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iPhone 5 rumors: bigger, smaller, cloudy, keyboard-equipped

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The latest round of iPhone rumors point in multiple directions at once: a larger screen, a smaller phone, a slide-out keyboard, and cloud-only operation à la Google's still-gestating Chrome OS.

Let's start with that larger screen. According to a DigiTimes report on Tuesday, "upstream component suppliers" say Apple's next iPhone will have a 4-inch screen, a smidgen bigger than the 3.5-inch display of today's iPhone 4.

Big whoop, say we.

If DigiTimes's sources are correct, upping the iPhone's display size will simply put it in line with many of the more-popular smartphones available today, as well as other recently announced but not-yet-shipping handsets such as the Acer Iconia Smart and Motorola Atrix:

To be sure, no current smartphone matches the iPhone 4's 326-ppi pixel density. But if Apple plans to maintain the same 960-by-640 pixel resolution in a 4-inch display to keep app-display consistent, the pixel-per-inch count would drop to 288 ppi. After all the hoopla that Apple created around the release of its handset's "retina display", we'd be interested to see how Cupertino's marketeers will spin that spec slippage.

Also on the rumor menu is a spate of recent reports that resurrect the oft-discussed "iPhone nano", a staple of speculation since at least mid-2008.

As before, the pygmy phone is being predicted by the usual "people familiar with the matter" speaking with mainstream media mouthpieces such as Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal.

The purported iPhone nano is said to be on the order of one-half (WSJ) to two-thirds (Bloomberg) the size of the iPhone 4. Odds are that the device – if it even exists, of course – would take advantage of the dual-mode capability that iFixit.com turned up in its recent vivisection of the Verizon iPhone 4.

To our mind, this rumor makes a modicum of sense. After all, there are nearly seven billion souls inhabiting Planet Earth, and not all of them need – or want – a full-featured, full-sized, pricey smartphone. And as we've said many times before, Apple has never met a revenue stream it didn't like.

Take the iPod, for example. When it was released in October 2001, it came in exactly one configuration: big and expensive. In January 2004, however, it was joined by the iPod mini. The iPhone was announced in January 2007 and shipped in June of that year. Following the iPod timeline, it's just about time for Apple to drop a less-expensive, less-capable iPhone into the mass market.

Another of the week's iPhone rumors makes less sense to us here at Vulture Annex. As pointed out by AppleInsider, the Chinese-language website tw.apple.pro claims that there are three new iPhone prototypes in the works, one with a slide-out keyboard.

As quoted by the ever-amusing Google Translate (and tweaked by The Reg), a tw.apple.pro poster by the name of Anthony writes: "As for the so-called iPhone5, according to 'clip die' tomb said to me, there are three iPhone5 prototype: one is sliding cover [and] the introduction of the keyboard after the side cover."

Sparse evidence, to be sure – but sparser chance, in our opinion.

Admittedly, the iPhone took a boatload of flack for its lack of a physical keyboard when it was first introduced – including a memorably buffoonish turn by a laughing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: "It doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard," he chortled, "which makes it not a very good email machine."

But billions of iPhone email messages later, Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 – which supports an on-screen keyboard.

Soft keyboards are here to stay – we don't see Apple backtracking on their on-screen keyboard for the iPhone, no matter what "clip die" tomb says.

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