Hitachi and Sony have reportedly begun shipping 4-inch LCD panels to Apple for final production of new iOS devices believed to be the next-generation iPhone, according to Japanese blog Macotakara. Citing reliable sources, Macotakara believes the so-called iPhone 5 may be unveiled as early as March 2012.

Hitachi Displays and Sony Mobile Displaywill also reportedly merge with a third party, Toshiba Mobile Display, and begin to develop panels under the new moniker Japan Display in early 2012. Japan Display will reportedly be responsible for developing panels for Apple's next iPad, which sources say has changed fundamentally.

Apple's iPhone 4 and 4S both have 3.5-inch Retina displays, but a 4-inch display on the next iPhone would help the company compete with Samsung's best offering, the Galaxy S II, which features a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display.

Before Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S on Oct. 4, the Internet was pervaded with photos of a thin, large screen iPhone 4. The photos were widely believed to be doctored until March, until one Chinese website discovered mold engineerings of an iPhone 4 with a noticeably larger screen. The renderings depicted an edge-to-edge design for the iPhone's screen, which looked to measure about 3.7 inches. Component industry trackers believed that the images represented Apple's wish to compete with rival devices with bigger screens.

Apple wants its next generation of mobile devices to look beautiful, and the company is reportedly working on giving its devices greater pixel density. Bigger screens with more pixels in the retina display mean higher resolution for watching movies and viewing detailed images, from PDFs to X-rays to MRIs to 3D architectural renderings. Even text will appear rich and razor-sharp. Sources say Apple's next iPad will reportedly outshine the current model by doubling the pixel density, with a display resolution somewhere in the ballpark of 2048 x 1536 pixels.

Apple's next iPhone may also include a number of the company's recently granted patents, including NFC functionality to complete sales transactions and share work across multiple devices, as well as its crack-resistant glass solution. By installing a tunable shock mount between the glass and the body of the device, the specialized mount will instantly inflate if the device senses it's falling, which is determined by the device's internal accelerometer. An actuator within the device sucks in the cover glass as it accelerates to the ground, protecting it from damage.

The next iPhone will also reportedly feature 4G LTE, according to Will Strauss, president of market research firm Forward Concepts. LTE, which stands for Long-Term Evolution, features significantly higher download and upload speeds compared to 3G technologies, but the current implementations of LTE in phones appear to cause very short battery life, which is a major complaint by users.

If Apple wanted LTE in its prior iPhones, it would have been forced to increase the phone's thickness to accommodate a larger circuit board and a bigger battery. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a company earnings conference call in April, said that first-generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises.

Luckily for Cook and Apple, Qualcomm is reportedly developing a new, thinner LTE chipset, which is considerably smaller than current LTE chipsets. The new chip is expected to debut in the second or third quarter next year, but Apple may try to speed up the process so LTE is included in the first iteration of its next iPhone.