The Case for a Smaller Phone

True innovation does not simply give people what they ask for – it shows them a better way, it shows them something they have not envisioned. What people actually need is often completely unexpected by them. Apple does this beautifully. No one expected the Digital Crown but instantly we know it’s a better solution. Actually, it solved a problem we didn’t even think of. Great innovation does that – it solves problems people didn’t even realize they had.

I applaud Apple for listening to consumer demand and making larger iPhones, this was a great business decision and fills a certain need. However, I would like to set out an argument that Apple should make a move in the opposite direction toward a smaller iPhone. I have long believed this is an opportunity for Apple to further distinguish itself by doing something unexpected that people will actually love much more.

The current trend is to have larger screens. Why? Large screens make for a more immersive experience. They also are more practical when it comes to creating and reading documents. A phone with a large screen reduces the need for a tablet. It’s a best of both world’s product, a compromise, loved by people that find one device more convenient than two. I contend that such phones are more impractical and less personal.

The tech world is becoming a place where each person has multiple devices and which device they use depends on task and convenience. Each device should in it’s own way feel intimate. The watch is most intimat – an extension of the person. The phone is carried everywhere and kept close. The iPad is far more intimate than the desktops that it has largely replaced but it’s more removed than the watch or phone, sometimes carried, sometimes left behind. A key observation is that with increased display size the device becomes more removed from the person, less personal. The key to the ongoing success of the iPhone is for it to be a device that is very personal, one you carry with you in your pocket everywhere you go. Given the choice, the consumer of the future will choose the phone that feels more human, the one that feels more intimate and natural – This will be the one that is easier to carry on their person.

A key to good design is watching how people interact with technology. If we contrast Apple Watch with Google Glass what do we see? A natural device verses an unnatural one and a human device verses an inhuman one. The human element is key to good design. If we observe the behavior of people, what can we learn? We will notice that there are times throughout the day when they take their phone out of their pocket and set it down, this is often the first thing people do when they get home. Why? It’s uncomfortable to have a large hard object in your pocket. Smartphones are uncomfortable to carry and it’s uncomfortable to sit with one in your pocket. This fact is almost unconscious and people don’t complain about it, none-the-less it is true. The fact that a few iPhones even got bent in some people’s pockets testifies to the potential forces involved. A device that cannot comfortably stay on the person when one sits or bends is less personal. This is a problem most people are unconscious of. When I have my iPhone 6 in my trouser pocket I can’t bend my knee to tie my shoe or pick something off the ground, neither can I naturally sit into my car – this is a problem!

I share Apple’s vision of a world without a wallet (and I would add – keys). What makes this so appealing? There are advantages in terms of security but what I find most appealing about this vision is – freedom. The human element is most important. Every time I leave home I have to do a mental check – Wallet? Keys? Phone? We are enslaved to these things, we must take them everywhere we go. I want freedom! I don’t want bulging pockets. If you take a look at fashion magazines or store displays, how many models do you see with bulging pockets? It’s ugly looking and ugly feeling! When the phone replaces my keys and wallet I’ll feel a huge sense of liberation.

Before the invention of the smart phone, cell phones were getting smaller and smaller (especially in the European market) and people responded very positively to the greater sense of freedom that the smaller phones gave. To think, you could actually forget which pocket your phone was in! You could even carry it in your shirt pocket or some other small pocket. This gave a subtle sense of freedom, this device that your enslaved into carrying everywhere – you now don’t notice so much that you have it! People were excited about this. I believe it would be liberating to have a smaller iPhone. This would make the phone feel more personal, something that doesn’t cause discomfort every time you sit, a device practical to carry with you everywhere (even if you’re going to exercise), something that, like a watch, you are less conscious of.

The iPhone 6 created a user interface problem – the screen is so large that even a man with fairly large hands can’t easily touch the entire screen whilst holding the phone in one hand. As a result Apple added a new feature – a double tap on the home button shrinks the screen. This is terribly un-Apple-like! How so? Apple’s philosophy has always been to have such an easy user interface that the user does not have to think about anything other than their content. The use of this new feature is an interruption of the users thought and flow through the app. I would urge developers to avoid to the extent possible using the navigation bar because of it’s position out of reach at the top of the screen and rather to prefer where possible the tab bar, which is much easier to reach with your thumb. Users will then be able to navigate your app easier.

Many iPhone owners are relatively light users of their device. Some heavy users have loudly demanded larger screens and longer battery life. Is it any wonder that these heavy users who might spend 12 hours a day on their iPhone also want bigger displays? A larger iPhone satisfies this group and this inhuman behavior. I believe most of the rest of us are better served by a smaller iPhone (perhaps even one with a little less battery life) in exchange for convenience, intimacy and freedom.

small phone concept, relocated home button, screen same size as iPhone 5, screen touches bottom of phone


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