During Apple’s earnings call, Tim Cook answered a question regarding the 5-inch smartphone market. Cook cited factors other than display size customers value: resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, and compatibility with apps. He then stated “our competitors had some significant tradeoffs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display.” I disagree.
Let’s start with resolution. Most, when mentioning resolution, are referring to pixel format as in something like 1920×1080. But even if Cook was referring to the correct definition of resolution as in density, a larger display does not need to make a resolution tradeoff. On the contrary: High end 5-inch smartphones sport a pixel format of 1920×1080 and that translates to a resolution of 441 ppi. Both the pixel format and the resolution is higher than the 4-inch iPhone 5.
Color quality has no direct connection to the size of the display. What might have been on Cook’s mind is the terrible color quality of OLED displays used by Samsung on many of its larger smartphones like the Galaxy S III, IV, Note II, etc. But look at the HTC One or the LG Optimus G Pro; these smartphones feature large displays with excellent color quality. No tradeoff there.
White balance is terrible on OLED displays, but on high end large LCDs used in smartphones such as the HTC One and the LG Optimus G Pro white balance is just as good as the iPhone 5. Like color quality, there is no direct connection between white balance and the size of the display, unless it’s a Samsung OLED smartphone. (This used to be true, not any more.)
I am convinced when Cook was answering this question Samsung was on his mind. Who can blame him? Samsung is the only company that sells massive smartphones with inferior displays, sells a lot of them, and makes a lot of money. Apple’s biggest (and only?) competitor when it comes to smartphones is Samsung.
Reflectivity is a big issue with touch devices. This again has nothing to do with display size. Glossy cover glasses are one big reason why there is so much reflectivity, but not size.
Screen longevity is not a concern for LCDs, but it is for OLED displays. Most OLED displays if used on a regular basis and at high brightness will not last more than a couple of years before the color becomes unbalanced due to the blue OLED material dying out quicker than the red or green.
Power consumption is a valid tradeoff, but smartphones with larger displays generally have more space than smaller smartphones for larger batteries.
Portability is also a valid tradeoff, but almost half of the adult population carries some type of bag. For them the difference in portability between a 4-inch iPhone and a 5-inch Samsung is trivial.
Compatibility with apps is a weird one. A larger 5-inch iPhone with the same pixel format of 1136×7640 would have no compatibility issues with current apps designed for the 4-inch iPhone 5. Larger fonts and larger icons would be great for an aging population.
Cook didn’t mention one-handed operation as a tradeoff because one-handed operation on the iPhone 5 is difficult for a lot of folks. If Apple had stuck to a 3:2 aspect ratio 3.5-inch display for the iPhone 5 Cook could have mentioned just two tradeoffs—one-handed operation and compatibility with apps—and those would have made sense. But after three generations of 3.5-inch iPhones Apple decided to make the display bigger and the tradeoffs Cook mentioned aren’t good enough reasons for why Apple shouldn’t make an even bigger iPhone.