Apple Tests iPhone Screens as Large as Six Inches

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By Ian Sherr, Eva Dou and Lorraine Luk

As Apple Inc. prepares to unveil both a new high-end iPhone and a cheaper version for the first time next week, it is already working on something bigger.

The electronics giant has begun evaluating a plan to offer iPhones with screens ranging from 4.8 inches to as high as 6 inches, people familiar with the matter say. That would be a sizable leap from the 4-inch screen of the iPhone 5 released last year, and, at the upper end, would be one of the largest on the market.

Such plans signal further that the Cupertino, Calif., company is shifting its smartphone strategy as it searches for new engines of growth, and as competition with Samsung Electronics Co. intensifies.

The Korean rival has taken a commanding lead in smartphone market share in part by offering an array of devices at different prices and sizes. On Wednesday, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 3 with a screen measuring 5.7 inches, a size that places the device in a category of hybrid phone-tablets.

It is unclear whether Apple will ultimately choose to follow a multi-size, multi-device strategy beyond shipping a new lower-cost model for the first time later this month. The company often tests different devices and configurations before choosing a course.

But people familiar with the company’s internal deliberations and plans indicate it appears more willing to move ahead than in years past. Component suppliers say Apple already began testing larger screens for iPhones in recent months. Apple has been particularly interested in recent tests for a 4.8-inch screen, these people say.

The screen sizes of the two iPhones that Apple is unveiling next Tuesday aren’t expected to change, people familiar with the matter have said.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

A multi-size strategy would echo Apple’s approach to the iPod, as that once-groundbreaking product line matured. Broadening iPhone offerings would also allow Apple to address a threat from Samsung: growth outside the U.S., where Samsung and rivals like Lenovo Group Ltd. are still expanding. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said in April the company sees a “significant opportunity in China” with an unusually large number of potential first-time smartphone buyers there. Increasing sales in the country could also help Apple reverse stalled revenue growth and contracting profits, analysts say.

Samsung and other competitors have released numerous products in different sizes and prices in order to cater to a broad swath of customers, particularly in India and China. Apple will for the first time begin shipping two new smartphone products this month, people familiar with the matter say; Samsung alone has released more than half a dozen around the globe so far this year.

 

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(Published September 5, 2013, in The Wall Street Journal.)