The iPhone Plus Is A Potential Minus

Tell me if you’ve heard the one about the 5-inch “iPhone Plus”. Turns out, when it goes swimming, it becomes the iPhone 4S [rim-shot].

A new rumor has been making the rounds and it predicts the arrival of a larger iPhone from Apple. This rumor was originally started by Chinese and Taiwanese news outlets, claiming Apple plans on releasing three new iPhones this year, all at different sizes and price points:

“Apple will announce three new iPhone models in 2013, and two of them, the 4-inch iPhone 5S and 4.8-inch iPhone Math (both featuring 8-mega-pixel cameras), will hit markets before the end of June.”

Marco Arment saw this rumor as being plausible and wrote an in-depth post about it:

“The recently rumored, larger-screened ‘iPhone Math’, or more likely ‘iPhone Plus’, is plausible as an additional model (not a replacement) alongside the 4” iPhone. And there’s a good chance that it would have a 4.94”, 16:9 screen.”

He even mocked up a few renderings of what a 5-inch iPhone might look like alongside the iPhone 5 and iPad mini and many people seem to agree with him. David Chartier is one:

“Regardless, Marco is right. However crazy a phone this size sounded back around 2007 and 08, they’re a staple now, and plenty of customers are surely passing up the iPhone based solely on the perception of a smaller, and therefore inferior, screen size.”

It wasn’t as far back as 2008 when people thought over-sized phones were “whack, yo” (we were still saying that back then, right?). Just last year, Jonathan S. Geller at Boy Genius Report wrote a piece titled “Samsung’s Galaxy Note is the Most Useless Phone I’ve Used“:

“The phone is too big. You will look stupid talking on it, people will laugh at you, and you’ll be unhappy if you buy it. I really can’t get around this, unfortunately, because Samsung pushed things way too far this time.”

Here’s Marco’s response:

“If even a BGR writer is saying this, I think we’ll look back on the last few months as the period when a trend even bigger than the Galaxy Note jumped the shark.”

Obviously, the Note is half an inch larger than the rumored 5-inch iPhone and it’s certainly possible that Marco changed his mind in the last year, but what is the use case for a 5-inch iPhone? Where’s the necessity? What isn’t currently achievable on an iPhone 5 or iPad mini that could be done better on an incrementally-larger iPhone?

It was only a few weeks ago when Apple had to release a smaller, cheaper iPhone in order to compete — that without an inexpensive iPhone nano available off-contract, Apple was doomed to fail. Now Apple is supposed to release a larger, more expensive iPhone, otherwise it’s doomed to fail? Or should Apple release both, thus expanding the iPhone line to four phones at four different sizes and price levels? Will we then cheer the choices Apple has afforded us because hey, at least they’re not Android phones?

Felix Salmon wrote about this when Apple unveiled the iPad mini:

“Apple’s job, when it developed this device, was not to create something to compete with the Nook HD+. Rather, it was to build something which fit easily into the existing lineup, right between the iPod Touch and the iPad, and which would delight its customers as much as those two products do.”

It’s a widely held belief Apple does not enter a product into the market unless said product has a purpose for being there. The iPhone was a revolution in response to years of terrible smartphones. The iPad re-ushered in a new era of computing. The iPhone 5 and iPad mini were built to answer the very real demand for slightly larger phones and smaller, more portable tablets, but what question does an even larger iPhone answer? Do these cargo shorts have big enough pockets to accommodate my insecurities?

When netbooks were all the rage several years ago, pundits and bloggers proclaimed Apple dead in the water without a netbook of its own. Then came the iPad and netbooks all but vanished back into the cheaply built primordial ooze from whence they came.

Microsoft reacts to other companies’ products. BlackBerry reacts. Samsung reacts. Google reacts. Apple influences. Apple releases what it thinks will sell and only if the product has a place among its siblings. An “iPhone Plus” doesn’t scratch an itch. Just because the Galaxy S III is wildly popular doesn’t mean a 5-inch iPhone is necessary in an already tight device lineup. And contrary to popular belief, customers aren’t exactly passing up Apple’s current offerings.

I won’t go so far as to make the mistake of saying Apple will never release a larger iPhone — we’ve been surprised before — but I don’t see a need for one as long as the iPad mini and iPhone 5 are around.

Harry is an aspiring novelist, the author of the popular Web column and a co-host of everyone's favorite 30-minute tech podcast,