Apple Designers May Be Hugging Curves
Apple's next iPhones may make the controversial 5c -- colorful and plastic, gasp! -- seem tame by comparison. There's a rumor making the rounds that Apple will be introducing a big iPhone or two -- maybe even an iPhablet. Here's where it gets really crazy: The new iPhones might have curved displays. Other companies are experimenting with curves too, of course, but it's not yet clear why.
It appears Apple is bending to the latest in smartphone designs -- it's reportedly working on iPhone models with curved displays and larger screens.
The new designs will feature glass that curves downward at the edges, according to Bloomberg, which reported that Apple is working on devices with screens of 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches. They would be the largest iPhone displays yet.
"There is a trend towards larger screens. It's a known relationship that the larger your screen, the more time you spend engaging with said product," Michael Morgan, senior analyst of mobile devices at ABI Research, told MacNewsWorld.
"If Apple was to create a phablet, there is some concern that it might eat into their tablet business. I'm finding that not to be quite so true," he added.
"We'd now have a set of products that would still be high-priced, but [also have] that larger screen for greater application engagement," continued Morgan, "which therefore makes those devices more profitable for the [network] operators that they're selling to."
A phablet is a smartphone with a screen larger than 5.1 inches diagonally, according to ABI.
Future models of the rumored iPhone designs may include pressure-sensitive displays that can differentiate between light and heavy touches, according to Bloomberg's source. The technology for those pressure-sensitive displays is apparently not quite ready for the next iteration of iPhones.
Should the report prove true and if Apple were to release an iPhone with a curved screen, it would be wading into territory already charted by other smartphone manufacturers.
Samsung launched its 5.7-inch Galaxy Round, which curves horizontally, last month in South Korea. Soon after, LG Electronics debuted the LG G Flex, with a 6-inch, 1,280 x 720 pixel OLED screen that curves vertically.
It's a Smartwatch
Of course, it's possible that Apple is actually not working on a smartphone with a curved screen at all. It may be more likely that it would incorporate curved displays into the smartwatch it's widely rumored to be developing.
"When you curve something like that, it can affect the pocketability of your handset. That's not necessarily something they'd want to do in terms of design," ABI's Morgan suggested.
"Why would they bother? If you put a phone face down and it's curved, most of that glass won't be touching the surface it's on, so there's that benefit. There's supposedly some viewing benefits in a curved format, because of the way it will reflect light, making the screen easier to see in daylight," he pointed out.
"But I don't believe Apple is going to be willing to develop a curved glass product in terms of the handset," Morgan concluded. "I believe more that they will be focusing on curved glass, so that when we have a smartwatch product, the smartwatch will curve around the arm and rest on the arm better."
"I'd be surprised to see them make that big of a design departure from where they've been," Chris Silva, principal analyst at High Rock Strategy, told MacNewsWorld.
"If anything, their use of designs that are curved may be in some sort of device that's not a smartphone or a tablet," he surmised. "If there is some sort of curved design in play, it would be the application of using it for some sort of wearable. That could be anything from the next-generation iPod shuffle or something even more involved like a watch."
If Apple were to expand its product line by moving into the curved-screen market, it would not be an unprecedented departure, though. The company recently debuted two new iPhone models at the same time: the iPhone 5s with advanced features, and the brightly colored plastic iPhone 5c, which has a lower price point.
Low 5c Sales
Demand for the 5s is far outstripping that of the 5c, and production of the latter has reportedly been downsized.
"Thinking about where they've gone with the 5s and 5c, the first time of bifurcating the iPhone line, given that's a recent move and given the relative lack of success of the lower end of the two devices, I would be surprised to see them further fragment the iPhone product line," High Rock Strategy's Silva said.
"I think it would be to their disadvantage to do so," he added, "because as you have more form factors, the persona of marketing -- of developing a use case for the 5-inch versus the 4-inch -- becomes increasingly difficult to do, and I think one thing Apple tries to do is limit the number of SKUs they have to one or two so that they can focus the energies of the buyer or potential customers on the iPhone, instead of 'this iPhone versus that iPhone.'"
Apple will likely refresh the iPhone product line, with curved screens or not, in the third quarter of 2014.