John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple Won’t Build a Lousy Five-Inch iPhone, but It May Build a Good One

Apple’s not going to launch a five-inch iPhone until it’s good and ready. And until it does, it would like everyone to know that the current crop of five-inch smartphones, phablets and whatnot is substandard.

Asked during Apple’s second-quarter earnings call if his views on the five-inch phone market had changed since the company last reported financials, CEO Tim Cook said that they really haven’t. The reason? The five-inch smartphones Apple’s rivals are currently peddling are compromised by poor displays.

“We always strive to create the very best display for our customers,” Cook said. “Some customers value large screen size. But others value factors like resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility, apps and many things. Our competitors have made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger display iPhone while these trade-offs exist.”

An almost Jobsian reply, opening as it does with a nod to Apple’s “we just want to make great products” doctrine, and ending with a deft sucker punch to the competition. But there’s quite a bit more at work here, as well.

Note that, for Apple, creating a bigger iPhone is not simply a matter of slapping a bigger display on a bigger chassis. It’s about building an entirely new device. And that requires a lot more nuance and a holistic approach that encompasses not just a flashy new display but accounts for the effects that display will have on everything from battery life to the App Store ecosystem. So when Cook slags Apple’s rivals for making trade-offs, he’s not just saying the displays on their devices aren’t what they could be. He’s saying that because they’re not what they could be, they compromise the entire device. He’s also saying that Apple won’t sacrifice quality for time to market.

Earnings-call rhetoric? Absolutely. But if you’re looking for the reason why Apple hasn’t yet shipped a larger iPhone, there it is. And it’s a familiar one. As company co-founder Steve Jobs said back in 2007: “We just can’t ship junk.” (See video below.)

Of course, the great thing about Apple’s “no junk” doctrine is that it doesn’t preclude the company from later shipping its own unjunked version of whatever device it’s currently disparaging. And you’ll note that, in his remarks, Cook doesn’t explicitly rule out the idea of an iPhone with a larger screen. He left the door wide open.

So maybe we will see a new, larger iPhone form factor. Cook’s remarks certainly suggest that the company has considered it. And Apple is hardly immune to market trends. The iPhone’s display was unassailably perfect in size until its sixth generation, when it adopted the four-inch screen that its Android rivals had popularized. Tablets with displays smaller than 10 inches were nonstarters until Amazon and Google proved they weren’t. Then Apple rolled out the 7.9-inch iPad mini.

Will that same we-won’t-until-we-will narrative play out with a larger iPhone? Certainly possible, if the market opportunity becomes large enough. Better to give large-form-factor smartphone buyers an iPhone option than to forfeit them to rivals, along with the additional addressable market they create.


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