Apple musing 4.7-inch and 5.7-inch iPhone expansion tip insiders

Apple is considering a 4.7-inch iPhone and a 5.7-inch iPhone for launch as early as 2014, alongside a $99 entry-level model in a range of color plastic finishes, according to new insider rumors. The bigger iPhone whispers would see Apple echo some of Samsung's handset differentiation, Reuters sources claim, though so far no final decisions about the larger phones have been made. Apple has historically been dismissive of big smartphones, arguing that its users find it valuable to be able to use an iPhone with one-hand.

That design requirement forced the iPhone 5 to be tall but relatively narrow, for instance. Apple kept the screen width of the previous, 3.5-inch models, but elongated the display so as to accommodate more on-screen at any one time. However, it was still possible to hold the iPhone 5 in the hand and use the thumb to reach any part of the touchscreen, something unlikely to be possible with a 4.7-inch device.

As it stands, the sources – which are said to include some in the Asia supply chain – say Apple has opened discussions about larger panels in future iPhone variants, but that nothing has been finalized. "They constantly change product specifications almost to the final moment," one insider suggests, "so you're not really sure whether this is the final prototype."

Meanwhile, it's entirely possible that Apple is flirting with the new dimensions but has no real intention of following up with commercial products. iOS 7, revealed at WWDC 2013 this past week, changes the interface of Apple's mobile platform in the most significant way since its original launch, and Apple could be merely experimenting to ensure it works on a range of device sizes.

A cheaper iPhone is also rumored, though at least one source has said that its launch could slip into early 2014. Clad in a plastic casing, rather than the metal and glass of the iPhone 5, it would be offered in 5-6 colors, it's suggested, and target a roughly $99 price point. That segment is currently served by the iPhone 4S, though since that and the iPhone 4 use a 3.5-inch display, the cheaper iPhone might be a way for Apple to shift all of its current devices onto the 4-inch screen size.

According to the sources, test production for the cheaper iPhone – and, indeed, the "iPhone 5S" expected to launch later this year as the new flagship, alongside the release of iOS 7 – will begin in July. Mass production should kick off the following month, with a September release pencilled onto Apple's calendar.

Originally the goal had reportedly been to have the plastic-bodied iPhone in test production this month, it's claimed, but "the mixing of colors is taking longer than expected as Apple has very high and idealistic standards" one source revealed.

Larger iPhone variants have been a commonly-speculated route for Apple to take over the past years, especially as Android devices from Samsung, HTC, and others have increased significantly until spawning the so-called "phablet" category of phone-tablet hybrids. However, this latest batch of rumor is notable for coming via Reuters, which has a better track record than many for such leaks. Apple in general has been less vocally opposed to the possibility of a bigger iPhone, too, with CEO Tim Cook conceding that while the company hasn't made such a device yet, "that doesn't shut off the future" while at AllThingsD last month.