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Reports say iPhones to expand

When it comes to that precious patch of real estate many of us know as the iPhone's screen, size really does matter.

So get ready. Because "people familiar with the matter" were quoted by the Wall Street Journal and Reuters last week saying that Apple's newest smartphone, expected out later this year, will feature a 30 percent larger viewing area.

If rumors are true that the screen's diagonal will grow from 3.5 to 4 inches, that would mean those three-eighths-of-an-inch-square app icons would make fatter targets for your fingers. Your three-fourths-inch-diagonal digits on the phone's keypad would stretch out like an undisciplined waistline. And those tiny Angry Birds, each currently one-eighth of an inch wide, would bulk up to more than nine-sixty-fourths of an inch, creating bigger missiles to knock the pigs off their pedestals.

Apple, which declined to comment, of course may leave the screen its current size. It wouldn't be the first time "people familiar with the matter" got it wrong.

"We've seen this rumor before," said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis. "And it hasn't panned out yet. Sure, it's a logical rumor from the perspective that the iPhone has a significantly smaller display than other flagship smartphones on the market today. But it also has an extremely high resolution, and that smaller design makes the device fit better in your hand.

"Besides," Greengart said, "the last time I checked the iPhone was selling very well."

A larger screen would be a plausible strategic response to growing competitive threats Apple faces from other smartphone makers. Top of the list is Samsung Electronics, which earlier this month unveiled its popular Galaxy with a 4.8-inch touch screen and a faster processor.

Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee, said that even while iPhone users seem to love the phone's 3.5-inch diagonal just fine, Apple could boost the device's "wow factor" by simply tweaking its dimensions a bit.

Wu points out that fans pay not just for the iPhone's cool features, but for those equally cool aesthetics that former CEO Steve Jobs was so fanatical about. And consumers do appreciate a tangible design change once in a while.

"People love the current design," Wu said, "but it's 18 months old."

With a new iPhone expected to be unveiled as early as September, any move to fiddle with its successful design could have sizable consequences. The device already accounts for much of Apple's recently booming revenue and profit and has been the company's shining star in recent earnings reports. The company sold 72.1 million iPhones in the most recent two quarters combined, including a record 37 million in the final three months of 2011, the holiday shopping season. That total was boosted by the release of the iPhone 4S in October, which included the voice-recognition system known as Siri.