The word may be made up, but the sentiment is real enough. The iPhone 6 will be bigger than any iPhone that has come before it. There are two very persistent rumors. One is almost certainly real while the other is tantalizingly questionable. The first rumor is that the iPhone will come in a 4.7" screen size. If persistence equals veritas, then you can take this one to the bank. The second rumor is that a month or so later, another iPhone will emerge sized at 5.5". There have been different flavors of this rumor floating around for some time. It is far from confirmed. But it is worth considering the possibilities.
Right sizing it
Your quick service restaurant wants to know if you would like them to super size it. On the face of it, this seems like a crazy idea. All I want is not to feel cheated. I like to think that Such places have dome a bit of research and know exactly how much is the optimal amount of food for the average person. They also have nutritional information that tells them how much is safe at any given time. I actually don't want anything to do with the proportions of the meal. I don't like the idea of a company playing games with those perimeters. Don't super size it; right size it!
When Apple first introduced the iPhone, it was considered to be monstrously large. Other smartphones had fixed keyboards and buttons all over the front panel. By comparison, the screens were quite small. Recently revealed court documents showed that Samsung was hesitant to chase Apple into the large screen arena. Many people give Samsung credit for starting the big screen fad. That credit is misplaced. From Samsung's perspective, they were following Apple in big screens.
While Apple had done a great deal of research and testing to discover the optimal size screen for the most people, Samsung just decided that if Apple went big, they would go bigger. It is like with Retina displays and cameras. Whatever Apple did, Samsung would do more. They were not trying to right size anything. They just wanted a bigger number than Apple. If McDonalds offers a 32 oz. drink, Burger King wants to make sure the have a 40 oz. on offer. That is the supersize it mentality.
You cannot build a small, good device with sloppy engineering. This is true for most things. sloppy coders need to write a lot more lines of code to do what a great coder could in a few lines. A compact, powerful, lightweight, well-cooled desktop or laptop is a lot harder to build than a big one. More size allows for more inefficiency.
As Android phones gained more features like LTE, they grew bigger and bigger. Apple waited until they could incorporate the power-hungry networking standard into its compact design ethos without sacrificing longevity. Apple waited a little longer to get the right parts, and figure out the engineering that would fit into the most compact industrial design. No one else could be bothered with such trifles.
Everyone else rushed out products that were big, heavy hot, and inefficient. Sloppy engineering pushed smartphones into the supersize territory they occupy today. When a company like HTC puts out a "compact" phone, it still tends to be larger than the iPhone, and lacks many advanced features because they simply do not have the engineering chops to build them into the smaller chassis.
These companies cannot say that such advanced engineering is impossible. They would like to. They just can't. The reason is because the iPhone 5s exists. Back when Ford was trying to sell the Windstar, they were trying to convince people that there were good engineering reasons why there was a sliding passenger door on just one side of the vehicle. The only problem with that argument was that the Town & Country existed. The problem with the excuses from Android manufacturers is that the iPhone exists.
The will of the people
There is a growing mythology about what it is the market really wants. Analysts like to pretend that they know exactly what it is smartphone buyers are after. They are almost universally wrong. Assessing the desires of the public by their purchasing habits is not as easy as it seems. Following the money just tells you where the money goes. It does not tell you why it goes where it does. Consider the following example:
A person buys a red Galaxy Note 3. Why? You might assume that they made that purchase because the Note 3 has a giant screen. The iPhone does not have a giant screen. Therefore, the Note 3 is preferred for its giant screen. Unless Apple makes a phone with a giant screen, they are doomed. This brand of shoddy analysis is how headlines are made. But consider the other factors.
The Note has a stylus, and a few apps that can take advantage of it. It might be that the person cared nothing about the larger screen, but was only interested in the stylus. Maybe the Note 3 was the only red phone they could find, and they really wanted a red phone. Perhaps the Note 3 was BOGOF, cheap, or free on contract. That could have been the deciding factor. Maybe the person just hates Apple so much, they would buy anything other than an iPhone, cutting off their nose to spite their face. Maybe an iPhone wasn't available on that carrier on that day. We can learn nothing from the fact that someone bought a Note 3 instead of an iPhone 5s.
The best we can do is look at the numbers in aggregate. We know that almost all mid to high end Android phones now ship with screens that are 4.7" and higher. We also know that giant phones make up just a fraction of the total Android sales. The vast majority of Android phones sold are low end budget models. In the US, the big phones are the ones you see advertised and sold at the carrier stores. But that is a skewed picture of the true state of Android handsets. Eventually, though, all Android handsets will be giant. Is that because people want giant phones, or because all affordable phones are giant? In Android land, the size of the screen does not appear to be the driving factor for sales. So far, and for the foreseeable future, the #1 factor is price.
There is no evidence that the market is clamoring for large screen phones. By far, the most popular phone in the world is the iPhone. At 4", the iPhone has one of the smallest screens in the industry. People have to climb over piles of cheap, giant, Android phones to get to the iPhone, and that is exactly what they do. There are no lines for any flagship Android phones on launch day. Crowd management continues to be a problem at Apple Stores when new iPhones are released. If we were to read the evidence gleaned from large numbers, we would have to determine that what people really want are small phones. A better reading is this: What people really want are iPhones at any size.
There is no core reason for giant smartphones other than to be bigger than the iPhone. They are the products of sloppy engineering. And there is no real evidence that the masses want them. This is all well documented, and a rehash of things I have already written in the past. None of that comes close to addressing the question of why Apple is readying a big phone, and why now.
While none of the other manufacturers have articulated any justification for a large screen, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. I can think of two. The first is accessibility. Smartphone text is too small for a lot of people, including me. I have yet to see a giant phone that addresses this issue. In fact, many large phones have even smaller text. There is just more of it. Cramming more small text onto a bigger page does nothing for accessibility. Apple might take this opportunity to address this much needed industry problem.
A second reason might be that a larger phone could be used for productivity applications. Right now, it doesn't make sense to run a productivity application on a smartphone. The screen is just too small to do more than view documents. Even that is a bit of a pain. Productivity generally includes lots of words and numbers that need to be typed and edited. Such documents can be shrunk down to a small size, but at some point, it gets too small to manage. It takes a very well-written application to manage a large document on a small screen. Enlarging the screen even a little can make a big difference in One's ability to be productive on a smartphone.
Though I offer it as a possibility, even I do not believe in the second reason. A lot of people use their smartphones for productivity because they are just too cheap to buy a tablet or laptop. A smartphone of any size is a bad platform for productivity. It can be done on an iPad mini, and that is 8". Even a 6" phone would not get the job done. 4.7" doesn't even move the needle. I do not believe that Apple would offer a big iPhone as an alternative to the iPad. That is done on the Android side because Google and their partners cannot get Android users to buy tablets. Apple has no such limitation.
It is conceivable that Apple could do it to appeal to the niche segment of the market that wants such a device. Again, that is usually not Apple's style. They are not about addressing market whims. They are more about setting trends than following them. They also appeal to the mass market to the extent that they can. Giant phones are loved by a vocal minority. There is no evidence that they want a giant iPhone. They just might want the best non-Apple device they can find.
Apple will not make the biggest phone available, and it will still be an iPhone. Don't get me wrong. I believe it will sell quite well. I just do not believe it is a device that will convert a lot of Android users. They are not Android users because of screen size. They will not switch to the iPhone because of screen size. However, If Apple sees data suggesting that a big iPhone will generate a significant amount of Android defection, that might be reason enough to try it.
A new feature that justifies the tech
Seldom does Apple introduce a new hardware feature that is not justified by a new software feature. We didn't get a front-facing camera until we got FaceTime. Without it, a front-facing camera didn't make much sense at the time. This was made evident by the large numbers of people who had front cameras on their phones that went unused. Apple brings the hardware when they have a reason.
Mobile payments might end up being a good reason for a bigger device. Apple might need to make room for more advanced camera hardware. Other companies just put a huge bulge on the back of the device to make room. Perhaps Apple can spread out horizontally. It sounds implausible, but I'm not an Apple engineer. My point is that Apple might have a perfectly good reason to build a large screen iPhone that we have not thought of. That would fit with Apple's past behavior.
The most obvious reason for a bigger iPhone is that it would make the iPhone an even better entertainment platform. A 5.5" iPhone would be great for gaming and movies. Forget 4.7". The bigger, the better. Personally, I think it is nutty to watch video on an iPhone. I also do not play any but the most basic games on an iPhone. The iPad at any size is a much better tool for those activities. However, there are a lot of people who will never buy an iPad. For them, the smartphone is the only computing device they will own. Current iPhones are too small to serve as the main, or only computing device.
In the end, I am not optimistic about the prospects of a larger iPhone. I know that it is coming. I just do not know if it will solve any actual consumer problems. I would love to have one just for accessibility. But that is a niche I doubt Apple will pursue with a flagship device. All the other problems are solved with an iPad. Apple has no incentive to do anything that would hurt iPad sales. Apple haters will not thank Apple for producing a phone with a bigger screen. It might solve the retail optics problem. When people walk through a carrier store, the iPhone is the smallest phone on display. That might be a tough sell next to all the giant phones. But Apple is not having any trouble selling smartphones. The iPhone is the bestseller at all four major carriers in the US.
I am looking froward to the keynote that launches these phones. I am mostly interested in how Apple positions these larger phones. Outside of accessibility, I can't think of a single good business reason why Apple should produce big phones at this time. But I am looking forward to it all the same.