"A 5-5-inch iPhone? No way," many Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) fans would have responded several years ago.

But the market has shifted. "Phablets" are, indeed, faring incredibly well with consumers. In fact, it has been rumored that Apple is working on both a 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch version of the iPhone 6 -- both meaningfully larger than the 4-inch iPhone 5S display.

MacRumors renderings, by Ferry Passchier, of the potential 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch sixth-generation iPhone lineup. Photo used with permission.

Until today, however, the lack of leaks of the larger alleged iPhone 6 made the 5.5-inch device seem less likely than its smaller counterpart. But the first leak has finally arrived.

In the wee hours of the morning, Sonny Dickson exclusively shared with 9to5Mac photos of an alleged LCD component of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6. The images show a ruler confirming the diagonal length of the leaked part.

9to5Mac's well-connected Mark Gurman explains the implications of the photos.

While these photos do not provide us with any breakthrough information about the new iPhone, the photos, at best, do show that Apple is already producing components for the larger sized phone and this means that production is likely nearing.

Apple wants in on phablets
An internal Apple slide deck that surfaced in a Samsung-Apple trial earlier this hinted that Apple was considering the hot phablet market.

One slide in the deck, titled "Consumers want what we don't have," broke down 2013's incremental smartphone market growth of 228 million units. Unit growth of 91 million could be attributed to smartphones with displays larger than 4 inches, according to the slide.

But 5.5 inches -- really? While I could imagine there is demand in the U.S. for a 4.7-inch iPhone, it's more difficult for me to picture the potential for a 5.5-inch phablet. Until, that is, I consider China.

Apple Store in China 

In the less developed Chinese market, where phablets can serve as a replacement for a wide-screen TV, desktop computer, laptop, and tablet all at the same time, a 5.5-inch smartphone makes a lot more sense. In fact, four out of 10 smartphones sold in March had a screen size larger than 5 inches, according to a report from Kanatar WorldPanel ComTech. "In China, phablet growth continues unabated," the report said. And China, as the world's largest smartphone market, is incredibly important to Apple.

Apple is expected to launch the smaller iPhone 6 this fall alongside iOS 8. But the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 will allegedly come later in the year, reports have suggested. The phones are speculated to sport thinner, all-aluminum encased form-factors. Apple may also be ditching Gorilla Glass for sapphire crystal.

Analysts have big expectations for the device.