Rumours are going around that the next iPhone, which everyone is calling the iPhone 6 because that's the number after 5, will come out this summer and potentially have two screen sizes – a 4.7in and a 5.5in model. But too many of those rumours have focused on new screen resolutions, at 1,280 x 720 and 1,920 x 1,080, and we have to stop printing this stuff unquestioned.
I got fed up with the Apple rumour mill long ago, because I feel like it's our responsibility as journalists to actually pursue truth and not print every half-assed fever dream invented x somebody with a business card that says "Analyst" on it. Unfortunately, nonsense about Apple is catnip to Google News, so this is the world we're stuck in.
The next iPhone might indeed come this summer. Apple has released iPhones in the summer before, and if the new models do have different screen sizes than the iPhone 5, they'll coexist with rather than replace the existing iPhones on the market. Think of a free-with-contract iPhone 5C, $99 (£60) iPhone 5S, $199 (£120) "super" iPhone and $299 (£180) iPhablet. That's all possible.
But claiming that the new iPhones will have 1,280 x 720 and 1,920 x 1,080 screen resolutions without engaging with the obvious counterarguments is irresponsible. It's noise rather than signal, and it's our responsibility as journalists to give you signal, not noise.
Keeping things focused
To understand why there probably won't be 720p and 1080p iPhones, just look back at Apple's history. Apple has done well when it has stayed focused. Its failure years were the Michael Spindler/Gil Amelio years, when it puked out a big, flabby product line that confused everyone.
Apple's focus is what developers love, and developers are why the iPhone has succeeded. No, it's not Apple magic, or a reality distortion field. It's simply that Apple offers the best API for developers, with a simple hardware platform to write for, and excellent conversion of app installs into cash.
A huge part of that – a huge part of that – has been maintaining a small and consistent array of screen sizes and aspect ratios. Programmers currently handle three aspect ratios: 3:2, 4:3, and 16:9, and four resolutions: 320 x 480, 1,024 x 768, 1,136 x 640, and 2,048 x 1,536. The 320 x 480, 3:2 ratio is on its way out; the last iPhone to use it was the 3GS.
While 720p and 1080p are both 16:9 resolutions, graphics designed for 1,136 x 640 displays would be scaled up just enough to look weird on a 720p screen. And app developers may be able to cast off 320 x 480 resolutions this year – it depends on how many iPhone 3GS models are still out there – but adding more items to the list is a bad idea.
Let's say that Apple is going to spend its complexity credits on a 1,920 x 1,080 phablet. Then we have to address what's going to happen on the 4.7in "larger" iPhone. Could it still be 1,136 x 640? That's going to take a serious reality distortion field, as the pixel density will drop to 277 pixels per inch, well below the 326 ppi that Apple has been touting for a while as "Retina."
For some people, that could be a plus. We've seen older users, especially, flocking to larger devices with lower pixel-density screens in part because they offer larger type and larger touch targets. A bigger iPhone could be the "iPhone for the visually impaired," if only that didn't go against Apple's entire brand, which is about being young and cool. I'm not sure Tim Cook has the reality distortion magic to make that fly.
Sure, this could be the end of Apple's triumph in the smartphone market, and the beginning of the Performa Era for iOS, when a Steve Jobs-less company started really losing its way. But I don't want to make that assumption. Jony Ive, Phil Schiller, and former star analyst Michael Gartenberg (now on Apple's team) are just too smart. They've been there. I don't think they're about to make those mistakes again.
Unlike unnamed "upstream supply chain sources" in Xinjiang, I don't claim to have all the answers here. But I think it's the responsibility of thoughtful tech reporters not to just parrot what they read on the Internet, but to ask the obvious questions – and to note when they've been left unanswered.