For iPhone 5, Apple Must Go Big and Skinny
It would be a huge mistake for Apple to offer up the next iPhone without giving it a larger screen. However, as we've seen with certain Android phones, having a large screen sometimes also makes a phone too big and ungainly. To solve the pocketability problem, Apple will need enlarge the iPhone's design in one direction and shrink it in another.
08/16/12 5:00 AM PT
The latest iPhone 5 rumors are giving it a similar form factor to the existing hot-selling iPhone 4 and 4S -- except with a bigger screen. Heck, if Apple doesn't introduce a bigger screen, it will be the biggest mistake in the history of the iPhone.
Apple has to offer up a bigger screen to compete with the Android phones that have huge, gorgeous displays. Size matters. Yet some of the competing smartphones I've borrowed have great big screens but end up overdoing it. They're unpocketable monstrosities.
The Samsung Galaxy series comes to mind. Phones in that line sport screens up to 5.3 inches. These are great for looking at photos and watching video, even reading and surfing the Web. For brief moments of time, I'm jealous of them.
No way I'd pack one of them on a daily basis, though. And if Apple produced a huge iPhone 5, well, I'd buy it anyway -- but only to give it the most scathing review I could ever imagine.
My iPhone isn't my whole life, and I don't want to spend too much time thinking about where I'm going to store the damn thing when I'm on the go. And I'm a guy who wears reasonable jeans and cargo shorts with plenty of pockets. If anything, I want a smaller, lighter form factor -- I want more screen size but a smaller phone. I want my photos to be larger, my Web surfing better.
No way. That's why I'm an Apple fan. I know Apple can do these things. The latest rumors about a unibody design -- getting rid of the back slab of glass and creating a stiffer one-piece frame for the phone's guts -- just might make it possible to create a thinner phone. If the phone is thinner and manages to sport a slightly larger -- longer -- screen, it would represent a pretty compelling evolution of the iPhone.
Plus, if the form factor picks up rounded back edges, it could "feel" even thinner. Remember the first few generations of iPhone? They were thick, but the rounded backside made them feel thinner than reality.
And the rounded backside brings better pocketability, too -- fewer sharp edges to catch on clothing seams and a discreet pocket bulge.
So where does that leave us? Is there anything that's super exciting about the iPhone 5? A smarter Siri? Apple's new maps? Both are indubitably desirable, but not super exciting. A better camera, faster processor? Good. A bigger screen? Very important, pretty exciting, but not particularly amazing on its own. After all, the iPhone 5 will still have a smaller screen than the competition. If Apple goes big without getting thinner, Apple will simply be following the competition, not leading it.
No, the more I think about the iPhone 5, the more I believe that Apple's next-generation move has to be insanely small. Buck the Android trend for bulkier phones. The only real way to do that well is to go thinner . . . and still give guys like me a nod toward a bigger screen. Apple's evolutionary process could cement a whole new generation of iPhones and secure its spot at the top of the smartphone hill. Apple would have all sorts of ways to tout its supreme usability. Plus, I'd still be able to essentially use the iPhone 5 with one hand, letting one thumb do most of the tapping action.
Maybe Apple's new smaller dock connector is more critical to the iPhone 5 design than we might think.
What About iOS 6?
The next version of iOS may have a secret feature or a new app still hidden from the public, and while the operating system is key to Apple's success, the company doesn't have much choice here: It has to continue to prove that it can make astoundingly elegant and durable hardware without Steve Jobs at the helm throwing fits when anything is even slightly less than awe-inspiring.
If Apple can do this -- give us a bigger screen in a smaller form factor -- I'll be truly excited about the next iPhone, maybe even excited enough to wait in line for one. Again.