Is Apple's rumored 4.8" iPhone 'Math' the iPhone 6?

January 21, 2013 8:03 AM EST

Apple [AAPL] stock prices may be unstable, but one thing remains everlasting when it comes to Cupertino's dream machine: speculation. This morning we learn the company has a plan for a 4.8-inch iPhone 'Math' -- but might this be a hint at another plan?

[ABOVE: Comedy gold? This comedian posed as an Apple employee to drop cases full of iPhones before the eyes of horrified folk queued up waiting to buy an iPhone 5 when that product was released.]

The story so far: Apple critics are claiming that despite the company offering the world's best-selling premium smartphone it will have to diversify what it makes available in order to fight back against competitors.

Meanwhile the rumors currently speculate a June/July launch of an iPhone 5S; a smaller, cheaper iPhone type product and (potentially) a new model iPhone (version 6) perhaps as soon as late this year.

Today the Commercial Times claims Apple also intends launching an iPhone with a 4.8-inch display, which it claims is called the 'iPhone Math'. Apple, the report claims, is already booking components from suppliers for its new device.

Let's think about these claims:

The name

iPhone Math? How does this make sense? An iPhone mini or nano makes sense as a name; as does an iPhone Pro, but what exactly is an iPhone Math? It implies the device is little more than a glorified pocket calculator, and given all iPhones carry a calculator, the title makes no sense at all. Though this may well be nothing more than a pre-production testing code name.

Timing

Apple only updates its iPhone once a year -- at least, that's the story so far and a plan to migrate to a more aggressive product release cycle is one that some in the Apple-watching world just don't believe is going to happen.

Others consider that by developing its future product feature road map and addressing these on an incremental basis, the company may be able to create more frequent product offerings.

It's worth pointing out that none in the Apple-watching community had predicted the introduction of a new model iPad alongside the launch of the iPad mini last year. This product release arrived just six months after the introduction of "the new iPad" earlier that year.

This implies that Apple has no problem accelerating the release schedule for its flagship product. In other words, just because the firm hasn't accelerated product release cycles yet doesn't mean it can't, or won't. And just because your favourite Apple soothsayer is usually accurate doesn't make them 100 percent so.

Why Apple needs to fight back

[ABOVE: The purchasing pattern Apple wants to change.]

The analysts

Jeffries analyst Peter Misek has been banging the drum for a larger model iPhone since December 2012, though last week he said he'd seen no further news on this purported device. His speculation has also been championed by Digitimes and analyst, Brian White, who have also suggested the company may be considering a plan to launch a larger smartphone, citing their own sources.

Opponents of this notion argue that Apple doesn't usually follow what other people in its industry do: merely because larger screen devices are becoming popular (and they are, take a look at ChangeWave's recent study) doesn't mean Apple will slavishly follow the trend.

Proponents will say that as smartphones proliferate and become more commodified, the company needs to ensure it plays in as many sectors as possible in order to maintain and grow market share.

The display

Any move to adopt a 4.8-inch display would require developers to tweak their apps for the new screen size if they wanted to benefit from the Retina Display.

The existing iPhone 5 offers 1136-x-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi while the iPhone 4S delivered 960-x-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi.

The common denominator has to be the existence of the 640-pixel width, which Apple believes makes it possible to navigate display content with a user's thumb.

A move to a taller display (which seems predicated by thumb controllability) in order to create a device with a larger display would also require developers retool their apps for the new resolution.

Is the 4.8-inch iPhone the iPhone 6?

That's reason enough for some to condemn this rumor, but given Apple has plans to continue to add iOS features within OS X and the chimera-like certainty of an Apple television at some point in future, the company seems on course to ask developers to retool their apps anyway, particularly in order to support the Apple television. It may really come down to what tools the company provides to facilitate this process.

But there's another possibility: The Home button.

Right now the Home button is a permanent fixture on your iPhone. There have been previous rumors claiming Apple has a plan to remove the Home button to replace it with a touch sensitive version of the same, instantly giving users more screen real estate with an edge-to-edge touch display.

Might the Chinese reports simply be suffering Chinese Whispers? Is it possible the 4.8-inch iPhone they are talking about is in fact a feature of (presumably) an iPhone 6, potentially scheduled for launch late this year? Is it possible that one of the features of this device might be this larger display and the abandonment of a Home button?

The truth

In the world of rumor and speculation there is no truth. You're entitled to think as you choose -- indeed, merely because lots of people think something doesn't make their notions any more accurate than those you hold.

While it currently seems possible Apple might reveal an iPhone 5S, iPhone mini and perhaps a third configuration of device this year, that possibility isn't an actual fact until the company reveals something.

In other words, despite the cacophony of opinion, I'm with Steve Jobs in his admonition that you shouldn't live somebody else's life, and should think for yourself. In the case of the latest 4.8-inch iPhone rumor, there's for and against arguments aplenty, but nothing is "the truth" until Apple finally plays its hand.

However, I can't believe the company would release a product with as unattractive a name as "iPhone Math".

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