The Small iPhone Debate

December 18th, 2015

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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6 Responses to “The Small iPhone Debate”

  1. Russ says:

    I would love to see a small iPhone. It must not follow the iPhone 5c.

    It needs to be a full blown iPhone 6s. with at least 64 gig, latest processor,
    and loads with all the goodies.

  2. degrees_of_truth says:

    I would buy a 4-inch iPhone that supports ApplePay (and GPS, but these days I think that’s a given). Plastic or metal, latest processor or not, I would not care, assuming the price fairly values reduced functionality. Any increase in battery life would be a plus.

  3. Henry Myers says:

    I carry my iPhone 5s in my shirt pocket; I am not interested in anything larger than the 5s.

    I want the phone to be full featured and don’t mind either a high price or a thicker form factor to allow for a larger battery.

    It would be nice to have a larger display if Apple can incorporate 3D touch to replace the home button.

  4. Kaleberg says:

    When the iPhone 6 came out I figured my next iPhone would be an iPhone 7s Mini. It looks like I might have been on target. Apple went big to fit in more phone and related components while still having enough room for a battery. Those components have gotten smaller, so they can make a smaller, full featured phone again.

  5. dfs says:

    Personally, I wish Apple would choose one form factor and stick with it a while. Every time I change iPhones comes a round of buying a new case (for me, a rather expensive battery case), charging dock, etc. etc. The cost of this stuff adds up!

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