Our notes about all the rumours follow...
One of the most talked about product launches of 2014 is the iPhone 6, but rumour has it that Apple is actually working on two new iPhones for this year with different sized screens. The iPhone 6 is expected to have a 4.7in screen, but there's also talk of an even bigger iPhone dubbed the iPhone 6L (also known as iPhone Air or iPhone Pro), with a 5.5in screen, marking Apple's first entry into the growing phablet market.
Here, we've gathered the evidence to bring you everything we know about Apple's bigger iPhone, also sometimes referred to as the iPhablet, as well as some concept images and leaked parts as we get them.
Could Apple even relaunch the iPhone 5s as the iPhone 6c? Read: iPhone 6c release date, rumours and leaked images: Will Apple release a cheaper iPhone 6c and discontinue the iPhone 5c.
Updated with the following new details
- Phablet style iPhone will launch at 9 September event but won't be availible until later in the year
- When the 5.5in iPhone ships supply will be constrained
- There will be a 128GB version
- According to IDC this is the perfect time for Apple to join the phablet market
- Code in the iOS 8 beta suggests the new phone will have a very high res display
Bigger iPhone release date: When is the bigger iPhone Air phablet coming out?
We're expecting the rumoured 5.5in phablet-style iPhone to arrive at some point this year and now it looks like it could arrive earlier than we thought. There is some expectation that the bigger iPhone will appear alongside the 4.7in iPhone 6 at the Apple event scheduled for 9 September.
Analyst Ming Chi Kuo has released a new research note (obtained by Apple Insider) in which he tells investors that he believes Apple will unveil two new iPhones on Tuesday 9 September.
However, according to sources of Chinese tech blog IT168 Mobile, the 5.5-inch iPhone will not be launched at that event.
The fact that there have been very few leaked parts of this rumoured even-bigger iPhone could suggest that Apple isn’t ready to launch it yet. It had been thought that it might be unveiled at the iPad event in October, which could lead to some confusion between Apple’s phablet and tablet offerings and would suggest that Apple was associating the biggest iPhone with its iPad category. However, rumours suggest that the new iPad Air might launch at the 9 September event, suggesting there will not be a separate October launch event.
What does look likely is that the smaller iPhone 6 will ship to customers on 19 September, ten days after the unveiling at the Apple event. The bigger phablet-style iPhone will ship later in the year. Kuo doesn’t think that the bigger, 5.5in iPhone will ship in significant qualtities until later in the year.
Kuo also thinks that Apple will struggle to produce sufficient quantities of the 5.5in phablet-style iPhone before the end of 2014. In an earlier note, Kuo suggested that there is a delay relating to the phablet iPhone, claiming that its release date might be pushed right back to 2015. The delay is apparently to do with the in-cell touch panel used in the new device, and also colour unevenness seen on the iPhone Air's metal casing.
According to GforGames, a post on Weibo suggests that the iPhone Air and iWatch will be released together in December. Rumours are suggesting that the iWatch might also be unveiled at the September event.
Why is the 5.5in iPhone Air, iPhone L, iPhone Pro delayed?
The iPhone Air or iPhone L is said to be delayed due to problems with the Sapphire glass display that Apple is building for it.
However, the plant making Sapphire glass for Apple has ramped up production, according to a letter filed in Arizona where the plant is located.
The filing in Arizona is of a letter from Apple requesting approval of a request to expand “the scope of the Production Authority” because Apple wishes to “meet an aggressive go-live timeline of August 2014”.
The reason why it is thought that this relates to the iWatch is that Apple’s supplier GT-Advanced, who are producing Sapphire crystal, are based in Mesa, Arizona. The correspondence, shared on App Advice, refers to the Sapphire glass as a component.
Will Apple really launch a Phablet style iPhone?
In addition to a bigger 4.7in iPhone 6, there's talk of a 5.5in Apple phablet device, which we're talking about in this article.
A bigger iPhone has been hot topic for a while now, especially as bigger smartphones with larger screen sizes have grown in popularity. The iPhone is one of the smallest high-end smartphones now available, with some 'mini' or 'compact' versions of popular smartphones even sporting bigger screen sizes than Apple's iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c.
There is also a growing trend for 'phablet' devices, which fall between a smartphone and a tablet. They range in size, but are usually around 6in, with Samsung's Galaxy Mega actually boasting a whopping 6.3in display.
Why Apple should launch a phablet iPhone
IDC data suggests that Apple might be joining the phablet market at just the right time.
According to the figures, over the next four years the phablets market is set to take off, seeing more growth than the smartphone market.
IDC claims that by the end of this year worldwide phablet sales will bypass sales of portable PCs.
These 5.5in devises will become more popular than 7in tablets.
This year IDC estimates that 1,077.4 million smartphones will ship, compared to 174.9 million phablets. With these figures smartphones will have 60.2% of the market [which includes tablets (13%), portable PCs (9.5%) and desktop PCs (7.5%)], while phablets will have 9.8% marketshare.
However, by 2018 IDC estamiates the marketshare will be: smartphones, 51.2% and phablets, 24.4%. By then tablets will be 12.5%, portable PCs 7% and desktops 5%.
When Apple enters the phablet space there is some expectation that it will bring more attention to the category increasing phablet sales in general.
Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes has also said that Apple needs to launch a bigger iPhone because he expects the larger phone market to dominate smartphone shipment growth into 2015.
When Apple launched the iPhone 5 with a bigger display, Apple explained that the reason for increasing only the iPhone's height and giving the iPhone a 4in display was to ensure that it could be used with one hand. Reitzes says that the one-handed use of the iPhone will be "less important since phone calls are becoming less important than navigation, texting, videos, books and web access for many."
The consensus around the web seems to conclude that Apple is unlikely to get rid of a 4in iPhone option. Here at Macworld, we hope that Apple keeps the on the iPhone 5s, or creates a 4in successor to the iPhone 5s so that there is an option for those who want an iPhone with a larger display. It's been suggested, though, that Apple will continue to sell the iPhone 5s as its 4in option, adding a 4.7in and 5.5in option to its line-up as the new iPhones for 2014.
The launch of the iPhone 5c, and also the iPad mini, proved that Apple is no longer adverse to introducing more than one size of device in each line-up, so we think Apple would be wise to keep both a smaller and larger version of the iPhone to avoid upsetting fans of the smaller form factor. Perhaps Apple might repackage the iPhone 5s in the iPhone 5c plastic.
Like us, not everyone's keen on the idea of a bigger iPhone, many argue that the 4in display that can be controlled with just one hand is a huge selling point for the iPhone. But it has become clear that bigger iPhones are growing in popularity so we'd be surprised if Apple didn't launch an answer to that trend soon. We're slightly dubious about the idea that Apple will go to the extreme of 5.5in for its iPhone, but the rumours are mounting so its beginning to become difficult not to believe them.
Below, we've rounded up all of the speculation, images and rumours about the bigger iPhone, which has recently been dubbed iPhone Air, and discuss the question of whether the bigger iPhone will be Apple's next flagship or a whole new launch to expand the iPhone line-up.
We won't know for sure until we hear confirmation from Apple itself, but for now, we can weigh up the evidence to give us some clues as to what a bigger iPhone might be like. Apple hasn't kept completely quiet about a bigger iPhone, though. Read on to find out what the company's executives have been saying.
- How to set up a new iPhone
- How to buy an iPhone 6: Best place to buy an iPhone 6 in the UK
- Should I buy iPhone 5s, 5c or wait for iPhone 6?
- What iPhone to buy in 2014: Best iPhone buying advice
What Apple has said about a bigger iPhone
Apple CEO Tim Cook hasn't ruled out the possibility of a bigger iPhone. In April 2013, during Apple's quarterly earnings call at the time, Cook said: "My view continues to be that the iPhone 5 has the absolute best display in the industry. We always strive to create the very best display for our customers."
"Some customers value large screen size, others value also other factors such as resolution, colour quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatible apps, many things," Cook continued.
"Our competitors have made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display," Cook said. "We would not ship a larger-display iPhone while these trade-offs exist."
During the D11 conference the following month, Cook repeated his thoughts about a bigger iPhone. "A large screen today comes with a lot of trade-offs," he said. "Customers are clearly looking at size, but they also look at things like: 'Do the photos show the proper colour?' the white balance, the reflectivity, battery life, brightness, the longevity of the display. There are a whole bunch of things that are very important."
It's likely that Apple is hard at work trying to banish those trade-offs in order to launch a top-quality iPhone with a bigger display at some point. After all, it has been almost a year since Cook said those things.
Since then, Cook has dropped a few hints about the future of the iPhone, and some of those suggest the future is indeed bigger.
In December, Cook wrote that Apple has "big plans" for 2014, which we think could be a sneaky hint at a bigger iPhone.
Cook has also said that he believes there are significant opportunities for Apple to expand the position of products such as the iPhone, and had noted that his statement that Apple doesn't aim to make the most smartphones has been misunderstood, again hinting that an all-new iPhone could be on its way to join the iFamily.
Further evidence from Tim Cook that suggests we're going to see a bigger iPhone this year comes in the form of a puzzling comment from the Apple CEO. When talking about his promise to introduce products in new categories, Cook said that any "reasonable" person would consider what's on the cards as a venture into a new category. If Cook was talking about an iWatch or Apple television, it's unlikely he would have felt the need to specify that not everyone will consider the new product part of a new category, which hints that it may in fact be a bigger version of Apple's iPhone.
Bigger iPhone rumours: Named iPhone Air
In July, rumours emerged from China suggesting that Apple is planning to name its 5.5in iPhone the iPhone Air, which would join the iPad Air and the MacBook Air in the Air-branded line-up. There has been talk of an 'iPhone Air' for a while now, and it would make sense. After all, it's the bigger iPad that's called the iPad Air, so perhaps the bigger iPhone will adopt the same name. We think Apple will want to diffrenciate the iPhone 6 and bigger iPhone significantly, so naming it the iPhone Air could be just the way to do so.
Bigger iPhone rumours: Named iPhone 6L
In August, new reports from Apple Daily showed new photographs of allegedly leaked display panels destined for the 5.5in iPhone, which the report claims could actually be called the iPhone 6L. While we can't confirm that the iPhone 6L rumour is true, it's certainly possible, and almost makes more sense than iPhone Air for the bigger device.
Bigger iPhone rumours: Named iPhone Pro
We think that the new Phablet iPhone should be the iPhone Pro, and the new iPhone 6 should be the iPhone Air. This would make a lot more sense and fits nicely with Apple's branding of its MacBooks.
Bigger iPhone rumours: Screen resolution
Not much has been said about the 5.5in iPhone in terms of specs, but one thing that has been talked about a bit is the screen resolution.
DisplaySearch analyst David Hsieh has published a report to suggest that the 5.5in iPhone will have a high pixel density of 401ppi, compared with the iPhone 5S's 326ppi.
KDB Daewoo Securities has shared some alleged resolution specifications of the bigger iPhone, too. It claims the smaller of the two rumoured devices will have a 1,920 by 1,080 pixel display (468ppi) while the phablet will have a 2,272 by 1,280 pixel display (474.14ppi). By comparison, the iPhone 5s has a pixel density of 326ppi.
Code inside the iOS 8 beta may also suggest that the next iPhone could have a super high resolution display. It is possible to load up images at triple resolution, rather than double retina resolution as is the case on iOS 7. Alternatively, it confirms that the screen on the new iPhone will be bigger.
There is also talk of quantum dot technology being used in the bigger iPhone, which would improve colour accuracy of the display – one of the trade-offs Cook mentioned.
Bigger iPhone rumours: Sapphire display & Liquidmetal
In order to achieve a bigger iPhone, Apple may use sapphire for the glass screen, liquidmetal for the chassis and thinner bezels to keep the overall size of the device to a minimum.
Apple's Sapphire plant in Arizona could be used to manufacture 200 million 5in iPhone displays per year, according to reports that emerged in February. Recently published documents revealed that Apple and manufacturing partner GT Advanced Technologies are aiming to open the new plant in Arizona this month, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed that the plant is indeed for sapphire glass, as previously rumoured.
Sapphire glass is more durable than Gorilla Glass, so could be an ideal material to use for the bigger display.
There has been some doubt cast over the use of sapphire glass in the iPhone Air, though. In July, the Telegraph published a report that suggested that the sapphire material isn't being used for the iPhone Air because of "disappointingly low yield rates."
Analyst Kuo has also suggested that Sapphire Glass is not being used in the new iPhones. He points out that rumours that Apple is using Sapphire Glass started because Apple signed a deal with GT Advanced Technology to supply Sapphire Glass – but he notes that the material is used for the Touch ID sensor, and that this sensor is set to feature on more Apple devices, including the new iPad Air, which Kuo is suggesting will also launch at the event.
Liquidmetal is also said to be being used as it is more durable than aluminium, and therefore can be used in smaller quantities to be as strong as the metal used for Apple's current iPhones. This would enable Apple to keep the bigger iPhone light and thin, despite the bigger screen.
Plus, removing the bezels in the bigger iPhone to create an edge-to-edge display would mean Apple could introduce a bigger display without the need to increase the overall size of the iPhone too much.
Bigger iPhone leaked images: What will the iPhone Air look like?
There haven't been many leaked images of the 5.5in iPhone, but there have been numerous for the 4.7in iPhone.
We do rather like this photograph of both the 4.7in iPhone 6 and 5.5in iPhone Air side-by-side (below). They're just mockups, but they're very convincing ones, and we can imagine Apple launching devices that look like these ones. These photos came from previously accurate blogger Sonny Dickson on Twitter.
There's also a video that appears to show the same mockups as Sonny Dickson's, but this time they're being compared with the iPhone 5S. Take a look:
Concept images of the bigger iPhone have also emerged, including the image at the top of this article created by Nikola Cirkovic.
A new concept spotted on ConceptsiPhone and created by Joseph Farahi includes several well-rendered images and a video that shows a 5.1in iPhone 6. It's thinner, has a higher-resolution display, and also has solar charging capabilities.
In July, Chinese repair firm GeekBar shared photos of what is believed to be the logic board of the iPhone Air, as shown below.
We've also seen an alleged volume/power flex cable and SIM card tray destined for the iPhone Air, via Apple.club.tw.
We'll bring you more information and images of the 5.5in iPhone Air as they emerged, so check back regularly.