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After months of leaks and recent mock-ups of what the iPhone 6 may look like, odds are pretty good that we’ll see a larger iPhone model this year. If we do, this will only be the second time since 2007 that Apple(s aapl) has chosen a larger screen for the handset: The original iPhone had a 3.5-inch display and in 2012, Apple bumped the size up to 4 inches for the iPhone 5.
Although both a 4.7- and a 5.5-inch display have been tipped for the iPhone 6, my money is on the former size. Either way, a decision to boost screen size will have many implications for Apple’s next iPhone.
The one-handed challenge will be minimal due to design
Let’s face it: There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to smartphones, because we don’t all have the same size of hands. And once you increase the size of a handset display, there will inevitably some people who can’t use the phone without using both hands. I don’t think this will be a huge impact if the iPhone 6 is larger, particularly if the screen size is 4.7 inches, but some people will notice it.
I expect Apple to do everything it can with the new iPhone design to minimize the impact of a larger phone, however. That’s exactly what Motorola(s goog) did with the Moto X, which just so happens to use a 4.7-inch display even though it’s not that much bigger than an iPhone. I can use both my iPhone 5s and my Moto X with one hand, for example, even though the Moto X display is 0.7 inches larger diagonally.
Mock-ups of the iPhone 6 recently appeared online and, if accurate, show a design choice that illustrates what I expect: The phone’s power/wake button is on the side of the device. That’s another way to ease one-handed use because you don’t have to reach atop a larger phone for the button. With reduced bezels around the display, I think Apple can minimize the impact of one-handed use for most people.
Bigger means a thinner phone, but also a wider one
While Apple could increase the display size and keep the phone width the same, that’s not very practical. Such a choice would create an odd aspect ratio, for starters. And it would make for a very tall phone. Instead, any screen size boost would likely come from a display that’s both taller and wider. The width of the iPhone hasn’t changed much in seven years — the variance in all models is just a range of 3.5 millimeters — but that’s probably changing with the iPhone 6.
This will probably be the most noticeable size difference because the iPhone’s width simply hasn’t changed much historically. It’s likely going to be a pain point for some, but it’s not all bad news. With an iPhone that’s both taller and wider, I’m expecting a thinner phone — my guess is between 6 and 7 millimeters, perhaps close to rivaling the 6.1 millimeter width of the iPod touch. Recent mock-ups suggest the same; here’s a video look of one from mactitynet.it:
Thinner doesn’t always mean bad battery life
Oh wait: A thinner iPhone with bigger display is going to have less battery life, right? Not necessarily. A thinner iPhone would mean a thinner battery, but that battery can take advantage of the extra space created by a taller, wider iPhone.
Apple likely wouldn’t sacrifice much (if any) battery life in a larger handset, so I suspect it will work with its battery partners to create a larger but thinner battery that offers similar capacity to the current iPhone 5s power pack, which has 1,570 mAh of capacity. Even if the iPhone 6 battery capacity is less than that of today’s iPhone, a new A8 processor could be optimized for improved power consumption to maintain long run-times on a single charge.
About that screen resolution…
It’s possible that Apple would keep the same display resolution on the iPhone 6 as it has on the current models, but that’s highly unlikely. Stretching out more pixels on a larger display reduces the pixel density and selling point of Apple’s Retina Display.
Take the 1136 x 640 resolution of today’s iPhone 5s, for example: On a 4-inch display, you get 326 pixels per inch (PPI), which is above the 300 PPI on a device held around 10 to 12 inches from the eye needed to meet Apple’s criteria for a Retina Display. Spread the same resolution across 4.7 inches and the pixels per inch drops to 277 PPI. That’s a step backward, not forward.
It’s far more likely for a bigger iPhone 6 to require a change in resolution. In January, I suggested that the 1136 x 640 resolution of the iPhone 5 was more of a “one-off” solution to this challenge and that the next iPhone would use a 1440 x 960 resolution screen. That’s exactly 150 percent of the 960 x 640 display on Apple’s first 4-inch phones. A 4.7-inch iPhone with this display resolution would provide an even sharper screen (when held at the same distance from the eye, that is) at 368 PPI.
That’s definitely forward progress, making for a clearer display while also being relatively simple for developers to deal with. Now that 1920 x 1080 resolution is becoming standard fare on flagship Google Android phones, however, I’ll say there’s an outside chance that a larger iPhone 6 could use a screen even better than 1440 x 960.
If that’s the case, I’d guess we’d see a true doubling of pixels from the 960 x 640 resolution, giving the iPhone 6 a screen with 1920 x 1280 resolution. That just so happens to be better than the 1080p displays used by Samsung, HTC and others, with an added benefit: high definition video content would natively fit the display, while leaving some extra pixels for playback control or other on-screen items.
Regardless of what Apple thinks of large phones — or what it plans for the iPhone 6 — does a bigger iPhone appeal to you or are the current models just right. With the right design choices, I’d be happy to see a 4.7-inch iPhone to help show more content in greater clarity while still fitting nicely in a pocket or hand.