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I'm not sure what those holes at the tops of the packets are called, but their inclusion suggests that they're now intended to be hung on retail display rails rather than chucked in a box, which could explain the larger frontage.
Take Gandalf for example, which I got in both versions:
In my humble opinion, I think that polybags are more available in retail in America so the package is made with a built-in hook for hanging, as paul_merton pointed out. Coming from Europe I have never seen a polybag on sale (and I've been looking!) and I am forced to collect most of mine through promotions. Also, in Europe it is not required by the law to include the number of parts on display as it is in the States, so you can always tell an European from its American counterpart.
Re: the bags getting bigger, I'd speculate madforLego is propbably correct.
I can't tell from the photos.
I'm not sure that's why but it would make sense.
That or TLG ordered a ton of the wrong sized bags and has to run through them.
I imagine these larger bags are helpful to those that build the models without opening the bag.
I have a #41042 that I assembled in the clear bag that comes inside the purple pouch. It significantly increased the challenge and at least doubled the build time.
I thought it was a bold (yet welcome) move of LEGO to reduce the size of their boxes. I still see parents commenting on how expensive some of the small sets are in their even-smaller boxes.