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Claims surface that Apple will follow Samsung, LG into curved smartphone screens

Larger screens draw more power, but curved displays could compensate by reducing reflection, says expert

November 11, 2013 07:45 AM ET

Computerworld - Apple's iPhone 5S and 5C have been on the market just seven weeks, but talk has already begun of what the Cupertino, Calif., company may have lined up for 2014's fall schedule.

On Sunday, the Bloomberg news service reported that Apple is designing and developing a pair of larger-sized iPhones that rely on curved screens similar to the one used in the Galaxy Round that Samsung debuted in its home country of South Korea last month.

Several weeks later, LG introduced the G Flex, another smartphone boasting a curved display.

Bloomberg, citing an anonymous source, said that the new iPhones, one with a screen size of 4.7 inches, another of 5.5 inches, would likely ship in the third quarter of 2014. Apple launched its annual iPhone refresh in that quarter the last three years.

Claims that Apple would develop an iPhone "phablet," the term for a mash of "phone" and "tablet," have circulated for months.

Phablets have sold especially well in China, India, Hong Kong and South Korea. Researcher IDC, for example, noted in late August that sales of smartphones with screen sizes between 5 inches and just under 7 inches overtook those of notebook PCs and tablets combined in Asia during the quarter ending June 30.

But the form factor is much less popular in the U.S.

Apple's iPhone 5S and 5C -- as well as 2012's iPhone 5 -- sport a 4-in. display, measured diagonally. A 5.5-in. iPhone would be nearly as large as the "plus-sized" Galaxy Note 3 that Samsung launched in September.

The curved displays would be another new move by Apple and another imitation of rivals like Samsung, which sells a huge range of handsets powered by Google's Android mobile operating system.

Bloomberg did not specify what technology Apple would use for the curved screens, but the most likely would be a flexible OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display on a plastic substrate, which Samsung and LG both used in their smartphones.

Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 curves the screen downward from the left and right edges when the phone is held in portrait orientation; LG's G Flex curves the screen inward from the top and bottom. Apple's iPhone would presumably mimic the Galaxy.

While some industry analysts have called curved screens a marketing gimmick, some see such devices as design standouts, an important consideration for smartphones.

"If done right, a curved display could help a product stand out ... add a little more flair to the design," said Sameer Singh, an independent analyst who publishes the Tech-Thoughts website, in an email Monday.

Others argued that there were practical reasons why concave displays were smart.



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