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Apple Tests Out Bigger Displays for iPads, iPhones

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TAIPEI, July 22, 2013 ― Apple Inc. and its Asian suppliers are testing larger screens for iPhones and tablets, officials at the company’s suppliers say.

In recent months, Apple has asked for prototype smartphone screens larger than 4 inches and has also asked for screen designs for a new tablet device measuring slightly less than 13 inches diagonally, they said. The current iPhone 5 has a four-inch screen, while the iPad has a 9.7-inch screen. The iPad Mini, a stripped-down version of its tablet computer, has a 7.9-inch screen.

Apple is looking to test a smartphone screen that measures more than four inches and a tablet screen slightly less than 13 inches. The WSJ's Yun-Hee Kim and Lorraine Luk discuss the implications.

Whether either design will make their way to market is unclear. The Cupertino, Calif., company routinely tests different designs for its products as it refines them during development. The company also changed its offerings of the iPhone and iPod last year to include larger screens, while adding a variant of the iPad with a smaller display.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

The tests with suppliers seems to suggest that Apple is exploring ways to capture diversifying customer needs at a time when many mobile device makers offer smartphones and tablets in various sizes. Its biggest rival in the tablet and smartphone markets, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co., has an “all things to all people” strategy, covering many different product sizes to capture as many customers as possible. The move has allowed Samsung to leapfrog Apple in the smartphone market even though Apple still leads in tablets. In the first quarter, Samsung was the leading smartphone maker with 33.1 percent of the market, while Apple trailed in second place with 17.9 percent, according to researcher Strategy Analytics. In tablets, Apple is still the dominant player but its market share fell to 39.6 percent in the three months ended March 31 from 58.1 percent a year earlier, according to IDC. Samsung, which uses Google Inc.’s GOOG +1.57% Android operating system, saw its tablet market share rise to 17.9 percent from 11.3 percent a year earlier.

“In the long run, we will see touch screens in all sizes as the future vision of the technology industry is to offer the same user experience across all screens,” said IDC analyst Helen Chiang. “The key is to bring down the cost and introduce compelling applications for large-screen devices.”

Apple’s move, if adopted, fits into a broader trend of mobile device makers offering many size options. Competitors including Samsung, Sony Corp. and Huawei Technologies Co. have launched smartphones with displays larger than 5 inches. The category is called ‘phablets’ to refer to devices that crossover between a smartphone and tablet.

The new tests come as Apple and its suppliers are also preparing to ramp up production of a new iPad later this month, according to officials at component suppliers. The new version is expected to be the same size and have the same resolution as the existing 9.7-inch model, but with a lighter and thinner display structure, they said. The new display structure integrates touch sensors with a thin film instead of glass, which is used in existing iPads.

Suppliers have also started mass producing components for the new iPhone last month, said officials at the suppliers. One person said Apple told its assembler, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., to get ready to ship the new iPhones in late August.

The Wall Street Journal reported in April that the refreshed iPhone that is likely to be launched in the second half of this year will be the same size and have the same resolution as the current iPhone 5. At the same time, Apple has also been working with its manufacturing partners in Asia on a less expensive iPhone that will likely use nonmetal casing, to differentiate itself from the aluminum casing of high-end iPhone 5. The shells of both iPhone models will come in multiple color options, officials at suppliers said earlier.

Source: marketwatch.com, © 2013 MarketWatch Inc. All rights reserved.

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