Ab phab

This article on the upcoming “big” iPhone(s) puts the imprimatur of the Wall Street Journal on a rumor that’s been around for quite a while. I think most of us expect a bigger iPhone sooner or later. It’s of a piece with the introduction of the iPad mini and Tim Cook’s declaration that Apple won’t leave a price umbrella for other companies to gather under. Apple is no longer a boutique brand, and it wants to offer products that meet the needs of every mobile device user.

Their functional needs, that is, not necessarily their price needs. I don’t see Apple making a cheap phone that would sully the iPhone’s reputation for quality, nor do I see them creating GM-like divisions to sell phones at every price point. But it does make sense for Apple to make a phone for people who’d benefit from a bigger screen. I’m one of those people.

Yes, I once wrote a post that made fun of Andy Ihnatko’s belief that a big phone is always an advantage, and I still think the relatively small size of the current iPhone is a net benefit for a very large number of people. I just don’t happen to be one of them. I don’t wear nice suits whose line would be ruined by a big phone. More important, because I don’t have an iPad, and don’t have any plans to get one, a bigger phone would give me some of the advantages of an iPad while still leaving me with a single device that fits in my unstylish pockets.

This is, of course, assuming that a big iPhone would come with more pixels, not bigger pixels. If it’s still 640×1136, no thank you. If I can’t get more stuff on the screen, I’ll stick with the current size.

Which raises another issue: when Apple goes big will it keep a model of the iPhone at the current size? I think it will, for all the reasons I gave in the Andy pants post. There’s a need for 4″ screens, and eliminating the current size would create a “product umbrella.” Apple’s a big company; it can handle more than one current design of the product that accounts for over half its revenue.1

What’s that? Apple already has two current designs? Well, I’m willing to admit that the 5c is half a current design, but I don’t think there’s any justification for going further than that. I have wondered, though, whether the 5c was an experiment by Apple to see how its supply chain would handle two “new” iPhones. Sort of a dry run to get the kinks out before introducing the bigger phone as a parallel product line. Having two iPad models has certainly given them some experience, but iPhone unit sales are more than double iPad sales and account for about three times the revenue. It’s good to have some additional experience before tampering with the cash cow.

(I don’t want to imply that the extra time Apple’s taking in developing a bigger phone is all about supply lines and logistics. While Apple has certainly shipped some unripe software lately, that hasn’t been the case with hardware. The quality of the hardware is a reflection of the time and care they put into its development.)

The first reference to the WSJ article that I saw was in this post by Ben Thompson. He thinks a big iPhone is inevitable because the way phones are used in Asia demands it. If you’re a regular reader of Ben’s stuff, that won’t surprise you—he thinks everything is driven by Asia. Personally, I think Apple is finally coming around to tailoring its products to the needs of sloppy dressers in the Midwest.

  1. Look at me, ma! I’m talkin’ ’bout financials, just like them analyst guys!