Why the iPhone 6 is likely to come in three flavors instead of one

Size does matter
Size does matter
Image: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
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Rumors that Apple is looking to produce a larger smartphone gained more credence with a new report by the Wall Street Journal. It’s about time, since the iPhone’s four-inch screen is now dwarfed by other, popular options on the market.

But if Apple gives in to pressure to showcase a larger display, it will have to redesign its whole product line to keep users happy.

Apple’s competitors have been rolling out larger and larger displays: The Samsung Galaxy S4 is five inches, and Google’s Nexus 4 and the HTC One are both 4.7 inches. Even HTC and Samsung’s new “mini” devices are 0.3 inches bigger than the iPhone 5, which may be why Apple execs are now looking to upsize. Tablets are getting bigger, too: Apple reportedly wants to test a device with a screen of about 13 inches, a major upgrade from the 9.7 inch screen of the current iPad.

But here’s the thing: Apple can’t just make the iPhone bigger. What Apple needs is two devices, with one at the current display size and one closer to “phablet” territory, with a five-inch screen. Because while there’s certainly a market for bigger screens, now that people do everything from writing emails to watching Netflix on their smartphones, there’s also a market for small ones, for users who care more about hand-feel and usability. For confirmation, just check out the reviews of the HTC One Mini: What everyone’s excited about is that, at 4.3 inches, it’s a one-handed device, like the iPhone.

The lines between smartphone and tablet have long been blurred, but we could soon see a more graceful spectrum of transition from one device to another:

  • “mini” models, clocking in at just over four inches, so users can enjoy single-hand typing;
  • phablet flagship phones that, with about another inch of display space, appeal to users who want a stellar viewing experience;
  • mini tablets (tablettes or mablets, perhaps), like the 7.9 inch iPad Mini serving as the rich man’s e-reader;
  • your standard tablet of around 9.7 inches;
  • and larger tablets for use when portability isn’t a main concern—10-inch or larger touchscreen displays that graphic designers would drool over.

We might not get such a full range from a single company in the near future, but don’t be surprised if we soon see a phablet iPhone and a “mini” one (perhaps a smidgen bigger than the current display, but not much) to appeal to both sides of the emerging split in the market. With a lower-cost iPhone expected this fall along with the iPhone 5S, an iPhone Mini would be a logical next step when the iPhone 6 is rolled out next year.