In case you haven’t noticed, a rumored Fall release of iPhone 5 is being preceded by the usual media brouhaha. Is Apple going to release its next handset in September? How about October? Maybe they’ll gradually bring the device to market over the course of both months? Has the company already field-tested the gizmo in June? And if the phone is already in production, how come carriers are only now getting prototypes in sealed boxes? Do case leaks mean a ringer switch has been repositioned to the opposite side? And what’s with those iPhone 4 price cuts at Target and Radioshack and AT&T vacation blackouts?

Disregarding all of the above for a second, what exactly about Apple’s fifth-generation iPhone is going to blow our socks off the most? If you ask Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu, it’s the large display combined with an even thinner profile than iPhone 4:

It turns out that we are picking up that this interim iPhone refresh in the Fall timeframe could be a bigger upgrade than we expected. We believe this makes sense to improve the iPhone experience without making it too bulky as we have seen with models from competitors.

But what exactly is ‘bulky’ these days? Are we talking a few millimeters larger display or ‘Android superphone bulky’? Italian-language MelaBlog.it did a cool side-by-side comparison of the current-generation iPhone 4’s 3.5-inch display and the rumored iPhone 5 at various display dimensions. An iPhone 5 with a 4.3-inch display would require a frame wider and taller ten millimeters than that of the iPhone 4, while keeping the same 9.3 millimeter profile. Reducing the display edges “to a minimum” – that’s an edge-to-edge display for you – could allow Apple to engineer a monstrous 4.7-inch device, as depicted in the above drawing. There’s just one problem, though (plus, a cool reader mockup below the fold)…

A 4.5-inch display with a 960-by-640 pixel resolution – the same as iPhone 4’s – may no longer qualify as Retina-capable. As defined by Apple, a Retina Display is any display with a pixel density of at least 300 pixels-per-inch (iPhone 4’s is 326ppi), “so high, your eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels”. A 4.5-inch display with the 960-by-640 pixel resolution held at ten inches away would sport a pixel density of 250ppi, well below the Retina Display’s 300ppi threshold. Unless, of course, Apple has decided to introduce a new screen resolution with iPhone 5 which would seem unlikely. Wrapping up, reader Ryan Justice sent in the below mockup based on the 3.5″ vs 4.7″ drawing from above. We liked it a lot and are including it here for the sake of discussion. “As it turns out, the 4:3 aspect ratio yields a 4.3″-ish screen, assuming the new iPhone 5 does indeed have an edge to edge display”, he writes. “And if Apple uses the same resolution as the iPad (1024×768), the new screen would have a 298 pixel density, which is probably still considered “Retina.” I think we’ll likely see an aspect ratio change with the hardware update”.

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