Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) next iPhone is shaping up to be an incredible device. If reports of a larger screen variant are true, Apple's next handset could include potentially every major feature that has set Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG ) Android apart, and even a few that Android lacks.
Apple hasn't yet confirmed the existence of a larger iPhone, but if the iPhone 6 launched with a 4-inch screen, it would be quite a shock. At this point, nearly a dozen news outlets and analysts, including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Nikkei have reported that Apple plans to release a larger iPhone, one with a 4.7-inch screen. Apple is also expected to offer a second device, a 5.5-inch phablet.
Google's hardware partners have used their larger screens as a key selling point. Virtually every flagship Android device, from the Galaxy S5 to the HTC One M8 offer a screen 4.5-inches or larger. Phablets, more akin to mini tablets than true smartphones, have become a hit, particularly in developing markets throughout Asia.
Although screen size isn't technically part of Google's operating system, if Apple does offer a pair of larger iPhones, it will remove one of the key differentiators Google's hardware partners have relied on.
A larger screen isn't the only hardware feature that Apple's iPhone lacks. Many Android handsets, including Google's own Nexus 5, are capable of wireless charging, and the vast majority of Android phones are equipped with NFC chips.
Earlier this month, VentureBeat reported that Apple's iPhone 6 will have both those features, though it should be noted that VentureBeat's report remains unconfirmed. Wireless charging wouldn't be surprising, but NFC would be, as Apple has -- in the past -- gone out of its way to develop alternative technologies.
Third party keyboards
Apple also intends to allow for a bit more customization, letting iPhone owners install third party keyboards. This might seem like a minor point, but the ability to install custom keyboards on Android devices is consistently cited as a major advantage Google's operating system has over Apple's.
Apple's iPhones will soon be able to use Swype, an alternative form of digital typing that lets users draw out words by dragging from one letter to the next. Current owners of Apple's handsets don't know what they're missing, but it's one feature of Google's operating system that I, personally, can't live without.
Notifications and the cloud
Widgets, one feature long exclusive to Google's mobile operating system, are finally coming to iOS. They won't be completely the same -- Apple is limiting them to the Notification Center -- but they will allow iPhone and iPad owners to more easily get information and updates from apps without having to actually open them.
Also coming is iCloud Drive, an online file folder system offering functionality nearly identical to Google Drive. Owners of Apple's devices could already download and use Google Drive, or one of several similar services (Dropbox, Box, etc.), but its inclusion in the larger operating system is a step forward for Apple's cloud services.
Apple is also giving iOS a few features that Google's Android currently lacks. Perhaps most significant is the deep integration with Apple's Macs -- features like Handoff and phone call/text message integration will allow iOS and Mac devices to more seamlessly work together.
Google could do something similar with its Chrome OS -- indeed, Google's Sundar Pichai now leads the development of both operating systems. But Chromebooks currently represent a tiny sliver of the PC market -- about 1%. Apple isn't dominating the PC market by any means, but Macs are roughly 10 times more popular.
In addition to working better with its Macs, Apple's phones and tablets will also work better with each other. Family sharing, a feature coming in iOS 8, will allow families that own multiple iDevices to share their digital purchases (books, movies, music and some apps) across their various accounts.
What will Google deliver at I/O?
Of course, by the time Apple launches the iPhone 6, Google's Android could be much improved. On June 25, Google will deliver its I/O Keynote address, at which point it is likely to unveil the next version of Android.
The stakes are high. With Apple giving its iPhones many of the features that once set Android apart, Google will have to make some major improvements to Android.
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