Make it Big, But Not Too Big

December 4th, 2014

Ahead of the release of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus phablet, you could hear the howls from the media critics. Apple is losing out on millions and millions of sales by not joining the bigger smartphone party. When Apple VP Philip Schiller one year demonstrated how you could use a four-inch iPhone with one hand, while that’s not so easy with larger handsets, it was suggested it was just an excuse.

Apple had to think big — or bigger than bigger — or whatever!

It didn’t matter that the iPhone 5s delivered record sales numbers. That was last year’s news, and Apple had to get with the straight and the narrow and compete better with Samsung. If you wanted a larger smartphone, Apple couldn’t deliver the goods. Samsung could, though it took a while before the media recognized that the newest high-end gear from the South Korean consumer electronics giant wasn’t doing so well.

Aside from a bunch of often-useless features, the sole genuine argument Samsung had in its favor was a lineup of handsets with displays larger than four inches. In fact, if you wanted a high-end smartphone from Samsung with all the bells and whistles, you had to go for the larger display.

For months ahead of the September introduction of the iPhone 6 series, the speculation was hot and heavy about the expected larger displays. Some of that speculation was a natural byproduct of the demand or belief in the inevitably of bigger iPhones, some of it fueled by the statement from Tim Cook that there were still problems with those larger displays. That implied Apple was working through those problems and a solution would soon be at hand.

Maybe Apple deliberately worked behind the scenes to get people to speculate about the new generation iPhones with bigger displays. In the weeks before the announcement, the rumor sites and the mainstream media had correctly honed in on 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch versions. Was it a good guess, a leak from the supply chain, or perhaps a deliberate disclosure from Apple delivered to certain selected journalists on background?

By the time the new iPhones were launched, Samsung had already begun to suffer from lower sales and profits. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but it wasn’t getting the daily fear-mongering that the company was about to bite the dust. If that happened to Apple, you wouldn’t have heard the last of it. Apple suffers from bad publicity even when revenue hits record highs, because the numbers aren’t high enough, or sales of some products don’t quite match financial analyst expectations.

After the iPhone 6 arrived to record sales and chronic shortages, you’d think the complaints would stop. Well, there was BendGate, the faux controversy over the alleged vulnerability to bending of the iPhone 6 Plus. You don’t hear much about it anymore, and it’s not at all clear sales were hurt. But it was oh-so-curious how the uproar arose just as product was reaching the masses. A little too convenient perhaps?

The next complaint was size. First, the critics wanted iPhones to be larger — when they weren’t ranting about making them cheaper — but now some appear to have second-thoughts about the display size.

Some of these complaints are legitimate, but I wonder if others just like to take a too big, too small, not good enough posture.

But I have one friend who bought an iPhone 6 on launch day. He was one of the first people to take delivery, and he used it for a week or two. Just before the return deadline was up, he sent it back. Why? Well, performance was great. It took terrific pictures and all, and the display was just beautiful.

That’s the good part.

But the unit was just a little ungainly in regular use despite all its charms. So putting it in your pocket might be perfectly OK with your wardrobe. My short exposure to an iPhone 6 was, shall we say, acceptable. As with those Samsung smartphones I’ve used in the past, I could get it in my pants pocket, a side pocket, not rear, with a bit of difficulty. That difficulty may be a deal breaker for some. An iPhone 5s was more comfortably situated in my pants pockets, but I wouldn’t give up on a larger device for that reason alone. In any case, Apple has kept last year’s iPhones in stock for those who find the new models a bit too large, and that certainly applies to some of you.

The other issue, perhaps more important, is that large smartphones are near-impossible to use with one hand. You can push the content down on the iPhone 6 series with a double tap on the Home button, but that’s a clumsy workaround. If you require a smaller display on which to navigate, get a smaller smartphone. And that’s a decision some of you have made.

But the tide of the industry has moved towards larger gear. Indeed, some of you clearly prefer a phablet such as the iPhone 6 Plus instead of a tablet. I understand the convenience of having just one mobile gadget, though there are clear tradeoffs.

My personal feeling is that Apple ought to add a 4-inch model to the iPhone 6 family, perhaps call it a mini, and see whether it gains more sales compared to offering a previous year’s model. Or at least keep the iPhone 5s around for another year.

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4 Responses to “Make it Big, But Not Too Big”

  1. Peter says:

    In my opinion, this is where Apple’s “limited” line-up hurts.

    Phones mean different things to different people. Some people are fine with the 5 or 4. They want a phone that makes calls and can help them find that restaurant. They certainly don’t want or need this huge bulky thing.

    Conversely, there are plenty of people for whom the phone-part–y’know, the whole “talking to another person”–is rarely used. Text, tweet, Facebook, etc. are the way they communicate. And that tiny size just doesn’t work for them–especially when you turn it sideways for the bigger keyboard.

    Then there’s the content-consumers. Their phone is their computer, for all intents and purposes. You see this more in Asia than in the US, granted (where the iPhone 6 Plus sells pretty well, from what I hear). But they want to be able to read a book or watch a movie on the same device that they’re using to talk, text, tweet, or whatever.

    Apple, in theory, has something for all of these people. The problem is that the smallest model is also the “last years” model which means it is destined for the trash heap in the relatively near future. Am I destined to buy pants with bigger or extra pockets? In my case, yes I am.

    In theory, this is where the Android model (i.e., many manufacturers) should win over Apple being the only company. With all of these companies trying to differentiate themselves, in theory someone should stumble on the “right-size” phone that will make the most people happy. I’d bet on Apple finding the sweet spot, though, because I could believe that Apple is actually looking for it and not hoping to stumble across it.

  2. Andy says:

    I agree that there should be a 4″ iPhone 6. I like the iPhone Mini name as well.

    I am waiting to pick up an iPhone 6 to replace my iPhone 5 although I like the 4″ form factor better.

    My wife loves the Apple Pay capability and wants a new phone to replace her (my old) iPhone 4s. She is very reluctant to move to the larger size of the iPhone 6 and wants to use an iPhone 6 some before making the decision to buy one.

    If there was a 4″ iPhone Mini, Apple would have already had 2 more iPhone 6 sales.

  3. Viswakarma says:

    The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey – An Aesop’s Fable

  4. tzx4 says:

    It will be interesting to see what lineup is introduced next fall. I would guess three screen sizes with equal hardware specs. I will be puzzled and surprised if Apple continues to penalize the smallest phones with lesser spec hardware. I would be astonished if they discounted the smaller screen size.

    I am ok with my 6 size. A good number of older iPhone owners think my 6 is too big. I held the 6+ two different instances, knowing full well that it has a better display, camera, battery life, and some extra software features. I did not lust for it as I had expected I would. All of that said, now when I pick up my old iPod touch 3.5″ something inside delights with how easily it nestles in my hand and slides into my pants pocket compared to its iPhone 6 successor. No comparison.

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