Apple iPhone, saying Apple would “sell no 5-inch iPhone before its time.” The bigger iPhone is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. Apple is not mulling over whether to come out with a larger iPhone, it is really just laying the basis for the “magical” entry of the device.
This is really a logical move from Apple. Apple has a good market share considering the limited number of devices that it offers. But the market it is serving is saturated. With one billion smartphones in use, significant growth in smartphones remains mainly with convincing people to retire their old feature phones and replace them with low cost smartphones. By low cost, we are talking devices priced at US$59 to US$99. It does not make sense for Apple to go after this market. The cheaper iPhone rumored to already be in production, will be priced well above a US$59 to US$99 off contract price. Selling fifteen US$99 iPhone will yield less profits than the sale of a single iPhone 5.
The Phablet market, those large ungainly smartphones which I looked at quizzically two years ago, looks to be a growing market. It is estimated that in 2013, Phablet sales will account for US$46 in revenue. Rather than try to maintain or expand market share selling floor priced iPhones, it would make more sense to try to convert Samsung Galaxy Note and Note II owners to an iOS. Getting a larger share of US$500-US$650 devices is more in consonance with Apple’s image and would be better for the bottom line.
Image source: Dell
The other reason to go bigger is to take advantage of new technology. Android phones have bumped up to High Definition and Full High Definition displays in the past two years. Apple’s iPhone is the only premium smartphone with a less than HD resolution.
This is because Apple’s iOS lacks one feature, which makes it difficult to make this one last leap. iOS does not scale to different resolutions. This is why Apple, when it released the iPhone, doubled the vertical and horizontal pixels, from 320 x 480 pixels, to 640 x 960 pixles. This is the same approach it took with the iPad with retina display. With the Apple iPhone 5, it added a 176 x 640 row of pixels over the 960 x 640 pixels of the 3.5-inch display. iOS is designed to run on a limited number of resolutions, and results in less flexibility.
The next jump in the resolution of the iPhone would be to move to a 2272 x 1280 resolution display. A resolution this high really would be of little benefit to a 4-inch display.
So Apple will not confirm or deny rumors of a 4.7-inch or 5.7-inch iPhone, a larger iPhone coming in at least one more size will be coming. Expect it by the fourth quarter of this year and not later than the middle of next year. Between maintaining market share and the need to take advantage of newer technology it really is the logical thing to do.