It almost seemed as if Apple went with the crowd when the iPhone grew up. So with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6s and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus, and their predecessors last year, it was abundantly clear that Apple was answering the most significant competitive threat head-on. Samsung had made hay of building big smartphones, particularly the ones over five inches that have become known as phablets. How would Apple answer that with a 4-inch iPhone?
Clearly customers were delighted with Apple’s move to the large side. Sales of the iPhone continue to grow. Indeed, despite claims of alleged cutbacks in parts orders from the supply chain, which haven’t been confirmed, there seems little evidence so far that the iPhones aren’t doing well during the holiday quarter. We’ll know for sure in late January when Apple spills the beans on revenue and speaks with financial analysts.
In the meantime, what is the person who really doesn’t want such a large iPhone to do?
Are there no such people? I read one survey indicating about 20% of customers or potential customers might prefer 4-inch. I recall what my colleague, Kirk McElhearn, did when the iPhone 6 came out last year. As a tech journalist, he bought one, only to return it shortly thereafter because he found it ungainly to use. He went back to his iPhone 5s. But this year he relented, no doubt to keep up with the technology.
I haven’t done much with the iPhone 6s Plus, but I can manage its smaller counterpart without much difficulty. In checking it out at a dealer, I find that it inserts with only slight difficulty in my pants pockets. I wear normal-sized and cut jeans, and the pockets tend to be a little tight, especially if I stick a wallet in that side pocket too. So when I pull out the phone, it’s a bit of a struggle, and I suspect the “Plus” would be too much.
The other side is a non-starter, since I place house and car keys there.
But it is somewhat more comfortable with the iPhone 5s. Yes, having a smaller display is a little restrictive in terms of getting around, but it is also easier to carry, and one-handed use is simpler. It’s not possible on the larger iPhones without using a “trick” feature cuts out the top portion of the display area for convenience.
Indeed, Apple’s Philip Schiller made a big deal of this during one of the iPhone demonstrations, that you need two hands with larger handsets. He was right then, and he’s still right. But clearly customers are wiling to put up with the tradeoffs for larger displays. That’s undeniable, and so Apple abandoned that objection and went with the crowd.
However, that doesn’t mean Apple shouldn’t consider a smaller iPhone. There are rumors about a forthcoming iPhone 6c. Others call it the iPhone mini. Regardless, the premise is the same, to provide a smaller handset for those who want one for whatever reason. Having three different sized products, and I would hope a smaller version would be similar in performance, is a perfectly sensible concept. Don’t forget that we now have three sizes of iPads, and Apple sells far less of each. Mac note-books are available in four display sizes spread among several models.
I can certainly see the need for a smaller iPhone in our family unit. Barbara tends to favor tiny purses, and putting a larger iPhone in there would be a bit of a chore, as would removing it to answer a call.
But that takes me to yet one more suggestion about Apple’s approach. How about a “loud” ring mode when you have the unit in a pocket or purse. This can be easily detected, and I know that Barbara often misses calls because she doesn’t hear it ringing. The volume level is set at its highest, but I must still call her twice to get connected.
And she isn’t the sort to put her keys and mobile handset on a counter when she is engaged in a transaction. That’s a sure invitation to leaving something by mistake.
To get back to the subject at hand: Is Apple really considering a smaller iPhone? Well, you can still buy an iPhone 5s if you want to save money and get a more compact product. In the normal course of events, it will vanish from the lineup this fall. I’m not arguing to keep it in production. I am arguing for replacing it with a model with the same display size, but with more updated hardware. Some suggest it might not support 3D or Touch ID. I say don’t cheap out.
As always, we’ll have to see what Apple comes up with next year. The early predictions, based on past experiences, would call for an iPhone 7 with distinct physical differences from the iPhone 6. Moving to a new design would create the perfect opening for having three different models.
If I had voting power, I’d suggest that Apple follow through on this. Certainly if sales are being lost because people are hanging onto their older, smaller iPhones, that would be a great incentive to build one.
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