Apple iPhone 5 May Be Smaller. Or Cheaper. Or...

Apple's next iPhone is the subject of contrary rumors over its size, encapsulating both the excitement and confusion over the company's upcoming releases.

Apple's next iPhone: smaller!

No, wait, rewind: Apple's next iPhone will be cheaper, but not smaller!

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times publish their share of iPhone rumors, usually based on unnamed sources "close to Apple," but usually those reports correspond in their broader details. That was until this week, at least, when the two newspapers' reports of the next iPhone collided like two out-of-control 18-wheelers.

First the Journal, in a Feb. 14 article, detailed a next-generation iPhone "about half the size of the iPhone 4." The unnamed source had apparently seen "a prototype of the phone late last year" and told the newspaper "it is intended for sale alongside Apple's existing line." The article declined to mention whether that "half the size" referred to the iPhone's screen, thickness or some combination of both.

Three days later, the Times disputed the Journal's report. "Apple is not currently developing a smaller iPhone," reported the newspaper Feb. 17. "Apple's engineers are currently focused on finishing the next version of the iPhone, which is likely to be similar in size to the current iPhone 4." The Times' unnamed source went on to add that Apple "was not planning to introduce a smaller iPhone any time soon."

It's always possible, of course, that Apple did build a smaller iPhone as an experiment never intended for wide release. Until Apple holds its inevitable unveiling event, though, the rumor mill surrounding the next iPhone will doubtlessly grind merrily away. Apple's longstanding habit of not providing official comment-and keeping its upcoming products out of sight-helps fuel speculation and the company's cachet. For publications, the fact that Apple rumors have a habit of attracting substantial readership doesn't hurt, either.

Along those lines, rumors periodically erupt of shrunken Apple devices heading to market. Scuttlebutt over a seven-inch iPad circulated widely during summer 2010, only to die once Apple CEO Steve Jobs denigrated that particular tablet size during an October 2010 earnings call. Whispers of an iPhone Nano trace back even further, to at least 2008.

In the meantime, the biggest iPhone-related news focuses on the Verizon iPhone 4, which the carrier and Apple offered for general availability Feb. 10. Verizon claims that iPhone sales for the first day of preorder availability broke its pre-existing first-day sales records, but a Feb. 16 posting on the Boy Genius Report hinted that in-store sales during the first five days of release might have been less than blockbuster.