Against the Larger Phone

I’ve more or less reconciled myself to the 4” iPhone form factor going away. There’s not been a single rumor about an iPhone 6 version in the existing form factor. I wasn’t going to upgrade this year anyway since my 5s is more than adequate. I can’t help but imagine that disliking the bigger size is part of that as well. I completely get why many want the larger form factor. The line between tablet and phone is blurring. At times I think my ideal device would be a regular sized iPad with full phone capabilities and a bluetooth headset. Yet there are lots of times I just want the smaller size. I can’t imagine putting the 4.7” in my pocket when I’m bending a lot and working in a factory. Honestly every time I pick up my old iPhone 4s that I’m running iOS8 on I find myself wishing Apple would go back to that form factor as an option. I remain convinced that, except for the cracking back problem, that the iPhone 4 was the pinnacle of Apple design.

One problem I’ve noticed with even the slightly longer length of the 5/5s is how poorly many (including Apple) have made their designs for one handed use. I know some just think one handed use is bad because they imagine people using it while driving a car. However I frequently am doing things at work where one handed use would be great. (Holding a product, hand covered in grease, etc.) The work around once the 5 was introduced was the dreaded “hand shimmy” or the “stretch that thumb as far as you can.” I’ve had cramps from doing this and it’s very hard to hit buttons by position in this way. (That way you don’t even need look at the phone) Often with the 4/4s I could use the music app without even looking at the phone. No more.

Maybe I’m just a graybeard. I used to just excoriate poorly designed 5/5s apps that were difficult if not impossible to use one handed. (Maps, I’m looking at you) Now I think I’m just reconciling myself to Apple users becoming like Android users and phones fundamentally having the affordance1 of a tablet. I’m opposed to all this but I recognize it’s a lost cause.

Clearly there are benefits to the larger size though — primarily battery life. It’s been frankly amazing Apple’s been so competitive with Android in battery use given how much smaller its size is. For people who want a single device a larger phone makes a lot of sense. As middle age eyes affects me more and more each year,2 I find myself having a harder time reading a lot on my existing 4” iPhone too. I’m curious if the 4.7” has a zoom mode or if it really will just be more tablet like.

Edit: corrected a few typos and added some footnotes.

  1. Affordance in UI design is how our sensing of an objects characteristics imply its function and use. Thus the location of buttons or controls determine how we use them, discover them, and most important create habits of use that become unconscious.
  2. Yes I can use reading glasses. But there’s no way I can use those all the time, especially with a portable device like a phone.

3 thoughts on “Against the Larger Phone”

  1. You’re not the only one who likes the smaller sized iPhones. One handed use is a critical feature – it should not take two hands to operate a phone/iPod. When I’m walking I’m usually carrying something in my other hand and so two handed use makes the phone unusable. If I need a tablet I’ll buy a tablet, meanwhile I need a phone and I need to be able to use it one handed.

    1. Yup. Effectively with the 4.7″ iPhone 6 all the phones have become tablets. The question then becomes what sized tablet you want. I’m actually worried about the 10″ tablet since that’s my favorite form factor. The 8″ is just too small IMO. And, if I’m choosing a phone that’s a tablet I’d probably just want a real tablet! The question then becomes the question of making phone calls. Even cellular on the tablets isn’t real callable.

  2. You wrote exactly what I’ve been thinking about all along. I Had a 4S and didn’t buy the 5 out of fear of the size (besides, I didn’t really need it). When it came the time to upgrade, I got used to the 5S, but I still think it is a worse design. I keep avoiding apps that have frequently used controls on the top. I don’t know what to think of this move from Apple to a 4.7” screen device as the smallest, besides it being a mistake.

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