Apple Might Be Testing a Bigger iPhone, and We May Never See It

News flash: Apple reported to be doing exactly what you'd expect any company to.

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Remember Apple’s thumb commercial for the iPhone 5, where a hand model holds the vertically slender-ized smartphone face-up, swinging a thumb 90 degrees up and down like someone doing cryptic baseball hand signals? Imagine that commercial if, instead of the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen, you were looking at a whopping 5-inch version (measuring corner to corner). It doesn’t matter if we’re talking a taller or wider screen, that thumb’s not getting the job done without some extreme sports-style stretching.

Maybe Apple‘s Next Big Thing is a bionic finger implant that’ll let your thumb do what Inspector Gadget’s neck can, because the Wall Street Journal¬†reports Apple is actively testing appreciably bigger screens for both the iPhone and iPad. Citing officials at Apple’s Asian suppliers, the Journal says Apple has been prototyping smartphone screens “larger than 4 inches” as well as a slate-style device with a screen in the vicinity of 13 inches (the not-mini iPad currently tops out at just under 10 inches, diagonally).

Some of this may technically be old news new-ified by the Journal: As my colleague Jared Newman noted last Wednesday, skepticism-challenged reports recently circulated indicating Apple was noodling with a 4.3-inch iPhone display. This made no sense, argued Jared, because extending the screen by a fraction of an inch without bumping the resolution would offer no functional benefits to users. I couldn’t agree more: If Apple’s going to up the iPhone’s screen fidelity once more, forcing app developers to retroactively scramble all over again, it’s saving that card for a real spatial¬†switch, say a Samsung Galaxy S4-threatening 5 inches alongside a leap from the iPhone’s current 1136-by-640 pixels to at least full 1080p. The Journal‘s report doesn’t specify 4.3 or 5 inches, lending it a fraction more credibility if we assume “embiggened” iPhones are inexorable, but only a fraction.

Then again, says the Journal, this all may be academic, because Apple’s doing what most companies do as a matter of course: due diligence. If the Journal‘s supplier sources are being truthful, all this tells us is that larger smartphone and tablet screens aren’t unthinkable. But then — thumb commercial or no — were they ever anyway?

Do you want a taller, wider, higher-definition iPhone? It’s not the most important feature on my wish list (inductive charging, a way to squeeze a 1 TB flash drive in without exploding the price and the option to customize launch apps all slot higher), but sure, I’ll admit I do. I didn’t leap out of my seat for the iPhone 5’s extra half-inch; the extra row for apps was the only lure for me — I don’t use Notification Center and 3.5 inches was widescreen enough. Five inches with the screen widened as well as lengthened, Galaxy S4-style, without decreasing the frame’s rigidity would be something I’d rally behind for the visual fidelity upsides. (I also happen to have long fingers, so I can do the thumb trick on a 5-inch screen without stretching.)

In any case, if such a version of the iPhone surfaces, watch how fast Apple chucks that thumb commercial down the memory hole.