Apple's 5-inch iPhone challenge

Apple's 5-inch iPhone challenge

Summary: There's been a lot of chatter – all of it rumor mongering, with nothing official coming out of Cupertino – that Apple has an iPhone in the developmental pipeline which features a 5-inch display. But could Apple, from a technical standpoint, hit the iPhone with an expanding ray and take the screen to 5-inches?

TOPICS: Mobility, Apple

There's been a lot of chatter – all of it rumor mongering, with nothing official coming out of Cupertino – that Apple has an iPhone in the developmental pipeline which features a 5-inch display. But could Apple, from a technical standpoint, hit the iPhone with an expanding ray and take the screen to 5-inches?

I believe it can.

When the iPhone first debuted in 2007, Apple chose to go with a 3.5-inch display. At the time when smartphones had physical keyboards and everything was crammed into a small display above that keyboard, a 3.5-inch display was huge. It felt more like a having a flat-screen TV in the palm of you hand.

But times have moved on, and there are smartphones out there with bigger displays than the one found on the iPhone. In an attempt to fend off competition Apple already increased the screen real-estate to 4-inch with the iPhone 5, but a jump to a 5-inch display would be quite an increase.

If Apple is going to go large, there are factors that have to be taken into consideration. These include:


The original iPhone had a 480 by 320 pixel display, which doubled to 960 by 640 pixels with the iPhone 4, and increased to 1,136 by 640 pixels with the release of the iPhone 5.

This resolution aspect ratio is important to maintain because it allowed apps to be backward compatible without any weird scaling issues.

The question is, could Apple double the resolution once again to 2,272 by 1,280? This might sound like quite a jump from the current, but given that there are plenty of smartphones on the market with 4.7-inch or 5.0-inch displays with screen resolutions of 1,920 by 1,080, this doubling isn't a fantasy by any stretch of the imagination.

I would assume that a 5-inch iPhone would maintain the 16 by 9 aspect ratio of the current crop of iPhones.

Pixel density

Apple is pretty proud of the fact that its devices – not just the iPhone, but the iPad and some MacBooks – sport a pixel density classed as "Retina display" (where the individual pixels are small enough to not be discernable to the human eye). When the iPhone 4 launched with "Retina display" it was a new thing, now

The iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, and iPhone 5C all have a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. Increasing the screen size while keeping the resolution the same would mean that the pixel size would increase. The best way to offset this would be to double the screen resolution to 2,272 by 1,280. There are plenty of devices on the market with 1,920 x 1,080 displays that have high pixel densities, so Apple could pull this off with ease.

Battery life

Big screens consume more battery power. However, a larger display means a larger handset, which in turn means more space for a bigger battery.

Apple has kept the battery life of the iPhone at 10 hours, and I could see this being maintained for a 5-inch iPhone without any difficulty on Apple's behalf using current battery technology.


One of the great things about the current iPhone is that a 4-inch screen makes the device suitable for one-handed use. Increasing the screen size beyond this would certainly make one-handed use challenging for people with small or average-sized hands.

This presents Apple with a problem. But it isn't one without possible solutions:

  • Scale down the bottom bezel so the iPhone fits into the hand better.
  • Develop gestures to allow users to navigate the large screen single handed
  • Give up on single-handed use

The bottom line

Bottom line, I think that of all the challenges facing Apple, the ergonomic challenge will be the toughest for Apple to surmount, not the hardware challenges.

As to whether we'll see a 5-inch iPhone, I don't know. The iPhone continues to sell well and there doesn't seem much of a need for Apple to either go chasing after the crowd, or endorse handsets with a screen larger than 4-inches.

That said, Apple might be ready to give the handset another revamp, in which case going for a larger screen differentiates it from earlier models, which in of itself would be a selling point.

Topics: Mobility, Apple

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  • Meh. Who really cares. It's a done deal that...

    If Apple comes out with any new generation of the IPhone, Ifans will buy it. It does not matter what feature or features s it brings to the table. I'd say its a no-brainer. What has become anyong is the amount of "articles" that waste gobs of text guessing/pondering what it will be. It's like a pack of young teen girls chattering about skinny pants or the newest clothing fad. At the end of the day, its wasted breath IMO.

    I'd bet only a small % of current non-iphone users will be swayed to move to Apples ecosystem for just a larger screen.

    At the end of the day, I think most people have already moved to one side of the IOS isle or the other.

    To date, history clearly shows Apples M.O. is to incrementally improve its phones..simply to encourage generational upgrades for current iphone owners.

    For me, its both laughable and sad, how so many people are quick to part with their money and is one of the reasons why Apple holds Billions in their accounts.

    The old adage clearly applies... "A fool and his money are quickly parted."

    In closing, I totally respect that everyone has the right to choose how/where they spend their money and which phone brand/OS they choose to go with. Just keep in mind at the foundation...its a phone used to make calls. All brands/makes serve the same purpose, so are you REALLY better served by one over the other?

    ~Best wishes on your choice and keeping what you earned.
    • You hit nail on the head

      A sensible comment in ages on ZDNet.
      Hemanth Tummala
      • ...or sour grapes

        It's easy to write off the competitors success as irrational fans and stupid users.

        I note that its the brightest and most successful people who use, and have always used Apple's devices.

        And the people who can't afford them who complain about them the most.

        Oh, and Adrian..

        "...the ergonomic challenge will be the toughest for Apple to surmount, not the hardware challenges."

        Duh.. There are no technical challenges.

        It's always easier to make a larger smartphone than a smaller one. Miniaturisation is the difficult and expensive bit.

        That's why Samsung have promoted easy to design, cheap to make large devices to users who are dim enough not to realise that they are being taken for a ride.
        Henry 3 Dogg
        • Way to prove a point

          No love for apple in those comments.
          Please define brightest + show usage of only apple products
          Please define most successful + show exclusive apple usage

          As most people (over here for sure) buy on contract where top-end phones are similarly priced (other than the minor apple tax) how so many can afford other phones but not the iphone?

          As for ergonomics, I think you need to look up what the word means.
          We have been told from the beginning that anything over iphone size is too big for apple users. However when the size increased, apple managed the ERGONOMICS so that was still acceptable. Ergonomics does not mean physical size alone, it's more about the human factor; psychology, biomechanics etc etc. You know, the bit where the usual suspects tell us anything bigger than the current iphone doesn't fit in pockets or hands and can't be used by normal fingers....

          No, I'm no expecting you to be able to do any of that as it's pure unadulterated speculative BS!
          Little Old Man
          • I've owned a lot of Apple products

            and I figured out a long time ago that you have to have a large dose of blissful ignorance to keep using Apple products when the market has so many superior alternatives.
            My Note 3 phone costs more than an iPhone.
            My Note 8 tablet costs more than an iPad Mini.
            My Ativ 700t tablet costs more than the most expensive model Ipad Air.
            Price wasn't an issue, I wanted functionality at any price and Apple didn't have it.
          • right....

            So you are claiming that you are really very slow and do stupid things...

            And we should learn from this great wisdom that you now have.

            Doesn't really hold water, does it.
            Henry 3 Dogg
          • define brightest; most successful

            It is a very rare exception when I meet a C-level executive who dose not use an iPhone. If you don't believe look in your own company and see for your self. These people are generally the brightest and definitely the most successful. So his comet here is right on.

            Now, does this mean Android is a poor phone? Not at all, in areas it is a better phone then the iPhone but over all the the brightest and most successful choose the iPhone for a reason.
          • Bevcause executives are generally not bright

            At least not technology-wise. They are more status oriented and go for the shiniest object they can handle. They have money to burn so the thought of paying 5x the price for that extra $20 16GB of NAND memory doesn't faze them, and they really don't know any better. Its AAAAPPPLLEE memory, it must be worth it!
          • if you see a c-level exec using

            A Galaxy Note 3, you know for sure he is an objective thinker.
          • For ergonomics only 4" iPhone fits best, but for TWO-HAND use, Apple will..

            ... release iPhone MAXI: 5", 2272x1280:
        • Galaxy users unite

          So, because I use a Galaxy S4 and you use an iPhone, that makes you smarter than me. Phone choice alone is now an IQ test. Good information to know. I shall bow down to all Apple users in the future now that I know they are clearly better than me.
          • Galaxy phones

            Apple users are not smart enough to use phones with more than a home button ;P
        • Snob value?

          You know what Samsung does that Apple doesn't?
          Samsung gives them what they want.
          We want large screen phones without being heavy.
          That is a more important issue than whether it's made of plastic or aluminium drink cans. Neither of which are premium materials.
          If it was made of magnesium, titanium, or kevlar then you can say it's premium materials. But you guys got sucked in thinking aluminium is a PREMIUM material.
          It is the cheapest and weakest metal.
          As for brightest people choosing Apple? LOL snob value, brainwash marketing.
          Apple tells you what you want.
          Apple users are the ones being taken for a ride.
          But hey, lets justify it with snob value and get them to pay again for ringtone versions of songs they already have on their phones.
        • You're wrong, but that doesn't matter

          Even if you were right, which you're not, you gave such an @ss response that no matter what you just typed you've come across as immature and dim-witted. What I heard in your writing is "me right, you wrong because me good, you not."
          A Gray
        • Yeah right

          You're an idiot...

          People aren't dumb, they just want features that Apple will not provide! They want Amoled and larger screens! They want gesture typing and better speech to text support.
        • speaking of stupid..

          in your case I would add arrogant.
        • So let me get this straight...

          "I note that its the brightest and most successful people who use, and have always used Apple's devices."

          What I see is just the opposite, at least from a tech POV (cannot attest to one's abilities outside tech). The people with iPhones are the ones who either are wearing it as an accessory or an Android phone is too complicated for them (too many choices).

          There are those whom use want a smartphone that works. Those are best served with both iOS and WP8 and most choice and flexibility is taken away along with any break points.

          The iPhone really is becoming "your mom and dads phone".
          Rann Xeroxx
          • Wow

            "There are those whom use want a smartphone..."

            Should have been "There are those who just want a smartphone..."
            Rann Xeroxx
    • Never made a call in years of owning iPhones and iPads...

      "Just keep in mind at the foundation...its a phone used to make calls. All brands/makes serve the same purpose, so are you REALLY better served by one over the other?"

      Two issues.

      1. There are so many things that one uses a phone for-- it ranges from weather and astronomy apps, spreadsheets, pocket games to news feeds, sports app, and ebook reading among zillions of other uses. So, it does matter which phone, which app eco-system one is in.

      2. Many of us have iPhones (or iPod Touches) that we do NOT use for phone calling. They are off contract and are fully-functional.

      3. Many of us have the related devices-- iPhone and iPad--and enjoy the congruence, symmetry, and ease of movement between them.

      So, yes it matters!
      • The problem

        is that those that do make calls aren't well catered for. We have one user here and his iPhones don't last a year, let alone the 2 years of his mobile contract, due to the amount of time he spends talking (4 hours + a day).

        He did try an Android device as well, but that didn't fare much better and he prefers iOS.

        The biggest problems are the battery can't cope and that Bluetooth keeps failing. In the 3 and a half years I've been with the company, he has been through 2 x 3GS, 3 x iPhone 4, 2 x iPhone 4S, 2 x iPhone 5 and now a 5S. As well as a Galaxy S2.