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Apple’s larger iPhone and iPad: Not if, but when

According to Apple’s Asian supply chain, the company is prototyping an iPhone with a screen that’s larger than 4in and a 13in iPad. This week’s leak comes a month after a Reuters report which said that Apple is looking at introducing both a 4.7in and 5.7in iPhone – presumably the iPhone 6, rather than the iPhone 5S which should be identical to the iPhone 5.

It seems unbelievable that Apple would actually release a range of iPhones and iPads with different screen sizes, but with sales of high-end smartphones plateauing, and Samsung continuing to poach Apple’s market share – especially in the all-important developing markets, where Apple products are currently too expensive – it seems that Apple might be forced into betraying its visionary ideals in order to keep its graphs trending upward.

Apple, of course, like any sensible hardware maker, is always trying out new versions and permutations of its devices. The only way that Apple originally arrived at the 3.5in iPhone and 9.7in iPad was through extensive testing of a variety of screen sizes, and then deciding on the sweet spot.

This new leak doesn’t mean that Apple will release a larger-than-4in iPhone or 13in iPad, but it does mean that Apple is looking at the possibility. Apple won’t have missed the trend towards smartphones with larger screens; it isn’t blind to the fact that Samsung’s large-screen Galaxy devices are taking the world by storm. Apple knows that it’s losing revenue by having just three product lines.

For Apple, though, it isn’t as simple as just producing a 4.7in iPhone or 13in iPad and calling it a day. Apple could squeeze out a beautiful, comparably-specced competitor to the Galaxy S4 without batting an eyelid; heck, it probably has a prototype that could be put into production in a matter of days if CEO Tim Cook gives the nod. The problem, of course, is that Apple still hasn’t worked out if it wants to wade into a full-blown war with Samsung and other smartphone makers. Yes, Apple could produce a cheap iPhone mini to pick up a larger share of developing markets – but, in the grand scheme of things, does it actually make sense to do so? Yes, Apple could produce a larger iPhone or iPad, but does that ultimately result in bigger profits?

Apple is in an enviable but tricky position. For the first time in its history, it has two devices that essentially created and defined their respective market sectors – smartphones and tablets. The market is moving, though – broadening out and developing new niches, and Apple’s grip is becoming untenable. There’s just no way that the smartphone and tablet markets will stay still while Apple decides what it will do.

It’s quite simple: In a few more years, the mobile computing market will be so large that the 4in iPhone, 8in iPad mini, and 9.7in iPad are just drops in the ocean. Apple might still be the market leader for those looking to buy a specific screen size at a premium price point, but will that be enough? I don’t think so. (Read: How Apple can ensure the iPhone reigns as king again).

If Apple wants to remain relevant in the mobile computing market, it has no choice but to branch out to different screen sizes and price points. In my eyes, the only question is when the diversification will actually occur. Will Apple introduce new screen sizes and the iPhone mini alongside the iPhone 5S in September, or will we have to wait until next year?