This is why Apple is finally making a huge iPhone

Try holding a phablet like this.
Try holding a phablet like this.
Image: Screenshot
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As smartphone screens have grown larger, Apple, the no. 2 phone seller in the world, has resisted selling very big phones—until now. Apple is expected to announce two new iPhones next week, both larger than current 4-inch models, and one reportedly with a 5.5-inch screen. (That’s big.)

This seems to be the right move. Large-screen phones aren’t for most people, but enough people like them that they’re the fastest-growing segment of the mobile market, according to a new forecast from research firm IDC.

So-called phablets—which IDC defines as “smartphones with screen sizes from 5.5 to less than 7 inches”—are expected to triple in sales over the next four years, to nearly 600 million units worldwide in 2018. Meanwhile, “regular” smartphone shipments will increase about 16% to 1.25 billion in 2018.

Put another way: IDC expects phablets to represent less than 15% of total smartphone sales this year, but about one-third of sales in 2018. Assuming this prediction is accurate, there’s no good reason for Apple to sit this one out.

Worldwide smart device phablet smartphone tablet sales chart IDC

Why has Apple stuck to smaller-screened phones until now? One likely reason: They’re easier to use one-handed.

When the company introduced the iPhone 5 in 2012, which was taller—but not wider—than its predecessors, Apple product marketing chief Phil Schiller made a big deal about thumb control. “What is the design center for the phone? It’s this—it’s your hand,” he said, showing a slide of a human thumb. “A phone should feel great in your hand, and more importantly, should be easy to use with this magical device we all carry called a horizontally opposed thumb,” he quipped.

Apple Phil Schiller iPhone 5 thumb

Apple has largely succeeded when it comes to releasing products that it had previously snubbed, ranging from iPods that play video to smaller tablets. But it will be particularly interesting to see how Apple explains this really-big iPhone, given how it previously turned its nose up at the idea.