My Phablet Skepticism Thesis

Ben Bajarin / August 28th, 2014

I have been publicly doubting the existence of the 5.5 inch iPhone for some time. I promised many on Twitter I would share my overall thesis on the category so here it is.

Starting from the data points, we know several things. In the USA, phablet sales are quite small. Our estimates have the active installed base of all Galaxy Notes in the US at under 10m units. Phablets, or smartphones with screen sizes above 5.3″, have tended to not sell well at any price point in the US market. However, the US market is not the only one that matters.

Phablets are successful in some parts of Europe but much more so in Asia, so we will focus there. You could argue Apple needs to make a 5.5″ phone primarily to serve the Asian market and you may be right. But let’s focus on the data at hand.

Here is a chart Guardian journalist Charles Arthur made of active screen size of Android device according to Google’s data.

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As you can see, the vast majority of Android devices in use are not phablets. Now, it is entirely possible Google is not tracking or including China’s AOSP Android ecosystem in this chart. If they did, it could certainly bump the active use of phablets a bit higher but it would not be by much.

Another data point is IDC’s own projection of the phablet market which is, somewhat conveniently for my thesis, hot off the presses. This statement can be found in their latest press release.

The other widely discussed trend has been the shift towards large screen smartphones. IDC expects “phablets” (smartphones with 5.5″—7″ screens) to grow from 14.0% of the market in 2014 to 32.2% of the market in 2018. With the expected entry of Apple into this market segment, and the pent-up demand for a larger screen iPhone, Apple has the ability to drive replacement cycles in mature markets despite the slower growth seen in recent quarters.

IDC is stating 14% of smartphone shipments this year will be phablets, growing to 32% in 2018. In raw numbers, based on consensus of smartphone forecasts, that equates to approximately 165m phablets in 2014 and approximately 576m in 2018. In neither case are those small volumes. However, of the vast majority of phablets being sold in Asia, more than 80% cost less than $350. An interesting question is, where do premium phablets, like the Galaxy Note series, sell in volume in high prices points? The answer is South Korea. Good estimates of the Galaxy Note installed base in total is around 60 million. Nearly half of those can be found in South Korea.1

What we know today is:

  1. Phablets are not the majority of form factor sales.
  2. The price points they do move at in volume are not price points Apple seemingly would want to play at with an iPhone.
  3. Where phablets do sell at high price points, and where Apple would seemingly play, are in Samsung and LG’s home country of South Korea. A market Apple has very little share in today.

When I share my skepticism, it is due to the nature of what we see regarding phablets today. However, there are always other ways to look at this data.

Firstly, perhaps the large screen phones have not sold well in the US because Apple does not offer one? Possibly yes. However, if I had to place a bet on which of the two larger screen models Apple offered would do better in the US, I would bet the 4.7″ would be the better seller.

The real question to dig into around the necessity of an Apple 5.5″ iPhone is to address a market that may be choosing Android instead of the iPhone specifically due to that sized phone. Apple will address many people’s desire for a larger phone with the 4.7″ and, in many markets, particularly the US market, it will likely bring users back to the iPhone who may have left and bought a Samsung Galaxy S series because it had a larger screen. But ultimately, Apple already dominates the US market and has an extremely loyal customer base. I don’t believe the argument for a 5.5″ has anything to do with the US.

So — back to Asia. The affluent audience who purchases iPhones in that market due so because of the status that accompanies buying an iPhone. It is entirely possible there are more iPhones in active use in Asia than in the US thanks largely to the secondary market. A 4.7″ iPhone alone will be a huge hit in Asia and break sales records at whatever price. So why offer a 5.5″ also? Is there evidence that those in Asia who can afford a $650 iPhone (not the majority) are choosing to buy an Android phablet for $350 just because Apple doesn’t offer one in that screen size? I see no evidence of this and it is the primary source of my skepticism. The decision to release two new flagship models, at the same time, and possibly causing some difficulty deciding between the two by Apple’s core customers, has to be to appeal to new customers who don’t just want a bigger iPhone (the 4.7″ will do this already) but want one specifically at the increased size of 5.5.”

Bottom line, phablets move in volume at lower ASPs than iPhones in Asia. Those who can afford iPhones in Asia will buy whatever Apple makes due to status. I’m not convinced Apple is or would lose customers in Asia if they did not make a phablet. That being said, and looking at the data I have, there are always times to forget data and go with your gut. It will be exciting to see what Apple’s gut has told them to do.

  1. This estimate comes from network data I have on the region as well as some publicly stated numbers of Notes by Samsung. Notes appear to have the greatest concentration in South Korea. However, since Samsung uses shipment numbers not sell through numbers, it is entirely possible millions of Notes are sitting in a warehouse somewhere collecting dust. Perhaps if this is true it helps my thesis even more. []

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • Terry

    I think the data is a bit skewed. Most mid-end or high-end Android phones have screens larger than 4.5″, even though it is only 20% of the devices out there according to this chart. Consequently, 80% of the phones is low end (posit). Apple is only interested in the mid or high end, in that case phablets make up ~30% of the market Apple is interested in. That paints a whole different picture.

    Second, Apple creates markets. If Apple think they can offer unique value by making a 5.5″ phone, they will regardless of what Android devices are out there. It’s as simple as that.

    • benbajarin

      Correct that Apple creates markets, but they also react to things. The iPad mini was a reaction to keep people from buying cheaper android tablets at a size Apple didn’t offer. Now the tablet market is very different than the smartphone market, but since folks in Asia are only using one device, a phablet, rather than two, a phone and a tablet, it makes sense why they want larger screens. Again it comes down to price. Apple already owns the high end of the market and only offering a 4.7″ iPhone would not change that. They would continue to own the high end and would actually increase their ownership of the high end with a 4.7″. One can argue they would continue to own the high end with a 5.5″ but as I said they have a loyal crew. Offering two devices must fit into a strategy of increasing their base not just selling new devices to their existing base.

      I don’t buy the logic that people are leaving Apple in hoards because they don’t offer a phablet. I believe some were on the fence because the didn’t offer a larger screen, which with they will address with 4.7.”

      Apple isn’t going to magically make more premium consumers. They own those who can afford their products.

      What the data actually suggests is that Apple should make the iPhone 5.5″ their “C” lower cost product at say $500 or something. That would hugely move the needle in Asia given the low ASPs of phablets in China. But obviously that doesn’t appear to be what they are doing.

      • Terry

        “Offering two devices must fit into a strategy of increasing their base not just selling new devices to their existing base.”

        That’s exactly my opinion. But that strategy seems like a solid one doesn’t it? I don’t see why you would be skeptic. That strategy makes perfect sense.

        “Apple isn’t going to magically make more premium consumers. They own those who can afford their products.”

        Agreed, but I think is a classic example of skating where the puck is going to be rather than where it’s at.

        “What the data actually suggests is that Apple should make the iPhone 5.5” their “C” lower cost product at say $500 or something. That would hugely move the needle in Asia given the low ASPs of phablets in China. But obviously that doesn’t appear to be what they are doing.”

        Again, I would argue Apple is ‘skating where the puck is going to be’. In 2 years time, they *will* have a phablet at $400 or $500.

        • benbajarin

          IF that is the end goal then I am in. Although I’ll be the first to admit if they do offer the 5.5″ and its super premium, it is the one I want. 🙂

          • Bruce_Mc

            Interesting discussion.

            A 16GB iPad mini with cellular modem is $430.
            mini retina w/ 16GB and cellular modem is $530
            iPhone 5c w/16GB is $550.

            Let’s say Apple’s new 5.5 inch “iPhablet c” has a plastic case and a retina display and no better than A7 processor, maybe A6x. $600 might not be an unreasonable price for the first year. In a year or two Apple could end up with a three phone lineup, each phone a different size: small plastic, medium metal, large plastic.

          • StevenDrost

            The A6X is definitely out.
            It’s powerful enough to move the pixels, but the power draw would be way to high. Keep in mind the 3rd and 4th gen IPad used a 11560 mAh battery. They could do it, but it would require a compromise on the thinness of the device (never going to happen).
            But Terry’s point was that the new device would not hit the lower price point for 2 years. A 5.5in device at 600$ (this year) would be a disastrous business decision. Not because it would not sell, in fact the opposite. It would steal marketshare from the typical 650$ highend phone. It would also be confusing for customers. The bigger Macbooks and IPads cost more, but the bigger phone would be cheaper? If anything they would likely charge a premium I would guess $750 and it would drive ASP (aka profits) up. Then in a year or two the “IPhablet C” may be a viable strategy.

          • Bruce_Mc

            I think that metal = high status and cost, plastic = low status and cost would help to avoid any confusion about midsize being more expensive than large.

            One Apple product stealing sales from another in the short term is not typically seen as a problem at Apple, as long as there are long term benefits.

            I like Ben’s tweet this morning about this subject, basically saying, “The heck with a new phablet, just add cellular voice to the iPad mini, which already has cellular data.”

          • I suggested a while ago that if Apple just named the new 5.5″ iOS device the “iPad Nano” and included cellular voice it would solve both the problem of having a product to target the space between an iPhone and an iPad as well as the problem of slowing iPad growth. 🙂

          • Yes, except that being an iPad, it would be expected to run apps optimized for iPads instead of iPhones.

            Distinction between iPad and iPhone is quite strict on the development side.

          • obarthelemy

            I think it’s more complicated than that, because it is not so much about materials as about brand/perception. A plastic Apple device is still a luxury device, and reciprocally, a rosewood Motorola/Lenovo device… not so much. Apple has hired luxury branding experts recently. I’m sure they’re working hard not only to shore up Apple’s brand value, but also to work out if / how moving downmarket could be worthwhile (done without damaging the brand nor the high-end sales; with nice margins…). That’s a “third rail” type of issue, that’s been done in several ways (licensing, “junior” brand, “junior” line…) by other luxury corps.

            With mobile sales starting to flatten, and tablet sales falling, that must be an avenue of growth Apple is exploring. The lack of product / price variety in Apple’s line up is astounding.

          • benbajarin

            Yes, I think if the 5.5″ was perhaps plastic, and not the premium build quality, again like the 5c, it would create a clear distinction between the two devices. The 4.7″ is premium, the larger one is not, and this strategy would absolutely kill it in Asia. I mean seriously sell in volumes in that region.

          • obarthelemy

            I really don’t think Apple are going to launch a new line with a cheaper product. They got the formula for Luxury down pat, they’ll keep at it until it fails, if it ever does.

            From the pricing rumors ($100 more expensive baseline 4.7″), I’d think they’re making room for a later “midrange” line, 1 or 2 yrs down the road. Their first large phone won’t be the moment they choose to launch that.

          • obarthelemy

            Also, I’m puzzled by the discontinuity between their Mac, iPod, iPad and iPhone brand management. iPod has Shuffle, Nano, Touch, Classic; iPad has Mini and Regular, Macbook has Air and Pro in several sizes… It’s weird how a product that sells more than all of those combined until recently only had “this year’s” and “last year’s”.

          • Bruce_Mc

            The new iPhones are out, and here’s how Apple decided to do it. These devices have 16GB, with as much cellular as possible:

            4.0” screen $550 – no secure purchase, 8MP camera (no PDAF, no OIS), A7 processor (no barometer)

            4.7” screen $650 – 8MP camera (no OIS)

            5.5” screen $750 – with everything

            7.9” screen $530 – no secure purchase, no touch ID, no voice calls, 5MP camera, A7 processor (no barometer)

            7.9” screen $430 – no retina screen, no secure purchase, no touch ID, no voice calls, 5MP camera, A5 processor (no motion detection, no barometer)

          • obarthelemy

            I’m wondering why no-one is adopting the Dell approach: make it modular and build to order, stocking the most popular configs. Keep the platform the same, but give buyers a choice of size, battery, materials, camera, RAM/Flash, maybe sound or even CPU performance (if Qualcom’s stuff is interchangeable, I don’t think it is).

  • Babu Duggirala

    I recently ran into two people (one male and one female) using a Galaxy Note in two different settings where I could probe them with questions. Both were in their late 40s or early 50s. Both mentioned that iPhone was too small for them. Both said that Note makes it easy for them to view content and one person mentioned the extra battery life they get with Note. After those conversations, I felt that there is a market for Note sized phones in the US that is growing and will continue to grow because of the demographics. Apple may or may not release a 5.5 inch iPhone but there are people who not only want a large screen phone but need one as their vision deteriorates with age.

    • freediverx

      If there are so many older users in the US with myopia demanding 5.5″ phones, why are Galaxy Note sales so low? If they’re buying cheaper devices they won’t pay for a premium priced Apple phablet.

      Did you read the article? It’s not a question of whether some people would want them (the only thing proven by your anecdotal data) but whether enough people would want them AND be willing to pay for one from Apple.

      • Defendor

        It could also be that the Samsungs flagship S5 already has a 5.1″ screen.

  • obarthelemy

    Another question is: once you’ve got a 6-7″ phone, where does a 10″ tablet fit ? I’m looking to replace mine with a 12″, as soon a Samsung’s prices drop or another OEM comes up with something less overpriced.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      “Where does a 10″ tablet fit in?”

      For me and my partner (not data but representative of aging users with less than perfect vision) Larger 12″ tablet = too heavy. Smaller 7-8″ tablet = screen objects too tiny. So we stick with the 10″ size.

  • obarthelemy

    I think you skepticism could apply to any phone from Apple. Turn it around: can Apple use the bigger size as a excuse to rise prices for its captive audience ?

    • benbajarin

      Of course. But keep in mind this form factor breaks all kinds of Apple design religion around ease of use in one hand. Not saying that is bad if that is truly the way the market is going.

      Ultimately even if there is a 5.5 I don’t think it sells as well as the 4.7 unless they price it to move in Chjna like my comment above.

      • Mark Jones

        Out of the box thought: The 5.5 could have special significance for the wearable. A kind of best of all worlds.

      • obarthelemy

        Apple might have realized we have 2 hands, and eyes too. Or that different people have different-sized hands; or they might have re-designed our hands (with a free while-U-wait in-Store upgrade !)
        Apple is constantly hyping its designs; it doesn’t mean they believe their own hype. Proof next week ?

  • sbono13

    I’d quibble with the notion that S Korea has 30 million Note users– They have only 35 million total smartphones according to Flurry. Their 2013 data (Pre-Note 3) pegged S Korean phablet users at 14 million (all brands). Probably higher now, but not double.

    http://www.flurry.com/bid/101499/The-South-Korea-Report-Device-and-App-Trends-in-The-First-Saturated-Device-Market#.U__RCPmwL0c

    That immediately means the global market for premium-priced phablets is at least 50% bigger than you previously thought :). My thought is with the premium market approaching saturation, stealing share from Android is the best way for Apple to grow. No doubt, the 4.7″ iPhone will hit Android where it hurts them the most, but the Note is selling well enough that it couldn’t hurt to target those users as well.

    • benbajarin

      Device network data from the region suggests it is more than half of active smartphones in that region. We have good evidence it is the majority in that region.

      I say that because we can’t find the volume Samsung has proclaimed of the Note. So either that or the have tons sitting in warehouses somewhere, which is possible, brining my Note installed base down quite a bit. Thus helping my thesis. 🙂

  • 1100101

    Apple will do what Apple will do. I completely agree.

    I applaud this opinion piece, I think it brings some interesting points to the discussion. I appreciate the objectivity, not easy to do in a world of pundits that proclaim “If we don’t see a big phone, Apple is doomed”. Of course, they will not like whatever Apple releases. And in spite of Apple’s complete inability to understand anything that so blatantly obvious to the cognoscenti, and, well, anyone with a BRAIN, we all know that Apple is about to sell however many they can make of whatever they make.

    Me, I’d like a slightly smaller phone, 2mm thick. Guess I am just really dumb. No one would buy that. There goes my shot at joining the illuminati. Rats!!!

    Apple will do what Apple will do.

  • Space Gorilla

    Good to see some analysis of the data. I’ve long thought phablets were massively overhyped in the media and were actually a very small part of the market. I do think the 4.7 inch iPhone makes sense, with a more edge to edge screen and if it is slightly thinner as well, it may not feel all that different in the hand from the current iPhone. Gruber’s recent iPhone screen math article lays out a good argument for the benefits a 5.5 inch iPhone could offer. I’d buy one. I suppose the question is, does Apple have manufacturing figured out to the point where they can make a ton of 4.7 inch iPhones and a lot less 5.5 inch iPhones and maintain good margins. If they have then I think we’ll see more screen sizes. If not maybe the 5.5 comes later. Probably also depends how important China is. I guess we’ll find out September 9th.

  • iwod

    I think there are a few thing missing in those data point. ( I am trying to find those data point i had from China Mobile and Umeng, but i dont have it handy with me, will update once i find them )
    Apple has a very loyal customer base. Which means in US and Japan, where it is dominating with 60% market share, they are likely to buy what ever size the Apple give them in the next iPhone.
    If you add China’s Android, the current trend is that the norm is 5″-5.5″. Apart from iPhone, most phone being sold now, and those upcoming phone are all within this range. So while the data as of 2013 still shows 4- 5″ being the majority, they will quickly get displaced. The simple fact is xiaomi, the current market leader in China, only have phones that are 5 or 5.5″ range. And Samsung’s Note is doing well in China as well ( according to uMeng ) they also have other such as the Mega in the Phablet range.
    So if we define 5″ as Phablets, then Phablets is the majority of form factor sales in most of Asia. ( Like Apple, Japan is excluded from Asia Region )
    And people in this region will likely buy the bigger version 5.5″ rather then 4.7″, which is considered too small.
    So why not go higher then 5.5″? Market data from HTC and Samsung shows their HTX Max; 6″, and Samsung Mega 6″+ aren’t doing so well comparatively speaking. Those who wanted a bigger screen are moving to Tablet size that are in the 7″ range with phone capability. Those, are what is consider real phablet in region. Where phablet has been widely used in the west as anything larger then Apple’s offering.
    And i would bet with the culture within China, premium pricing of 5.5″ iPhone wouldn’t be much of a problem.

    • benbajarin

      According to Umeng, the Note 2 has been surpassed by two Xiaomi models, but it is in the top 5. However, so is the S4. The key data point is that it isn’t the current Note line doing well in China, the fact that it is the Note 2 that is in high usage is very telling.

      I do agree with you however that the trend appears to be moving toward 7″ tablets will phone connectivity in the region. I wonder if this trend will pass the phablet trend in a matter of years in Asia. Which would make the argument Apple needs to add voice to the iPad Mini and they would be well positioned in China with that product.

      • StevenDrost

        I actually attempted to ditch my phone for an IPad Mini. It was really annoying needing to carry a bag for my device and needing headphones. I missed a lot of calls, because i could not keep it in my pocket. Adding voice would only solve one of those problems and lets be honest, that would look crazy next to your ear. Something narrow like a Nexus 7 is about the maximum size I could see for a phone.

  • Albin

    My general thesis about Apple (as opposed to Android users who have no OEM loyalty and are cheapskates by comparison) is that Apple customers can afford and will in fact buy anything that works for their lifestyle. A large to phablet-size phone is inconvenient to pocket or carry continuously, but the iWatch is a natural companion piece for those who want that larger work or video screen with them, up to a full sized tablet, but with convenient quick call / text / calendar or fitness functionality in hand.

    The smartwatch is only redundant to a small smartphone, but is a natural companion for those who want or need to carry an occupational or recreational large screen. And as above, Apple buyers more than others can and are likely to want to buy the pair of devices regardless of cost.

    • Mike

      How are android users more cheap when top of the line phones cost the same amount as an Iphone does. Please don’t judge what you don’t know. Oh and people are different (gasp) and don’t all prefer the exact same thing.
      Thank you.

      • icruise

        That’s true of high-end users of both platforms, but most Android users are not high-end users. It’s not meant to be some kind of value judgment against Android users. It’s just a fact.

        • Sebastian Paul

          That’s only true if you look at the price with a contract, in countries where you can get all smartphones also without contract the iPhone is usually much more expensive.
          In Germany, the iPhone 5s 16GB can be bought for 199€ with a contract, while the SGS 5 and HTC One M8 will cost only 99€ with the same contract. (T-Online)
          Without contract, the iPhone is 595€ and the Android devices can be bought for ~495€ online at a number of shops. (Prices without contract via http://www.gh.de and only from merchants which I would trust)
          But remember that this is just the Basic 16GB model, there’s also a 64GB model that sells for ~840€ and there’s no Android phone at this price (unless it has been customized with gold plating^^).

        • obarthelemy

          calling Android users “cheapskates” is about as non-judgmental as calling Apple customers “snobs with too much money”.

  • Glaurung-Quena

    All the rumours about a bigger 5.5″ iphone are based on parts leaks, nothing more. Nobody has any idea of what the new sized parts are for. That it’s for a phone is just an assumption. As gruber’s recent article made clear, we don’t even know the resolution of the screens for the new phone and new 5.5″ thing.

    Tim cook said apple would be launching multiple new product categories this fall. Wearable is one (too much smoke for there to be nothing there) I don’t know about Cook, but I wouldn’t call a bigger phone a “new product category.” So maybe the large screened parts are for something completely different. The Ireader, as challenger to the Kindle. The Inote, made for replacing a pad of paper, focused around taking notes with a stylus. Or something else.

    Second-order speculation — so maybe it will be a phablet maxi-phone. But, as ben has argued, a bigger phablet sized phone isn’t going to sell well enough to justify Apple doing one. So maybe it’s going to have some key differentiator that makes it unlike the smaller sized phone, other than mere size. Like, say, a game controller accessory.

  • twfclose

    I would have to agree with Ben on just about every point he makes with a few aditions, maybe a slightly different perspective. Apple has loyal, very loyal customers because of the quality of product/customer service and richness of the eco-system. Whatever Apple makes people will buy. If they build a 5.5″ iphone it would completet the coverage of form factor sizes and potentially appeal to the Asian market more ( bens comment about adding voice to ipad mini is extremely appropriate here). From all the data that I see above the 4.7″ Iphone would be the main selling device ie: 60 to 80% of Iphones sold with a 5.5″ Iphone being making up 20 to 30% of the rest. Not a bad strategy at all to try and cash in on a segment of the market that they have had no presence in at the moment. In a sense skating to where the puck is ( by all market indications) headed towards. How these phones are priced/targeted , especially in Asia, will determine their overall sales, and this is where things could get interesting.

    Just to meander a bit, I look back a bit and remember how Apple dominated/dominates the personal music player space and remember a series of products that completely covered the price/product range at about a 20 to 30% price premium over the competition. This was and is brilliant product marketing. The price premium was easilly justified because of ecosystem advantages.

  • StevenDrost

    I agree with you but for different reasons. It’s one thing to increase the size from 4.0 to 4.7 inches, but 5.5 is much bigger. At that size applications should be specifically designed to take advantage of the added screen real estate, much like with the IPad.

    • Problem is, 5.5 inches is definitely too small for an iPad interface, even with dynamic layout. And to introduce a third category of device for a product for developers to target that will probably not sell nearly as much as the iPhone or the iPad, is a rather bad idea.

      • StevenDrost

        I agree. I’m arguing against a 5.5 in device.

      • obarthelemy

        I’m not sure of the details of how Apple handles different screen sizes, definitions, and resolutions. Modern Android apps encapsulate a “Phone” and a “Tablet” layout (in a single app, which explains the canard that there are few Android tablet apps), with ressources for various dpi and sizes. As far as I have observed, that setup works well (and, again, off a single codebase), as long as the devs bother to plug the “ressources” for all sizes/dpis in their app, which is a lot less work than coding/compiling/distributing/maintaining x variants of their app. Some apps even expose the phone/tablet toggle, useful for phablets (on my 7″ one, I go for “phone”)
        If the Apple model is similar, handling various screen sizes, formats, dpis should not be a major hurdle. If stuff is hard-coded, then yes…

        • StevenDrost

          Actually, I’ve been reading about IOS 8 and it’s adding the ability to run one App which will re-size itself and add or remove various UI elements depending on the size of the device. As you said, Android has had this ability for years and this is a major departure from the pixel perfect design in IOS to date. Pixel perfect design was probably the way to go in a low rez environment, but high resolution screens all but remove the problems of re-sizing items like icons and text. Basically, I retract my earlier statement about the 5.5in being non-optimal from a user perspective.

          • This stuff helps you to program the app. It doesn’t really help you optimize a design for a new device category.

            It will help you blow up the 4-inch or 4.7-inch optimized UI for a 5.5-inch device. And that’s probably as far as the vast majority of developers will go. Unless of course, everybody buys the 5.5-inch over the 4.7-inch.

          • StevenDrost

            It’s going to be interesting, it’s basically the same thing that has happened on the web for years with responsive web design except without the problem of low resolution screens.
            It will be interesting because some want more content while others want everything to be bigger. My guess is that an OS level setting will determine if the app looks like the IPad or like a blown up IPhone.
            I’m sure the better developers are already testing out different screen sizes and resolutions. But many apps were built by contractors who have since moved on to other projects. Everytime I start worrying about how apps will look i realize the competition in the app store is immense and the IPhone sells in huge volume.

          • an OS level setting will determine if the app looks like the IPad or like a blown up IPhone.

            That’s a very ugly solution.

            I think we agree that 5.5-inch will not receive special attention from designers. You suggest that there will be an option to switch. I suggest that it will be a blown up iPhone (tweaked only to the extent that autolayout can manage, similar to CSS responsive design w/o media query switching).

          • StevenDrost

            Actually I don’t agree that the 5.5-inch will not receive special attention because.

            The vast majority of usage is in apps designed by Apple or big names like Facebook. These companies will seek any and every optimization.

            There is a lot of competition in the app store. For every poorly optimized app there is a line of competitors with better solutions.

            Also, (this is admittedly not my field of expertise), everything I have heard describes the responsive design tools in IOS 8 as being much better optimized for the task than CSS.

            Basically, my opinion has flipped 180 degrees on the subject as I’ve learned about IOS8.

          • OK. I’ll take a more careful look at what ios 8 has to offer.

            If that happens though, I’ll have to question what the Android developers have been doing. Neither Google apps nor Facebook apps are significantly different even when comparing smartphones vs tablets.

        • Some apps even expose the phone/tablet toggle, useful for phablets (on my 7″ one, I go for “phone”)

          I think that this says it all.

          Even for Android, it is either “tablet” or “phone”. There is no “phablet” switch.

          If I were designing for a 5.5-inch iPhone, I would invariably design it as a blown up phone. Unless the 5.5-inch sells extremely well in developed countries, the 4-inch or 4.7-inch will be with device I will optimize for. I would never optimize for a device that sells mostly in a restricted geography that is not my main market.

          It’s not a programming issue. It’s a user interface design issue.

        • As far as I have observed, that setup works well

          Very much depends on what you’re aiming for. Even looking at Google’s own apps or the apps from deep-pocketed developers (Twitter, Facebook), Tablet optimizations are very limited in scope compared to iOS. On Android tablet apps, optimization is mostly a matter of moving a UI element to a different location, or embedding a picture in a modal dialog instead of transitioning to a different page.

          On iOS, designers tend to do a more thorough rethink of the UI. The depth of information displayed on a single page often changes as well.

  • Defendor

    “…the vast majority of Android devices in use are not phablets…”

    As gets pointed out here on Techpinions, on a regular basis. The majority of Android phones are money losing, low end commodity phones. So why stress the importance of this section of the market now? The important section of the market is the profitable one.

    I have long argued Apple should have a big phone, and now it looks like it will come to pass. Apples own internal documents showed a hefty portion of the high end market wanted big phones.

    Samsung is often looked upon as the one Android player that is making money. From what I can tell, they have easily sold over 100 million 5″+ phones, >40 Million of them being Galaxy Notes, the rest being flagship Galaxy S4/S5 models.

    Way back, I argued Apple shouldn’t just cede that market to Samsung. Apple was engaged in costly lawsuits with uncertain outcomes against Samsung. But where Apple could best inflict damage was in its area of expertise: Building better products than Samsung.

    Build a big phone and steal 50 million sales from Samsungs flagships. That is 25 BILLION in revenues lost to Samsung and gained by Apple. While Apple is engaged in a costly lawsuit that will never see 10% of that.

    As far as the final size to the tenths of an inch. I don’t think that is is a critical issue, but two sizes of big phone is somewhat surprising.

    From the Apple of Steve Jobs, I would have expected just one big phone size. But the Apple of Tim Cook, might be open to a bit more model proliferation. Will 5.5″ be the volume leader of course not, but it won’t be a money loser either and gives Apple a more complete lineup.

    Also what of 4.0″ phones. Other than previous models hanging around, is 4.0″ dead at Apple? Is Apple going to settle on one, two or three sizes?

    I hope there is a 5.5″ to complete the lineup and I hope the 4″ stays. A three size range of 4″, 4.7″ and 5.5″ seems like it would cover size needs for the foreseeable future.

    • obarthelemy

      I do agree that Apple is smart to move to cover more sizes, that’s one of the most segmenting characteristic. 3 sizes feels right now that Apple is no longer designing phones for our hand (maybe they realized we have 2, and eyes too), even on the Android side quite a few people keep lamenting the lack of a “mini” flagship. The other segmenting characteristic would be price, but it seems Apple has firmly chosen to remain in the Luxury segment.

      I’d dispute the “important” adjective: It’s a bit of a circular reasoning. Apple sell luxury devices at luxury prices with luxury margins, so they get eye-watering revenues, but that does not make the luxury segment more “important” (sic) than the remaining 88%, except for Apple shareholders. For other “mobile stakeholders” (users, devs, suppliers, advertisers, web sites and other content/services suppliers, etc…), that 88% is already either more important, or quickly becoming so.

      Also, the majority of Android devices are either *not* money-losing, or less money-losing than the alternatives (going out of business, Palm, RIM, Windows, Nokia…)

      • Defendor

        My point on importance of low end vs upper end, has more to do with the Techpinions writers regularly stressing the importance of the upper end of the market, and the irrelevance of the commodity low end, until a story like this, where they point out the vast majority of Android phones aren’t big. I am just looking for some consistency of approach.

        Though there is some merit to the greater importance of the higher end beyond Apple share holders. Those upper end buyer also seem to consumer more services, pay for more applications etc.. So they are of greater benefit to advertisers, app developers etc…

        • benbajarin

          You landed directly on my point.. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely clear, but my point was there is little evidence Apple needs to make a 5.5″ in order to continue to dominate the high end.

          Per the data, it is the $350 area that moves in volume. Again, this is not to say Apple can not release a 5.5″ and actually ship it in volume. But by basic thesis is that Apple already will own and continue to own the high end, even if they only make a 4.7″ phone. I do not believe they are losing premium buyers because they don’t offer a 5.5″ is my general point.

          Hopefully that addresses what you were pointing out.

          • Defendor

            My main point was, a little more model coverage is not a bad thing even if 5.5″ is their lowest volume phone. It will likely still generate additional billions in revenues, and give more headaches to arch frenemy Samsung.

            I am about 50:50 on whether there will be 5.5″ iPhone announced.

            Though I think this a move more in line with Tim Cook Era, than the Steve Jobs Era as well. If this was the Steve Jobs Apple I would have placed those odds of 80:20, with 80% not seeing it.

            My big question is what happens to 4″ going forward?

          • benbajarin

            It likely continues as a lower cost model. When you ramp up to make nearly 100m phones of a certain type, it makes sense to keep reaping that investment for time to come. Not sure if there is an updated 4″ given that they are changing the design. iPod likely gets the updated face lift though.

          • Defendor

            Won’t it be a huge problem if there are no 4″ flagships going forward? Isn’t this the ideal size according to Apple for years? Aren’t >80% of even Android phones 4″ or less?

            It really seems like Apple must go with multiple sizes going forward.

          • obarthelemy

            Isn’t the issue similar to SUVs in the car market ? BMW could have avoided that mostly nonsensical segment altogether. They went in, and achieved significant sales both from upsales (from BMW customers who would have gotten a different and cheaper BMW) and new sales (from customers who’d have gotten their SUV from someone else.

            As long as the product doesn’t put the brand to shame, there’s probably little risk with jumping into a significant new segment, especially one that is at a higher price point, all other things being equal, than the older segments.

            Complicating the issue is the strong way Apple came out against large phones. I’m sure they’ll work up some Magic to wish that PR away.

  • Albert

    Do you have statistics for high-end smartphones only? Maybe it’s a different picture with those data.

    • benbajarin

      Yes, and it doesn’t, since the high end is controlled mostly by Apple, as I point out. These customers will buy the new iPhone at 4.7 and if the 5.5″ iPhone does come out at a premium price point, then they are only selling it mostly to their existing base.

  • It does seem a bit unfair that your thesis would be immediately proven wrong if Apple does announce a 5.5 inch phone, whereas the opposite side could say that it has simply been delayed if Apple doesn’t.

  • jfutral

    Well, for all you write here, I just want to say your article has the best home page pic associated with it.

    Joe

  • Bruce_Mc

    This turned out to be a more conservative release of iPhones than I guessed it would. Some examples:

    Last year Apple went from 1 new pone to 1.5 new phones, which was something new (the 5c was new on the outside, but not much on the inside). This year from 1.5 new phones to 2 is not as surprising.

    Last year one of the new models was introduced in the middle of their price range, which was different. This year, both new models were added at the top, which is more typical for Apple.

    The sizes and some of the features were new to Apple, but borrowed from Android, which again is typical for the last few years.

    On the software side, payments was again borrowed from Google. I’m not knocking Apple for this. Google seems more willing to throw out seeds for things like NFC and payment by phone and see what happens. Apple, it seems, would rather wait until they think they can get a whole, healthy plant to grow.

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