The iPhone 6 Size Conundrum

Since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, the size of the screen on each version was the same. For the first five years, the screen on the iPhone was 3.5 inches. Then they moved to a 4 inch screen with the next generation of iPhones. But this year, Apple is offering an iPhone 6 with a 4.7 inch screen and the iPhone 6 Plus with a 5.5 inch screen. Consumers of the past didn’t have to think about which size to get. This time around, iPhone customers are actually agonizing about this and it has started a whole new dialog on Twitter, Facebook and in media columns on the pros and cons of each sized iPhone. I call this “The iPhone Conundrum” and, for a lot of people who will buy new iPhones, this is actually a very difficult question to answer. While the media got hands on with the new iPhones and were able to see the distinct differences in their sizes, Apple’s overall customer base has not and, particularly for those ordering early, they are going to have to make this decision without the touch and feel test that goes with this when they are on the shelves in the store.

Smartphones over 5-inches have actually been big hits in Asia, especially in Korea. In these countries, they serve as a smartphone and small tablet, thus the nickname “phablets”. In the US and most of Europe, phablets have not been big sellers. While we’ll see sales of about 1.5-1.7 billion smartphones this year, only about 10% of these are larger than 5 inches and classified as phablets. When we heard Apple was perhaps going to introduce a 5.5 inch phone, we almost questioned it because of the lesser demand for these larger smartphones — and Apple is all about volume of units sold. However, Apple getting into the phablet space just reflects market reality given the competitive landscape. From what we have heard, the decision to do a 5.5-inch phone was actually driven by their Asian customers.

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For we industry watchers who look for trends, this begs the question of which size will drive the bigger volumes and, for Apple, what SKUs do they stock in which markets? Our educated guess is, in Asia and markets where phablets sell well, the mix will be 65% iPhone 6 Plus and 35% iPhone 6. In the US and Europe it could be switched — 65% iPhone 6 and 35% iPhone Plus. While I think this is actually a good projection, it is by no means foolproof. One could argue the reason demand for smartphones with larger than 5-inch screens has not taken off in the US is because Apple did not have one to sell. At this point we just don’t know how many US customers will want the 5.5-inch model. We are hearing about some early surveys and, to my surprise, there is a lot of interest in the 5.5 inch iPhone now it has been announced but, until people start buying them, I don’t think any of us researchers can accurately predict what that mix of phone sizes will be in the US and Europe. This is Apple’s conundrum.

Trying to forecast demand for the US launch of these new iPhones has to be a difficult one.

From the customer’s standpoint, this decision demands serious consideration. The majority of people in the US market actually put their smartphones in their pockets. This is especially true of men and many women. Of course a lot of women, including my wife, keep their phone in their handbag when they goes out and lays it on the counter when at home. In this case, size matters.

I have been carrying a 4 inch iPhone 5S, a Galaxy Note III 5.7 inch and a 4.7 inch Amazon Fire with me for months. The iPhone 5, which is my primary smartphone, is carried in my front pocket. The Note 5.7 inch is in my right hip pocket and my Amazon 4.7 inch Fire is in my left hip pocket. I did this to test these sizes for a long period of time to get a sense of how these work in the real world. While I like the Galaxy Note’s larger screen size for things like reading and web browsing, it is jut too big to put in my front pocket. Even in a hip pocket it is taller than the pocket itself and a small part is exposed. Interestingly it fits there well and has never broken or gotten scratched even though it bumps up against a chair when I am sitting. Same goes for the Amazon Fire although with its 4.7 inch screen I can put it in my from pocket with ease.

I am personally struggling with this decision myself. The women in my office have all told me they want the 4.7 inch model and have not even considered the larger version. But in my case, I do like the bigger screen since it makes it easier to surf the web and read text. As I have aged, this has become a factor since it gets harder and harder to read things on smaller screens without my reading glasses. Another factor for me is my go to tablet is the iPad Mini. That means I carry a smartphone and a tablet around most of the time. The one reason I lean toward the iPhone 6 Plus is I know I would use it as a phablet as I do the Galaxy Note III today.  I like the ultra portability of a smartphone but one with a larger screen allows me to use it in a “phablet mode” too.

There is another key consideration that goes back to Steve Jobs’ design goals for an iPhone. Jobs believed all iPhones had to be able to be used with one hand. He was adamant about this. The fact they now have a 5.5 inch phone that cannot be used in one-hand mode for most people shows Tim Cook was willing to break ranks on Jobs’ one-handed operational mantra and respond to customer and market demand with the iPhone 6 Plus. If I got the iPhone 6 Plus, I give up this important feature for me but the tradeoff of a bigger screen making it easier to read will probably sway my final decision.

In the end, demand for either new iPhones will be so high I wonder if Apple can even meet demand, especially for the first three months. Most financial analysts believe Apple could sell as many as 60-65 million iPhone’s in the holiday season, compared to 51 million sold last holiday. However, I think actual demand for these phones in Q4 could be way more than Apple can produce, which means the iPhone 6’s they do make will sell quickly.  Nice problem to have and, as most financial analysts predict, Apple will most likely have record sales when all are counted early in January, something that will clearly make Wall Street and their investors very happy.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

27 thoughts on “The iPhone 6 Size Conundrum”

  1. The main issue that I find strange is that Apple is apparently abandoning 4″ phones from their new phones going forward. What was once the perfect size is now no more.

    Really I think they could/should have three sizes: S/M/L as it were.

    Too bad the graph above didn’t break out more sizes. I am sure phones 4.3″ and under are a huge part of the market.

    1. Not necessarily. Two new models/form factors/sizes is enough for one release. The 5S and 5C are new enough to adequately cover the “classic” form factor…

      So, one could imagine that Apple could introduce a “classic” and/or “nano” size in the future. For example, next year, the two newly introduced 6’s get updates (6S, 6S+), AND Apple could update the internals of the 5C and 5S …to 6C and 6CS (if the “C” was never actually defined –“China” or “color”; or something else if “C” means “color” — maybe “G”).

      It might take some getting used to, but , that would give us something like this lineup:
      4.0 in: 6C, 6CS
      4.7 in: 6S
      5.5 in: 6S+

      1. I hope that there would be a 4″ phone that gets the same processor as the two larger phones, rather than becoming tech laggards. I still prefer the smaller form factor.

        1. I think that is why a lot of people thought there would not be the 6plus this round. If the did a current gen for all three sizes, they could really risk shortages of innards. As a fan of the 3.5″, I will finally probably get a 5s, but I don’t see getting anything bigger, even as I wrestle with the merits of the smartphone anyway.

          I am still amazed at how many 4s models are still out there. My wife won’t go larger, even when I offer her my old 5 if I get a 5s. I think a lot of people who spend a lot of time at computers or with their tablets, particularly for work, just don’t see the need for larger and those are the people who still love their 4s.


          1. Same setup in my house. I’m going to get the 6 and give the larger size a spin, but my wife has no interest in my 5s because she likes the smaller screen on her 4s. I’m switching to T-Mobile, and with all of their promotions I’ll somehow end up walking out with the new 128GB model and a pocketful of cash after the upgrade.

            I sit at a desk and carry a tablet with me most of the time I’m on the road. For me (as a salesman), a second screen is an asset rather than a hindrance. I like being able to record notes or view email attachments on a large screen while simultaneously talking on the phone. As such, I see no advantage to the larger form factor. I would much rather have a thicker phone than a larger one. It would allow for vastly better battery life, which would actually be a benefit to me.

    2. they do so probably to reduce Screen fragmentation that was one of their so call main advantage with developer against Android.

    3. “Really I think they could/should have three sizes: S/M/L as it were.”

      Tim Cook makes it look easy, but I believe making iPhones is hard. Every year you have to make tons more than last year. You can’t do that by pressing a button or making a few phone calls. There is stress added to the organization in sales, tech support, repair, and who knows where else. More suppliers and/or supplier facilities need to be found and brought up to Apple standards.

      If HP doubled sales on their laptops next year, and doubled them again the year after, do you think they could keep the quality the same as this year? Would you buy one in 2017, when they were cranking out 8x as many as this year?

      The 5C was a big test for Apple to see if they could handle the logistics of introducing 1.5 new phones at the same time instead of their usual one phone. The insides of the 5C were not exactly new, although the outside was. This year, they have two completely new phones. If this goes well, maybe they will introduce 2.5 phones next year, with new insides for the existing 5c or 5s case.

      1. I really don’t think that is the case. After the initial demand spike, they generally have no supply issue and then demand typically falls.

        You have other companies building 20-30 models. Surely Apple, the richest most profitable tech company on earth, can manage 3 sizes of essentially the same phone.

        With 4″, 4.7″ and 5.5″, I really think they would have all the bases covered.

        It remains to be seen what they do in the future with the 4″ size. But I still think it too important to abandon, or relegate to old tech. Hopefully it is only this year that it is relegated to last years tech.

        1. Samsung is good at making high volumes of smartphones. They deserve a lot of credit for that. Samsung owns the factories that make the components, which makes it easer for them than for Apple. No other smartphone manufacturer faces the challenge that Apple and Samsung do. The numbers of phones involved aren’t even close.

        2. But, that initial demand spike is when most of their phones are sold. Lets say they get the mix wrong and prepared for 25% 6 plus, but the actual mix was 60% 6 plus. That could be a financial disaster, as they would not have the product to sell. It would send customers to other vendors and crush their Q1 earnings.

    4. If you are right handed, the UI control that is hardest to reach with your thumb is the back button on the upper-left corner. Before iOS 7, you had to tap that button rather frequently. With iOS 7, you can now use the swipe-from-edge gesture instead on the vast majority of apps.

      This I think is key. iOS 7 has vastly reduced the need to stretch your thumb to the upper-left corner.

      iOS 7 has made single-handed use on 4.7 inches much easier. Hence no need to be constrained to a 4 inch for the purpose of single thumb use.

      1. I still think the 4in phone is too tall for 1 handed usage. I miss using my 3.5 inch rounded back IPod touch, it was the perfect one handed size.

        1. I agree. But I also think that Apple is really thinking this out and trying quite hard to make one-handed usage as comfortable as they can.

          From the UI decisions that they made for the original iPhone, I can sense that they were thinking about this even from the 3.5-inch days.

          When designing UIs for Android, I don’t sense the same effort. They actively encourage putting UI controls at the top of the screen, and it hurts me to follow their guidelines.

          1. Maybe I have small hands, but the 4in phone requires me to shift my grip to reach the top, where the 3.5 was perfect. I’ve played around with phones in the 4.7 range and about a third of the screen is unreachable, but those were Androids and they had a much thinner bottom bezel. The IPhone 6 will likely leave 40-50% of the screen out of reach (at least for my hands). They absolutely had done their research with the 3.5 in design and we all knew the 4in was a compromise. 4.7 inches is Apple just plain giving up on the one handed dream and the double click to bring the screen down is a terrible feature which is more suitable for marketing the phone than for actual use.

          2. the 4in phone requires me to shift my grip to reach the top

            Yes, me too. But I think you may have misunderstood my point.

            iOS is generally designed so that you don’t have to reach the top too often. If you don’t have to reach the top (at least most of the time), then the issue goes away.

            On iOS, controls that are related to browsing content are generally at the bottom of the screen or at the top-right. These are the positions which are easier to reach with your thumb. The exception is the back button, which was on the top-left. iOS7 fixed this by providing a universal gesture (swipe from left edge) for moving back.

            I don’t think Apple has given up on one-handed use at all. They have given up on making the full screen reachable with your thumb, but these issues can be separated. Not being able to reach the full screen does not equal not being able to use with one thumb.

            Just to correct you on a small detail, the gesture for bringing the screen down is not “double click”. It is “double tap” (no pressure required). I can’t say for sure because I haven’t actually tried it, but it seems to be much easier to “tap” than to “click”. And the interesting thing is, this gesture would be difficult on Android because OEMs implement the hardware buttons in different ways (the home button on a Nexus is a touch button, where Galaxies require a physical click).

  2. Having just returned from Europe the move to the larger screen even among woman was very obvious. I was surprised but it seems to be driven by the desire to have one device with a decent screen size that covers communications, internet surfing, messaging and social networks and watching video. I’m not surprised by the success of the iPhone 6 Plus. I think a number of folks who defected to Android will now be looking very closely at the iOS platform again.

  3. Tim, you did not include discussion on the Watch. I suspect with that in the mix, the larger phones might be seen as more friendly to those who would otherwise not be inclined to look at them.

  4. I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s not Apple that has the problem, it’s us.

    All over the web analysts and pundits are postulating the pros and cons of having to choose from two different iPhone sizes and yet this has been one of the most debated topics in the iPhone’s short life. Apple, remaining steadfast in their thumb-friendly 4″ phone, was vilified for not offering choice, relegating fans to a measly, eye-straining, toy-of-a-phone compared to the monolithic slabs from HTC, Samsung, LG and Motorola.

    Android fans hemming and hawing about Apple’s lack of choice in a sea of Notes, Tabs, Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S5 mini, HTC One and HTC One mini’s no one ever had a “conundrum” about which device to leave the store with.

    For seemingly the first time in what seems like an eternity we’re going to the mall with mom and instead of her picking out shoes and clothes for us she turns to us and says, “You choose.” And in that rather sarcastic but endearing tone she encourages us to use a muscle we’ve never flexed: our own instincts.

    “I know you’ll make the right decision, honey”

    Then you think to yourself, “…but what if I don’t?” Oh the horror!!

    With all that said I’ve been a bit conflicted too but I 90% certain I’ll pass on the Plus because the phone is just too big. My plan is to wait until next weekend to actually hold both in my hands to see which suits my needs. But if the Plus isn’t too, too big I’ll go for it but I printed the cut-outs (source: and the Plus is just too big. Of course I’m holding paper so holding the real thing might be different.

    1. Apple:
      “Our customers pay us a lot of money to make the right choices for them”.
      “Here, choose your phone’s size”.
      Understandably, Apple customers are in a tizzy ^^

    2. I’m with you. I typically pre-order, but I’m accustomed to pulling my phone out and then doing some quick one handed operation, then sliding it back into my pocket. Even the 4.7in phone would be challenging to both use one handed and to slid back into my pocket. I need to hold it in my hand before I can make the decision.

  5. ” I like the ultra portability of a smartphone but one with a larger screen allows me to use it in a “phablet mode” too.”

    I think you meant “tablet mode”, since “phablet mode” is not distinct from “smartphone mode” but a superclass of it.

    But I am with you, a 5.5 iPhone will make a great little tablet that I will by default always have with me. This would be a happy middle and make the Apple Watch and the rumored larger iPad more attractive, as their sizes contrast more and therefore actually provide more relative advantages.

    1. Interesting. So we can see that Ben’s conclusion was indeed correct, just making a bigger screen isn’t automatically better, it’s what you do with the extra space, how you treat the content, the details of the apps, that’s what matters. Apple seems to have put a lot of thought and effort into how they made their screens larger, instead of simply making the screens larger. Thanks for the link.

    2. Yep, everything I pointed out in that article was true to form and an accurate depiction of the market, and where it was at the time. Also points out exactly why the iPhone 6+ does unique things with its real estate. Which was the point of my article, which you seem to have missed. My point was not that bigger screens are bad, but that big alone misses the opportunity to uniquely optimize software to make the big screen experience better. All things Google’s philosophy does not allow but Apple’s does.

      I’m on record saying Apple would, and should make bigger screens and my reasoning was not just because the market wanted it but because they could uniquely leverage larger screen sizes for a better experience. And so they have done just that.

  6. You’re so awesome! I don’t believe I have read a single thing like that before. So great to find someone with some original thoughts on this topic. Really..

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