Published January 24, 2013
Lots of Apple watchers are throwing up their hands over the company's stock slide after the announcement of record iPhone sales. We're talking $13.1 billion in profit. And yet that wasn't enough to satisfy investors, who have become accustomed to Apple blowing past its own conservative estimates. While analysts projected Apple to move anywhere between 43 million and 63 million iPhones, the actual 47 million sold was on the lower end of that range. What Apple needs is not a cheaper iPhone but a bigger handset to battle the latest Android superphones -- despite the CEO's state of phablet denial.
During Apple's first-quarter earnings call, CEO Tim Cook was asked whether he would release a phone with a larger screen, but he dismissed the idea: "The iPhone 5 offers a new 4-inch Retina Display, which is the most advanced display in the industry," Cook said. "It also provides a larger screen for iPhone customers without sacrificing the one-handed ease of use that our customers love. We put a lot of thinking into screen size, and we believe we picked the right one."
I'm sorry but it's time for Apple to stop thinking different and start thinking bigger.
There's no question that the iPhone 5's display is one of the best on any smartphones. It's bright, offers superb viewing angles and impressive sharpness for the size at 326 pixels per inch. But there's no ignoring the fact that more and more shoppers are choosing larger handsets. According to IHS iSuppli, shipments of smartphones with screens that are 5 inches and larger will more than double this year, surging from 25 million units to 60 million.
Not only are do these 5-inch and larger screens provide more real estate for enjoying games, movies and the Web, many of the handsets offer higher pixel densities than the iPhone 5. The Droid DNA, for instance, packs a full 1080p screen in a 5-inch design, resulting in 440 ppi.
Samsung goes a step further with its 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II. Its multi-window feature allows users to run two applications on the same screen simultaneously. The device also supports pen input. These benefits allowed Samsung to sell more than 3 million units in a little over a month. Meanwhile, Huawei is definitely encroaching on tablet territory with its monstrous 6.1-inch Ascend Mate for China.
Do I think Apple should go that large? Absolutely not. Although it has some advantages, I find the 5.5-inch Note II unwieldy, despite the fact that Samsung includes a one-handed operation mode that shifts things like the keyboard and dial pad to one side of the screen. And having held the Ascend Mate, I don't believe the masses are ready for something quite that large. However, Apple could probably go up as much as an inch in size without sacrificing ease of use.
If Apple proved anything with the iPhone 5, it's that it can craft a device that feels nearly weightless while retaining a premium vibe. (Scratches on the black model not withstanding.) I believe Jony Ive and the rest of Apple's design team can create a 4.8- to 5-inch iPhone that doesn't feel the least bit awkward by going edge to edge with the display and shrinking or even nixing the home button.
Recently, rumors surfaced of an "iPhone Math" (don't worry, it's just a code name) with a 4.8-inch screen that would launch in multiple colors this June. Not only would a bigger iPhone prevent more people from jumping ship to the Samsung Galaxy line -- including the upcoming S4 -- it would allow Apple to add a $299 premium tier to its lineup at a time profits are relatively flat. Plus, Asian customers have a preference for phablets because their larger screens enable easier character input.
You could also expect a longer-lasting battery with a bigger iPhone, as the Note II lasted longer than 10 hours in our tests. The iPhone 5 lasted a little over 7 hours. That's a huge difference in endurance.
Tim Cook's comments would seem to throw cold water on a bigger iPhone, but it's possible he was just trying to defend the iPhone 5 and keep customers from holding out for a newer device. My gut tells me Cook was making a statement about his company's product philosophy, and that we may just see a souped-up iPhone 5S with the same screen size come this spring. For Apple's sake, I had better be wrong.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.