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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Stretched iPhone, coming soon to a screen near you

Peer pressure forces Apple to backtrack and come up with a larger screen size
The Business Times - September 14, 2012
By: Victoria Ho
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Stretched iPhone, coming soon to a screen near you PHOTO: AFP

[SINGAPORE] It looks like Apple is feeling the heat and has finally given in to calls for a larger screen. In doing so, it has followed in the footsteps of its rivals and turned its back on the philosophy of maintaining a uniform iPhone screen size to help app developers.

The biggest design change to the iPhone 5, announced yesterday, shows a 0.3-inch taller screen, maintaining the width of the device.

The extra height expands the screen real estate to 4 inches, up from the 3.5 inches that Apple has maintained for all its iPhones since inception.

The taller iPhone represents Apple's response to the "new normal" of the larger screen coming from the competition.

The majority of vendors have cranked out sizes surpassing 4 inches. The Samsung Galaxy S3 has a 4.8-inch screen - a size upgrade from Galaxy S2's 4.2 inches. The HTC One X has a 4.7-inch screen, and Nokia's upcoming Windows 8 phone, the 920, will sport a large 4.5-inch display.

And this is not forgetting Samsung's sleeper hit, the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, so big in its tablet aspirations that it created its own portmanteau category name: phablet.

But the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, had famously cited the 3.5-inch handset size as the "sweet spot" for the mobile phone, eschewing larger iPhone prototypes because he was afraid of fragmenting the app ecosystem.

Apple has always highlighted its uniform screen size as a reason for its popularity with developers, who can maintain a single design for their apps on the iPhone.

In theory, this makes it easier to design the optimal experience without duplicating support effort across different screen sizes.

But the growing Android market share is hard to miss. Smartphones running the Google operating system had just 20 per cent global share in 2010, but this grew to 53 per cent last year, according to Gartner.

And by the second quarter of this year, IDC estimates that 104.8 million Androids in the world made up 68 per cent of the smartphone market.

Within the high-end segment in which the iPhone plays, one direct competitor is Samsung's Galaxy S3. Samsung's IT and mobile unit chief, Shin Jong-Kyun, said yesterday that the device is on its way to crossing 30 million in worldwide sales by year-end.

The new device is 18 per cent thinner and 20 per cent lighter than its predecessor.

Its A6 chip will also run twice as fast as the A5 chip of the 4S, at lower power consumption, he said.

The smaller power requirement means Apple was able to slightly bump up the iPhone 5's battery capacity to what it claims will be eight hours of 3G talk time or browsing. The iPhone 4S had eight hours of talk time as well, but six hours of browsing time.

The A6 processor is likely a dual-core chip, according to analysts with Nomura Equity Research. The speed improvement brings it up to speed with the competition, although the industry standard for high-end devices appears to be quadcore chips now, as seen in the Samsung S3, HTC One X and the upcoming Nokia Lumia 920.

One notable feature missing, however, was near-field communications (NFC) technology. This allows phones to communicate with other devices wirelessly, and is core to applications like contactless payments.

Once again, NFC is present in the three aforementioned competing models. Nokia has used NFC to demonstrate tap-to-pair functions with wireless speakers, allowing users to avoid fumbling with Bluetooth pairing.

And the Samsung S3 is one of the flagship models leading the charge in support of the Singapore government's big contactless payment effort.

Last month, the government rolled out its long-envisioned national mobile wallet. It roped in a seven-member consortium including the country's three telcos, banks Citibank and DBS, and payment player EZ-Link. The consortium is led by chipmaker Gemalto.

One of the first applications under the effort will be tap-to-pay on EZ-Link readers on public transport. Users can tap their NFC-enabled phones to deduct funds from a stored value "wallet", which can be topped up on the go via their mobile connections.

Thanks to pent-up demand for the iPhone 5 from upgraders, the new device is expected to sell well, according to analysts.

Ovum chief telecoms analyst Jan Dawson pointed out that demand will be driven in part by iPhone 4 users who skipped upgrading to the iPhone 4S - seen as an intermediary upgrade when it was launched last year.

"It seems likely that Apple will nevertheless sell tens of millions of iPhone 5 devices in the next few months and well over 100 million in total over the next year," he said.

Fellow Ovum analyst Adam Leach seemed less impressed, however, saying: "Without the continued innovation which we are accustomed to with Apple, the company risks losing consumer appeal.

"The iPhone redefined the smartphone category in 2007 but it can't rely on past success to guarantee its future or rely on litigation to keep its competitors at bay."

Analysts with Piper Jaffray Investment Research were impressed enough with the iPhone 5 that they revised their estimates upwards to 27.2 million for the third quarter, from the earlier predicted 22 million.

The holiday season will also see 47 million iPhones sold, they said.

Apple's stock dipped right after the announcement, as they have done historically. But they recovered within the day to hit US$669 a share, a gain of 1.39 per cent from the day before.

Singaporeans will be able to pre-order their iPhones today, and will be part of the first wave of countries getting it.

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