Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was working on bigger iPhones. Though the article was filled with qualifiers (“preliminary development”), hedges (“cautioned that Apple’s plans weren’t final”) and vague sources (“people familiar with the situation”), the Internet marched dutifully to their Twitter accounts and sounded off on the official (read: totally speculative) news. The consensus was grim. Apple — the stubborn, desperate, slow-moving gadget-maker — was finally, finally coming to its senses. After years of floundering, here was the dying company’s last chance to save a doomed product line.
Unfortunately, the Internet forgot about two things: First, that Apple is still doing just fine. For every one nugget of ordinary news (ex: iPhone sales growth in U.S. missing “analysts” wild expectations), the company has three pieces of great news (ex: iPad sales, international expansion, overall revenue). Second, the Internet forgot that these bigger iPhones are, as of yet, nothing more than rumors. All we know is that some people claimed Apple had been experimenting internally with new iPhone sizes. You know, the same way it was experimenting with smartwatches and full-sized TVs.
And so, lost amid all the chatter is the real question: Do we really need a bigger iPhone? Here are three reasons why we do…and three reasons we don’t.
3 Reasons We Need a Bigger iPhone
1. Apple’s top rivals have all gone big
Stroll over to your local Best Buy (before it goes bankrupt) and observe the crop of featured smartphones, from HTC to LG, Samsung to Sony. Like that 37-inch Panasonic TV you bought in 2009, the iPhone will appear puny next to today’s popular alternatives.
Perhaps it’s telling that the 4-inch phones not named “iPhone” get thrown in a discount bin by the door. Maybe Samsung knew bigger was better when it chose the name “Galaxy.” What if Apple’s gotten screen size all wrong, losing curious customers reluctant to purchase a smaller device? A bigger iPhone would answer these questions.
2. History seems to indicate bigger screens are better
We assessed over 600 smartphones using a combination of expert reviews (45%), benchmarks (35%), and features (20%) to come up with a single score out of 100, which we call the Smart Rating. We then plotted this score against screen size. It turns out that there is a moderately positive correlation (0.69) between a phone’s screen size and overall Smart Rating. (The green, yellow, and red dots indicate high-, average-, and low-scoring phones, respectively.)
Granted, it’s not a perfect test — the newest phones are on the larger side, and naturally, these devices have the best internal specs and benchmark scores. There seems, however, to be at least some indication that a larger screen increases the likelihood of a favorable expert review (the correlation held when plotting screen size against the individual scores from CNET, PCWorld and PC Magazine). On these charts, Apple’s 3.5- and 4-inch iPhones are the exception, not the rule.
3. Apple has made this move (successfully) before
For two and a half years, Apple laughed at 7-inch tablets while its 9.7-inch iPad dominated the market. “We think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps,” declared Steve Jobs on a 2010 earnings call. Competitors then gained traction with the cheaper, smaller Galaxy Tab and Nexus 7, compact iPad alternatives that garnered solid reviews and respectable chunks of the market. The rest is history: Apple changed its mind, released the iPad Mini, and then convinced everyone it had planned it from the beginning. The Mini was a hit from the day of its release. Perhaps Apple should have been making a smaller iPad all along.
Could the same be true of the iPhone? In a 2012 commercial, Apple called its 4-inch screen size a “dazzling display of common sense,” but perhaps that was just posturing. A year from now, maybe we’ll all be watching Apple’s latest spot — “Think Bigger” — on our 5-inch iPhone 6Cs.
3 Reasons We Don’t Need a Bigger iPhone
1. Are users really asking for this?
Go back and plot screen size against user ratings, and you won’t see the same positive correlation. The Internet tends to assume that Apple must make a bigger phone. But why? After years of use, iPhone owners tend to be happy customers, even with 3.5- and 4-inch screens. Do they not know what they’re missing? Or is the Internet creating a controversy that never existed in the first place?
2. What about apps and developers?
People love to demand iPhones of all shapes and sizes, with screens at 4-, 5-, and 6-inch intervals, and aspect ratios from 4:3 to 16:9. This sort of variety might work for a company like Samsung, whose strategy involves pumping out two dozen devices to see what sticks. Apple, however, differentiates itself on consistency of user experience — with over 80% of users on the latest operating system, and an app store more reliable (and more restrictive) than its competitors.
Why does this matter? All those iPhones would require different resolutions, meaning more headaches for developers and more hack-like solutions for running apps. Want to play Angry Birds Space on your new 4:3, 5-inch iPhone? Sorry: you’ll need to wait until Rovio optimizes for that version.
Apple might like the idea of having a few more iPhone size options, but don’t underestimate the value the company places on consistency — of apps, aspect ratios, and display resolution. It’s what keeps both customers and developers happy.
3. Apple already owns its market
All last summer, the Internet was convinced that Apple would release a true “low-cost” iPhone. Instead, Apple introduced the iPhone 5c, a plastic re-design of the iPhone 5, priced only $100 cheaper than the flagship iPhone 5s. “But Apple’s missing a huge opportunity! What about China?!” the Internet sobbed.
When it comes to price, Apple has shown a bit of flexibility (ex: two-year-old phones come free with a contract), but it’s mostly stuck to its sweet spot, “affordable luxury.” While Apple could temporarily increase its bottom line with a dirt cheap iPhone, the company prefers to own the higher end of the market — it’s what it does best, after all.
Perhaps size is the same. When we see the iPhone next to its galaxy-sized competitors, we assume Apple is lagging behind…but maybe it’s right where it needs to be. It’s possible that the iPhone’s top competitors are all bigger because bigger is better. Or maybe it’s simply because no one does the 4-inch phone better than Apple.
This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.