Friday, February 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm.

Maybe The Big iPhone Is The Cheap iPhone

iPhone gift wrap

Pardon the idle speculation, but finishing up the next version of our City Notes travel guide got me thinking.

In the lull between iPhone releases, there seems to be chatter about two possible new additions to the line:

  • A “big iPhone” that might capture some of the market that wants a bigger screen than the current iPhone 5. (The Galaxy Note-curious.) See Marco Arment’s mockups here.
  • A “cheap iPhone” that might capture some of the market that doesn’t buy $600 (or subsidized) iPhones. Something in the $250-350 unsubsidized range, perhaps. (Hello, China!) This is often called the “iPhone mini” or “iPhone nano”, assuming, perhaps, that Apple would follow the same “mini” pattern it has with the iPod and iPad.

What if these two phones are the same device? What if the big iPhone is the cheap iPhone?

The cost-size curve isn’t straight in computer hardware, because miniaturization is also a cost factor.

  • There is a point where making a MacBook bigger costs more, and a point where making an iPad smaller costs less. The 15-inch MacBook Pro costs more than the 13-inch, and the iPad mini costs less than the big iPad.
  • But there is also a point where making an iPhone smaller costs more — in component efficiency, battery life, R&D, different materials, etc. That’s one reason why the iPhone 5 costs (very roughly) about the same to build as an iPad mini, which is much larger.

You might assume that a bigger iPhone would be a more powerful one; that the iPhone+ (or whatever it’s called) would be an “iPhone Pro” of sorts. Maybe so. But maybe it’s also cheaper than a smaller iPhone, because weight, size, and efficiency aren’t the primary design goals. For example, the battery could be bigger. Or maybe it could contain older, cheaper, more-plentiful, less-efficient components.

To be sure: This is just an idea. I lack Tim Cook’s knowledge of the component market. It’s possible this is totally incorrect logic. Maybe the “cheap iPhone” will be a small, fat, plastic thing like the old iPhone 3G. (I hope not!) Maybe the big iPhone will be a $900 iPhonePadPro. Who knows.

But it is good to remember that there can be a bigger cost to making things smaller.

Also: Sometimes My iPad Mini Makes Me Want A Bigger iPhone