What will the next iPhone look like when it is released in September after its first major redesign in two years? In a new concept, Sam Beckett, an independent concept designer, imagines a next-gen iPhone Air with a 4.7-inch, 1080p high-definition display with a 468ppi resolution, up from a 4-inch display with a 326ppi resolution. The redesign also brings the iPhone’s display more in line with both the size and clarity of competing smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S5.
From a design standpoint, Beckett’s concept seems plausible. Keeping the design language of the iOS devices that have preceded it, the iPhone Air concept would be 8% larger than the iPhone 5s, while giving customers a 17% bigger screen. A bigger screen means more drain on the battery, but thanks to Sharp IGZO technology, this new iPhone Air would be thinner and lighter than the current iPhone while retaining the same battery life, even if the screen has more pixels to light up.
Beckett isn’t alone in thinking Apple will move to a bigger form factor with the next iPhone. Analysts are also predicting the switch. Yet migrating to a bigger display like this would mark a major change in the way Apple updates its products.
When Apple introduced the iPad Mini with Retina Display, the company took pains to make sure that both devices had the same resolution, even though the Mini has a 33% smaller screen than the iPad Air. The reason the company did this was so that developers didn’t have to update their apps to support the Mini: An app running on an iPad mini uses the exact same graphical assets as one running on the iPad Air.
In Beckett’s iPhone Air concept, though, the 4.7-inch iPhone Air would feature a completely different resolution than current iPhones. Developers would need to update their apps to support the device. Even then, it’s not clear how Apple would maintain backwards compatibility with existing apps, because of the difference in pixel densities: When Apple changed the number of pixels per inch in previous devices, the company always made sure that it was quadruple the previous resolution, making it easier for developers to support both. A 1080p iPhone Air, though, has 1.9 times as many pixels as the current iPhone 5s. It’s an oddball multiplier that Apple would need to develop a new upscaling system to support, if it wanted to make older apps backwards compatible.
That’s not to say, of course, that Apple won’t do just that. Although the best way to predict what Apple will do in the future is to look at what the company has done in the past, obviously not everything the company does will have precedent: Look at how Apple lengthened the screen of the iPhone 5 to 4 inches, for example.
Which brings us to the question: Why a bigger iPhone to begin with? Beckett doesn’t elaborate on why he thinks a 4.7-inch iPhone Air is the way to go, but it’s easy to read between the lines. The iPhone’s current 4-inch size may sell well in the United States and Europe, but Asia is the next frontier in the smartphone wars, and Asian consumers love big phones, especially in China, which represents Apple’s biggest opportunity when it comes to growing its smartphone business.
What isn’t seen in Beckett’s iPhone Air concept, then, is a smaller 4-inch iPhone 6, in pretty much the same size and form factor as we’ve had for the last two years. A smidge thinner and a smidge lighter, perhaps, but specifically tailored to the preferences of the United States and Europe, whereas the iPhone Air would be Apple’s Trojan horse into China. And lo and behold, that’s just what analysts are predicting: two iPhones–not one–to rule them all.
Read more about Beckett’s iPhone Air concept here.