In short: everyone expected an iPhone 5; we got an iPhone 4S. A lot of the letdown and confusion was the result of rumour mill over-grindage, but Business Insider says the iPhone 5 was real—and Apple scrapped it.
According to their report—which is based on completely anonymous, unsubstantiated claims—Apple had an iPhone 5 prototype floating around, with the big screen and new form we had all counted on. Sure, sure—same old guesswork put in the microwave and served up for tea. Even the crew at BI says "You should probably still read this post with a nice fat dose of salt." Right. The requisite sodium dose might kill you.
But what is interesting is their buried claim that the iPhone 5 was spiked because Jobs thought a new, differing screen size would ruin the iPhone line. It'd fragment it. It'd Android-ize it—and anything resembling Android would be anathema to Jobs.
Of all the non-technical reasons we've seen behind the iPhone 5's absence, perhaps this is the most likely. We know what Jobs worshipped: minimalism and uniformity were chief among them. So to create a branch in the iPhone family—many with smaller screens, one with a larger display—would be to end the lineage's uniformity. The phones wouldn't resemble each other. Apps wouldn't look the same from a 4 to a 5. And most poignantly, the seal would've been broken; Apple would have signed off on differing designs, opening an aesthetic future of variance upon variance. A Jobsian nightmare.
True or not, the rumour makes us consider whether, with Jobs's specter over Apple's design squad, the iPhone will ever diverge significantly from its current screen size. A redesign is inevitable, of course—I'd love to see that glass on the back swapped out for something a little more practical than glass—and of course the thing will slim down.
On the other hand, phones are getting bigger. People are liking bigger phones. People are buying bigger phones. And the longer Apple stays on the 3.5-inch trajectory, the more of a design legacy—and more rigid precedent—they'll face fragmenting. [BI]