Does the World Need a Smaller iPhone?

December 30th, 2014

The tech world can be as topsy-turvy as the rest of our little corner of the universe. At one time, Apple’s iPhone seemed positively huge, with an expansive 3.5-inch display. Desperate for ways to compete with Apple’s handset, other companies decided the easiest solution was simply to deliver gear with larger displays.

Apple made a move, beginning with the iPhone 5, to migrate to four inches. Other companies made their handsets larger and larger, and some today approach six inches. That takes them into tablet territory, but since they contain a telephone too, they’ve become phablets.

So the critics demanded that Apple get with the program. Four inches is puny compared to a Samsung Galaxy at just over five inches. Besides, isn’t Android trouncing the iPhone with more variety, larger screens, smaller screens, and everything in between? The naysayers said Apple could not compete unless it entered the large handset space.

All those criticisms came despite the fact that Apple more than held its own over the years, with growing iPhone sales and profits. Yet despite some ill-informed claims, the iPhone was never number one, with or without a bullet.

Yes, Android had a greater market share, with higher unit sales, but most of those sales were confined to the low end of the market where scant profits are to be made. Still, when CEO Tim Cook was asked about larger iPhones, he didn’t dismiss the concept. He focused more on supposed tradeoffs in the larger displays, implying that Apple would work out a solution and release it when ready.

Now the arrival of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus came as something new and different, not just Apple’s answer to large smartphones or phablets. But Samsung and other competitors had made huge deals over the fact that Apple wasn’t playing in the larger smartphone league, and that seemed to be their only compelling advantage. Useless features that barely worked, such as Samsung’s notorious Tilt to Scroll, or a fingerprint sensor that most times failed to sense unless you swiped your finger at the “right” speed, hardly made the case for Android gear even before Apple introduced larger displays.

While the final numbers won’t be known until next month, early indications are that Apple’s new iPhones were the stars of the handset market among individual models during the holiday season. Far more people bought the iPhone 6, but it’s larger sibling was also harder to get because of tight supplies. Only in the final days ahead of Christmas did the situation really improve.

That, as they said, should be that until the next iPhone arrives, but some suggest that Apple shouldn’t overlook a smaller handset. Not everyone desires a larger screen, and there are undeniable shortcomings when you try to hold one of those things with one hand and actually get something done. Apple’s clumsy solution, double tapping on the Home button to engage Reachability, will simply reduce the content vertically to help, and that may be all they can do.

Except to continue to build smaller iPhones.

If your requirements max out at four inches, you can still buy last year’s iPhone 5s in 16GB or 32GB sizes, or an iPhone 5c with a mere 8GB of storage. Good luck upgrading to new iOS releases on the latter. In any case, Apple will probably not break down individual sales of the various models, but maybe something will be said if there’s still a huge demand for the 5s. I know of one prominent tech commentator, Macworld contributor Kirk McElhearn, who actually sent back his iPhone 6 after a couple of weeks and stuck with his iPhone 5s because he didn’t want something so big and clumsy.

There are even published reports suggesting Apple might deliver, in the fall of 2015, a smaller version of the iPhone 6 form factor known as the iPhone mini. That would be a four-inch version, possibly offering the specs of this year’s standard iPhone 6. While some might chafe at offering too many sizes, it makes plenty of sense to attempt to fill the needs of customers without subdividing the lineup into numerous barely distinguishable models. In fact, Samsung is supposedly going to cut back on model proliferation next year, but not enough to match Apple’s approach.

Yes Apple is playing the multiple model game with the current iPad lineup, but it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Offering the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3, for example, which are not seriously different except that the latter has Touch ID and a wider range of storage options. The iPad mini 3 is also $100 more, which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. There’s little to justify the purchase of this year’s model if you really want a smaller iPad.

Or perhaps you might want to consider getting an iPhone 6 Plus instead, putting up with a smaller display, but gaining a telephone, superior camera optics and genuine optical image stabilization. Yes, the price without a contract is higher than most iPads, but there are quite enough compelling deals out there that appear to make a subsidized deal a good choice.

In any case, I won’t make any predictions about Apple’s future moves, but an iPhone mini — or whatever you want to call it — seems to make a lot of sense.

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5 Responses to “Does the World Need a Smaller iPhone?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that keeping a 4-inch size iPhone around is a great idea. Reminds me of a story regarding three bears and a young girl named Goldilocks.

  2. Matthew says:

    They still sell the 5c and 5s. The question is, will they make a smaller version of the 6 to replace these at the lower price point at the time of the next upgrade…

  3. Kaleberg says:

    My guess is that they’ll come out with a 7m, with “m” for mini. Moving to a larger size makes design easier. You can shove in more stuff and add more battery to drive that stuff and to last longer. In a year or two, all that stuff with be smaller, so it can be shoved into a smaller phone without compromising on battery life.

    I played with the new iPhone, and the smaller model isn’t that huge, but the larger one is a bit big for me. I might move up in size, or I might wait for the mini.

  4. David says:

    Device size is a very personal thing. Just as hand size varies greatly, so do use cases and method of transport.

    I have a friend who operates heavy construction equipment. He’s a big guy with big hands, but he sits most of the day with his phone in a front pocket so small size and durability are of primary importance to him. He prefers the iPhone 4S over the models that have come out since. I need as much screen real estate as possible for my aging eyes, but have smaller hands and no desire to carry a huge phone with me everywhere I go. I have settled on the iPhone 6 as the best combination of portability and screen size.

    I’m sure your readers can cite examples covering every other possible hand, pocket and screen size combination.

    I hope Apple wants to meet the needs of as many potential iPhone users as possible and releases the iPhone 6s or iPhone 7 in 3 different sizes.

  5. tz says:

    My iPhone 6 cradles in my hand with no problem what so ever.
    That said, every time I pick up the iPhone 6’s predecessor the 3.5 ” iPod A4 , something inside of me sings hallelujah! It fits in my palm without having to outstretch and wrap my fingers around the edges. it is undeniably more hand and pocket friendly. BTW, I am an average sized man.

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