Apple is set to replace the 3.5-inch screen that the iPhone has had since it was first released back in 2007 with a screen that measures "at least four inches diagonally," according to sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal.
According to the report, multiple display manufacturers are working on the new, larger screen. These include LG Display, Sharp -- the company that was allegedly going to manufacture thinner IGZO screens for the iPad 3 -- and Japan Display, a company which was created in April as a joint venture between Sony, Toshiba, Hitachi and the Japanese government.
In March, a report by The Strategy Analytics Wireless Device Lab claimed that almost 90 percent of smartphone owners want a smartphone with screen in the 4.0-inch to 4.5-inch range, as long as the device is thin.
This is the latest in a long line of iPhone 5 screen rumors.
It has been rumored that Apple will to move to a solution called in-cell technology with the iPhone 5 where both the screen and touch sensor layers combined into a single layer, as opposed to the current setup where these are two layers. The new in-cell panels are expected to be both cheaper to produce and thinner than the current panels.
There have also been rumors that the next iPhone will feature haptic touch-feedback technology built directly into the screen that would allow the user to feel on-screen elements such as buttons.
But is 4.0-inch to 4.5-inch really the sweet spot? In theory, I think it is; but in practice, I’m not so sure.
Smartphones sporting 4.5-inch displays are pretty large beasts. Take the LG Optimus 4G LTE, for example. This handset measures 133.9 x 67.9 x 10.5 mm, which doesn’t sound much until you put it up against the iPhone 4S, which measures in at 115.2 x 68.6 x 9.3 mm. That might not sound like a big difference, but in your hand it is.
On the iPhone my thumb comfortably travels across the screen, but with a larger handset I can’t do this, which turns using the handset into a two-handed job. This is not always an issue, but for tapping out a quick text message or email, having to wield a big smartphone is a disadvantage rather than an advantage.
Ease of use aside, there does seem to be an industry shift towards smartphones with screens larger than that of the iPhone.
But bumping up the size of the screen does bring with it challenges that Apple would have to overcome.
Scaling up the current iPhone 4S 960×640 Retina display screen from 3.5-inch to 4.65-inch while keeping the same resolution would mean that the pixels per inch number would fall from 326ppi for the iPhone 4S to something in the region of 250ppi for a 4.65-inch screen.
That would represent a huge drop in pixel density. It’s unlikely that Apple would bump up the screen resolution to accommodate for the larger screen because this would introduce a whole host of scaling problems for existing apps, essentially drawing a line underneath backward compatibility with existing apps.
Doubling the resolution of the iPhone’s screen to 1920×1280 would make scaling simpler. It’s what Apple did when it went up to Retina display on both the iPhone and iPad. But it’s highly unlikely that Apple could pull this sort of density off for the next incarnation of the iPhone. Such a screen would have a pixel density in the region of 500ppi, which would be incredibly dense. A screen of this sort is likely to be expensive and difficult to produce.
The Wall Street Journal reported back in February that Apple was testing an iPad with a screen smaller than the 9.7-inch screen on the existing iPads. This device was expected to be announced in March, but failed to make an appearance.
Image source: Apple.
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