4″ iPhone 5 Screen Will Force Apple To Reinvent the iPhone Form Factor

Since its inception, Apple has never radically altered the dimensions of the iPhone. Is Cupertino ready to inflate the iPhone 5 to accommodate a 4″ screen?

There is new fodder today on the news wire suggesting that a 4″ screen for the iPhone 5 is imminent, thanks to a fresh market report from a Wall Street analyst. According to Josh Schnell at Macgasm, “Susquehanna Financial Analyst Chris Caso has sent a note to his clients that the iPhone 5 will both head to production in June of 2012, and come with a larger 4 inch screen. His sources are not public, so we have no idea where he’s getting his information, so keep that one in mind.” Josh’s measured skepticism is well-placed, since it is difficult to determine if tech analysts are passing along insider information regarding the screen size of the iPhone 5, or otherwise just evangelizing what the tech community is hoping for.

As you will recall, the iPhone 5 News Blog‘s own inside source has confirmed that the iPhone 5 will indeed have a 4″ screen as well. And while our source correctly predicted the refreshed form factor of the iPhone 4S, it remains to be seen if his information is similar to that of Mr. Caso’s: wishful thinking, or actionable intelligence.

But it got me to thinking: last year, some pundits were imagining how Apple might be able to work out a slightly larger screen while keeping the overall dimensions of the iPhone in place. By utilizing an edge-to-edge screen, the iPhone in its current form could stretch to become a 3.7″ screen, versus the current 3.5″ dimension. It would seem that a .2″ difference isn’t much of a difference at all, practically speaking. But if you were to stand an iPhone 5 with a 3.7″ screen alongside an iPhone 4S with a 3.5″ screen, the difference would be palpable.

With this in mind, it dawned on me: Apple has never significantly changed the dimensions of the iPhone. Ever.

For example, the length of the iPhone 3G and 4S are both 4.5″. The width of both iterations are separated by only .09″ inches.

So, with this wish for a 4″+ display, we are in turn exhorting Cupertino to truly overhaul the form factor for the iPhone 5 — not simply by switching out glass for aluminum, or changing the bezel, or offering it in white, but by essentially “breaking the die” on what has become iconic dimensions for the iPhone. It wouldn’t seem like a big deal for Cupertino to manage, but it is: as seen above, the current specs of the iPhone 4/4S are remarkably similar than the original iPhone and the 3G. In this way, Apple has retained the overall length and width of the original iPhone.

There is a reason for this: Apple really likes the size and layout of the iPhone. Most likely, early iPhone engineers underwent a great deal of trial and error in choosing dimensions that were both ergonomic and practical, for the sake of managing heat, components, and other design elements. The same can be said for the screen size — Cupertino has been reluctant to reinvent the paradigm for screen size on the iPhone because there is obviously an optimal equilibrium struck by the engineers.

Furthermore, now that Android has far surpassed the iPhone with smartphone designs that feature way larger screen sizes, ranging from 4″ to the gargantuan 5.3″ Samsung Galaxy Note, Apple runs the risk of engineering a larger-screened iPhone 5 that, simply by virtue of its larger size, seems aesthetically reminiscent to an Android smartphone. Apple certainly doesn’t want that.

Mind you: I’m not trying to say that Apple will stubbornly stick to a 3.5″ screen, only as a means of remaining contrasted to competitor smartphones. We’ve already established that Android does some things better than the iPhone, and for many, offering larger-screened options is one of them. But it is well worth noting that the 4″+ screened iPhone 5 is not going to feel familiar in you, the iPhone user’s palm. It’s going to be a sea change for Apple at the design and production level, and a radically new experience for iPhone users. And in a world marked by plenty of unintended consequences, the “most revolutionary” iPhone 5 could ironically end up moving the iPhone design closer to Android than anyone could have ever imagined.

By Michael Nace



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