Apple, Please Don’t Abandon Smaller iPhones!

February 11th, 2015

From time to time, I’ve played with larger smartphones. For months, I had two different flavors of a Samsung Galaxy with displays in the neighborhood of five inches. They were most certainly thin enough, but they were difficult fits for my front pockets. I don’t wear super tight jeans — just normal fit — so the pockets should be large enough to comfortably contain a smartphone and a wallet. Only they didn’t, or at least not comfortably.

While in the car, I would usually remove the smartphone from my pocket and place it in one of the cup holders. The Kia doesn’t really have a dedicated smartphone slot, and I don’t drive around that often with beverages.

I’ve also spent time with an iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The former is manageable, the latter is impossible for my setup and fashion priorities, such as they are. My wife would find either near impossible to put in her purse, unless she’s about in a larger shoulder bag, which doesn’t happen all that often. She loves her iPhone 5c.

As some of you recall, commentator Kirk McElhearn, proprietor of the Kirkville blog and Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” bought an iPhone 6 when it first went on sale in the UK. After a short while he returned it and went back to his iPhone 5s. It was just too big for his tastes.

On the whole, the bigger iPhones have been hugely successful, and are credited with generating the amazing sales figures Apple booked in the December quarter. They led to record revenues and profits. But Apple doesn’t break out sales of specific models. It would be nice to how what the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s are doing, so it’s going to be about guesses.

In the fall of 2015, the cheapest iPhone would probably be the iPhone 5s, assuming past is prologue. It would be free with a service contract or roughly $450 for an unlocked version. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus would become the mid-tier models, and the rumored iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus would occupy the top of the line. Again, this is based on Apple’s usual refresh practice, although they didn’t quite do that in 2013 when the plastic-clad iPhone 5c was introduced.

So the question is this: How many customers insist on a four-inch iPhone and are not apt to want larger handsets? Is that number sufficient to warrant building a new model to cater to those needs, rather than selling last year’s model? It’s a good question that I wouldn’t be prepared to answer.

One argument against it would be that Apple doesn’t want to complicate the product lineup. But compared to the model proliferation at other companies, Apple has remained fairly conservative. They’ve also been known to kill models that aren’t getting huge demand, which may explain why there is no longer a 17-inch MacBook Pro in the lineup. Or maybe Retina displays were, back in 2012, too expensive to keep such a model at an affordable price point. Regardless, it doesn’t seem that the lack of the largest Mac note-book has hurt sales. But I still keep mine around, and the recent SSD transplant has only made it more useful.

In any case, I would hope that Apple will see the wisdom in having three different sized iPhones going forward. Each serves an important purpose and it seems to me there is a large enough audience for a smaller model. I also don’t think it would take a whole lot of development dollars — and Apple clearly has plenty to spare — to build a smaller iPhone using current form factors and hardware simply scaled down. The major internal change would obviously be the display parts and battery; the rest can be pretty much the same as other iPhones in the current lineup.

Regardless of how Apple handles the case of the multiple iPhone sizes, it’s a sure thing the company will never succumb to the disease that inflicts so much of the rest of the industry. Having loads of models with slight size — and hardware — variations only confuses the end user. It may give stores lots of stock to sell, but I can’t see where they can make sensible arguments for buying the 5.1-inch smartphone instead of the 5-inch model, assuming performance and features are only slightly different.

Indeed, there was a story last year indicating that Samsung plans to cut back on the number of smartphone models. The company is clearly suffering from declining sales on the high end and sharply lower profits. So saving money on developing new stuff only makes sense. Giving customers sensible choices is just as important. If a company makes it easier for someone to buy their products, it has to help, particularly when sales are challenged.

And I do not think Apple would suffer to have an updated 4-inch iPhone, but I do not feel encouraged that such a product will appear.

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4 Responses to “Apple, Please Don’t Abandon Smaller iPhones!”

  1. Walker says:

    Yep. Both 6 models are too large; the 5S is just about perfectly sized. Bigger is not always better.

  2. Peter says:

    While I agree that I’d like to see Apple keep the 5S size, it is not as easy as it sounds.

    Would you be willing to sacrifice Apple Pay, for example, because there isn’t room for NFC? Or go buy an Apple Watch? (Lightbulb!) How about an A9 chip? It’s not like you can just take the motherboard out of the iPhone 6S and stick it in the magic shrinko-ray to get it to fit into an iPhone 5S form factor. Thermal factors, battery life, etc. all have to play into it.

    Designing a small and thin phone is hard.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    I’m waiting for the iPhone 7m, the mini. Peter is right about it being harder to design a smaller, thinner phone with all the new features, but every couple of years the components get smaller or better integrated. That’s why I figure I’ll buy an iPhone 7m, the mini version.

    (To be honest, the iPhone 6 would fit in my pocket just fine. The larger one was just a bit clunky. It’s almost as big as my iPad Mini.)

  4. jfutral says:

    I want a current model 3.5″ iPhone. Fat chance of that happening ever again.


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