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Why Apple Is Going Bigger on Bigger iPhone Screens

February 27, 2018, 2:18 PM UTC

Apple Inc. may have led the world with the modern smartphone but it’s long played catch-up on screen size. That’s allowed Samsung Electronics Co. and Chinese brands to corner the market for super-sized devices. The U.S. company is now said to be preparing a renewed bid to capture ground with the release of a trio of iPhones — including one that’s almost twice the size of the original model. It’s a move that’s aimed in part at emerging markets such as India and China.

1. How big is big?

The largest of the new designs has a screen that’s close to 6.5 inches (16.5 centimeters) when measured diagonally. That would make it among the biggest on the market. By comparison, the first iPhones came with a 3.5-inch display, a dimension that Apple saw as optimal for using with one hand until the 4-inch iPhone 5 appeared in 2012. The new range also includes a device that, at 5.8 inches, is said to be the same size as Apple’s premium iPhone X.

2. Why has Apple been behind on larger devices?

For a company that prides itself on the user experience and how few models it puts out, moving away from something it perceived as ideal wasn’t an easy change, and Apple took its time. Meanwhile Samsung rose to the top of the market with an array of larger displays and it wasn’t until 2014 that Apple made its first move to follow suit with the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

3. Who is Apple up against?

Just about all its competitors have devices with screens bigger than its current offerings. Samsung’s premium Note series has a 6.3-inch display. Xiaomi’s biggest smartphone has a 6.4-inch screen. Oppo, Vivo and Huawei Technologies Co. all have devices with displays that are at least 6 inches.

4. What’s the strategy?

While consumers in the U.S and Europe often carry a smartphone and a separate tablet computer, that’s not always the case in emerging economies. The family budget might only stretch to having one device and, typically, phones trump tablets. And if a home has only one device, it figures that there’s more to be gained from a bigger screen. In China, a user might want a device that can handle WeChat, shopping apps for Alibaba as well as games and videos. For business users, larger screens allow for multi-tasking such as emailing and managing spreadsheets.

5. What does it mean for Samsung?

Ironically, success for Apple would mean a bonanza for its biggest rival. That’s because the South Korean company has a stranglehold on global production of smartphone screens using organic light-emitting diode screens, or OLED — which is expected to be used in both of the new bigger iPhones. Displays are among the most expensive components of any device and the bigger they are, the more they cost. Samsung already supplies the iPhone X exclusively and is the only company with enough capacity to meet Apple’s needs. Chinese would-be competitors such as BOE Technology Group Co. aren’t quite there yet.

6. Will this win over customers for Apple?

With hundreds of millions in India yet to buy a smartphone, offering a device that doubles as a small tablet can only help boost Apple’s market share of 2 percent. Ditto China, where it ranks fifth for smartphone sales. The big caveat is price, especially in India, where it will be out of reach for many. To address that, Apple’s new range is said to include a low-priced but smaller model that uses LCD screen technology.

7. What are the risks?

If Apple succeeds in winning people over to a giant iPhone, that will raise questions about products such as the iPad Mini. Why buy a 7.9-inch tablet if you have a 6.5-inch smartphone which does many of the same things?