The iPhone: Should Apple change its screens?


Kaoru Kato (C), president and CEO of Japan's biggest mobile phone operator NTT Docomo, passes a new Apple iPhone 5S to Kazunori Sato, its first iPhone customer during a kick-off ceremony to start selling Apple's new iPhone 5S and 5C at its shop in Tokyo, Sept. 20, 2013. (Yuya Shino/Reuters)
November 11, 2013

Those who talk about Apple losing its innovative edge often point to the iPhone’s screen as a prime way to prove their point. While competitors such as Samsung, LG, Nokia and just about everyone else in the smartphone world has significantly pumped up the size of their smartphone screens, Apple has been far slower about making changes. In fact, it’s only bumped up the size of its screen once. And that was by a half-inch — from 3.5 inches on the diagonal to 4 inches starting with the iPhone 5.

There have been, of course, plenty of rumors that Apple has revolutionary plans for its screens, and on Monday Bloomberg reported that the firm is considering a new iPhone design that includes a larger, curved screen with advanced pressure sensors. Citing an unnamed “person familiar with the plans,” Bloomberg’s Tim Culpan and Adam Satariano said there will be two curvy models significantly bigger than the current iPhone and measure 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches. The phones, if they make it to market, would be on pace to debut in the third quarter of next year.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Apple’s been pretty clear about its thinking on screen sizes in the past — namely, that they aren’t willing to rush into a new form factor without a lot of research. When the firm announced the 4-inch iPhone 5 last year, there was a painstaking explanation about how extending the screen to 4 inches while keeping the same width was specifically designed to make it easy for one-handed navigation without torturing a user’s thumb. Apple also has an incentive to keep its screens consistent so that developers won’t have to make apps work with too many screen sizes.

Of course, it’s well within the realm of possibility that Apple will want to give the iPhone a good shake-up, particularly as Samsung moves from strength to strength with its wide array of smartphones. Even as larger screen sizes become more popular around the world — particularly in places with lower smartphone adoption, where consumers like the phone-tablet hybrid size — it’s a problem that Apple definitely has to consider. Canalys reported last week that it expects a quarter of a billion smartphones to ship in the third quarter of 2013, and that 22 percent of those are large-screen handsets. Plus, as MacRumors reported, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners recently reported that the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are attracting fewer early upgraders than previous models of the iPhone — indicating that people are happy to be a bit more patient before picking up this latest refresh.

That could spur Apple to make bigger changes to the next iPhone, particularly as the company continues to upgrade its mobile and desktop software. The Bloomberg report also noted that the phones in development also have two levels of sensors, which can distinguish between light touches and more deliberate ones. That means Apple could also have some interesting tweaks to how users navigate its phones, in addition to changes to the iPhone’s physical appearance.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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