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Apple will launch a new 4-inch iPhone early next year, says analyst

But he doesn't predict a plastic iPhone 6c

Apple could release a new 4-inch iPhone next year that "resembles an upgraded iPhone 5S," according to a report by respected KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. The device is targeted to be released in the first half of 2016, says Kuo, and will be powered by the A9 chip seen in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. However, unlike these larger models, the 4-inch handset will reportedly not offer the pressure sensitive 3D Touch feature, in order to differentiate the lineup.

"As there is still demand for a 4-inch iPhone, we believe Apple will upgrade this product line," writes Kuo in an investors' note reported by Mac Rumors. "Because the iPhone 5S is more popular than the iPhone 5C, we think Apple is likely to launch an upgraded iPhone 5S. We predict Apple will mass-produce this new 4-inch iPhone in 1H16 with metal casings. In order to make the current iOS 9 or next-generation iOS 10 run smoothly, Apple may adopt an A9 chip for this new phone."

Kuo's predictions suggest this is a small iPhone 6s, not a new iPhone 6c

Kuo's note about metal casings stresses that the small iPhone would not be a retread of the plastic and colorful iPhone 5c. Although there have been rumors about a 4-inch device since 2015, Kuo has a strong track record that makes him particularly convincing. Over recent years he correctly predicted the launch of the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhones, as well the two sizes of the Apple Watch, the new 12-inch MacBook, and pretty much the entire spec sheet for the iPhone 6S. However, he's not always right at the right time — he didn't think the 5.5-inch iPhone would arrive until later in 2015.

When it comes to the iPhone 7, Kuo's predictions are safe and not particularly stirring. According to Mac Rumors, he foresees an upgraded A10 chip for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, with the Plus model getting 3GB of RAM instead of 2GB to differentiate it as the top-end device. If Apple does launch a total of three devices next year, the iPhone lineup will look oddly similar to Sony's Xperia trio, although even Sony thinks a 4-inch smartphone is too small for today's market.

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