Does iOS 6 Mean A Larger iPhone Screen Is A Done Deal?

The WWDC keynote came and went with nary a mention of a new iPhone, but that didn’t stop people from ruminating about Apple’s newest mobile juggernaut. Apple’s brass spent much of their time on-stage pulling back the curtains on the latest version of iOS, and now some are claiming that a fairly innocuous (albeit useful) new feature for developers means that an iPhone with a larger screen is barreling down the pipeline.
That feature — Auto Layout — appeared briefly in a iOS SDK slide during the keynote, but most of us got too caught up with Siri updates and the swanky new Maps app to pay it much attention. Is it the sort of dead giveaway that iPhone fanatics have been breathlessly waiting for?
First though, a bit of background. Auto Layout allows developers to create a set of constraints that define how UI elements are displayed on-screen. Instead of using the standard “springs and struts” positioning method, Auto Layout allows those elements to shift and move depending on a prioritized list of rules — think “the left side of one button should always be 30 away from the right side of another button.”
It’s also worth noting that Auto Layout isn’t exactly new to the Apple development workflow — it was introduced into OS X with the release of Lion, and became the default positioning method for new Cocoa projects in Xcode earlier this year.
That’s great and all, but what does it mean for the new iPhone?
Developers will be able to streamline their UI design process, but Auto Layout’s uses may extend far beyond that. One developer I spoke with went on to say that in order for Apple to release mobile devices with multiple resolutions, Auto Layout is “certainly something [they] need to have in place before that’s feasible.”
Nelson Gauthier, lead iOS developer for LocalMind, seems to be of a similar mind — he told GigaOm in the weeks leading up to WWDC that the Auto Layout system as seen in OS X could work for iOS developers to more easily “transition between form factors.”