GSMArena has stirred up a lot of excitement with some leaked, blurry images, purportedly of a prototype for an upcoming iPhone. The big deal is that these pics show a device with a curved front and rear face.
A double-curved design like this is very plausible, in some ways. The structural benefits of the shape mean you could make a phone out of thinner, lighter materials and yet it would still have physical strength. The shape may even cheat a sensation of thinness in the hand thanks to its narrow edges—and this is a trick Apple's tried before with the MacBook Air. Such a shape could even let a phone maker be cunning in terms of the internal electronics layout, possibly allowing more space for bigger lithium battery packs (which are slightly squishy, and could simply be glued into the narrower parts of the body).
The phone's screen is much more curved than HTC's One X, though. And that makes us wonder how such a phone would feel from an ergonomic point of view. How would swiping one's finger up and down the display versus across its curve feel when in use? Would that difference shatter the "touchable" illusion of touchscreen content on iOS?
The images do indeed look a lot like an Apple patent that recently hit the headlines. The patent mentioned a wraparound screen and the double-curved example drawing looks a lot like this supposed prototype.
But we don't think Apple's quite at the point where it would adopt such a heavily curved body design yet, simply because of the state of current screen tech. Assuming Apple does use evolved screen systems in the upcoming iPhone, the tech will likely be structurally thinner and optically brighter than current screens—this is an industry trend right now. That could enable Apple to create a bigger screen that goes almost right to the edges of a phone chassis...but that wouldn't be easy in this curved shape where space at the edges would be extraordinarily tight. And this assumes a flat screen beneath a heavily curved glass front, which could create strange optical lensing effects. Sure, the Nexus S had a curved front...but it was just the glass, and it wasn't curved enough to create optical distortions.
Curved and flexible screen tech is quite definitely in production, though, and a heavily curved glass display like this could work if the LCD (or OLED?) was curved too. But again there's a question of the ergonomics of such a touchscreen and issues about viewing content like movies or TV shows on such a curved surface.
The imagery shared with GSMArena is pretty believable. But it's blurry...and there are no reference objects like a human hand for context. It could be a rendered image inspired by the recent patent. And even if it's not rendered, and actually is an image of a prototype, we know that Apple prototypes all sorts of weird and wacky things as part of its creative journey toward a final product.
Let's all just calm down about this one. If it proves genuine, then Apple will have had to invent some pretty clever tech to get over some of the structural, electronic and ergonomic issues this shape will cause. But it would seem this tech is just a bit too cutting edge for 2013.