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As 'iPhone 6c' rumors heat up, 20% of US consumers say they prefer 4-inch smartphones

A new survey of U.S. smartphone users has revealed that 20 percent of consumers prefer a smaller handset in the 4-inch range, potentially signaling the market size for a refreshed entry-level iPhone from Apple.

Responding to the recent flurry of rumors suggesting Apple is working on a revamped 4-inch handset, investment firm Piper Jaffray polled 1,077 U.S. consumers to find out their preferred screen size. Of those surveyed. 20.3 percent said they prefer a 4-inch handset, which is the size of Apple's current iPhone 5s.

Larger screened offerings proved more popular in the poll —  31.2 percent said Apple's 4.7-inch form factor found in the iPhone 6s is ideal, while 27.2 percent said they prefer the larger 5.5-inch size of the iPhone 6s Plus. The remaining 21.2 percent said they would like a different screen size outside of 4, 4.7 and 5.5 inches.

To analyst Gene Munster, the poll suggests that a new 4-inch iPhone won't have a major effect on Apple's sales. He predicts that most consumers will find that they prefer the larger screen sizes once they become accustomed to them.

"We believe that part of the reason that over 20% of smartphone users still say they prefer a 4" screen size is they still have older model iPhones," Munster wrote. "When they upgrade to a 4.7" screen with an only slightly bigger footprint in the pocket, we expect those users would be converts to the larger screen size."

Munster predicts that a new 4-inch iPhone would be Apple's low-end model, priced at $450 off-contract, and replacing the outgoing iPhone 5s at that size and price. He expects that the so-called "iPhone 6c" will feature Touch ID and Apple Pay, but will not have 3D Touch input.

By recycling old components found in previous-generation iPhone models, he believes the company will be able to maintain its current high margins on a new iPhone model.

Most of Munster's predictions align with current rumors, except for timing. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes that Apple could launch a new 4-inch iPhone in early 2016, but Munster doesn't believe that the company would launch a new handset so soon.

"If a 6C does launch, it seems more likely to come out with the iPhone 7 in fall 2016 rather than in early 2016," Munster said. "Further, we believe a smaller iPhone would not seem to have enough clout to carry a special event by itself, thus if it were to launch in early 2016, we believe it would have to happen in conjunction with the new Apple Watch, as that seems to be the spring event moving forward."