File this one under long-shot rumor.
But according to the Chinese news site Huanqiu, Apple is at work on its first-ever phablet – a handheld device that splits the difference between a small tablet and a large smart phone. Huanqiu (big hat tip to the team at BGR) alleges that the Apple phablets would debut in May, months before the launch of the next iPhone, and would feature an A8 processor and a 5-inch-plus display. (For comparison's sake, the iPhone 5S has a 4-inch display, while the iPad Mini, the smallest Apple tablet, has a 7.9-inch display.)
The Huanqiu report isn't exactly deeply sourced, and unsurprisingly, Apple isn't talking. In fact, there are only two reasons this particular piece of gossip has any traction. The first: Despite former Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs's publicly stated belief that 3.5-inches was the perfect size for a smart phone display, Apple has shown a willingness to expand the footprint of its smart-phone screens – in part to keep up with rivals such as Samsung.
Second: Especially in Asia, where the phablet market is up 600 percent from the same time last year, plus-sized smart phones are incredibly popular. A range of companies, from Asus to Nokia, offer phablets. Bob O’Donnell, the founder of Technalysis Research, recently estimated, in an interview with Forbes, that 175 million phablets will be sold worldwide in 2014.
That's the kind of demand, presumably, that Apple would like to exploit.
In related news, the gossip mill is already churning out predictions on the next iPhone, which will presumably be released sometime this fall. According to one report, the device will be dubbed the iPhone Air, and will be even thinner than the current iPhone 5S.