When the iPhone 6 went on sale, I tweeted that anyone thinking of buying one had to go into a shop and try the two new sizes before committing; there was no other way to, aha, grasp the physicality of these devices. Now, I think even that doesn’t go far enough.
I’ve been using the iPhone 6 as my main phone for a long time (Matt is reviewing the 6 Plus, and we’re constantly comparing notes and switching devices) and I’ve vacillated so much about whether it’s good compared to its predecessors I ought to be hooked up to a generator.
I forced myself to go back to the iPhone 5s for 24 hours to see if that helped crystallise my thinking, and it did. It did indeed feel pokey after the bigger expanse of glass on the 6 (I’m using it in Standard, not Zoomed mode), but for me at least it was much more comfortable to hold. I had to shuffle the phone around in my hand less, it felt more secure, and it was easier to use one-handed. (I’m cautiously confident I don’t just think this because I’m more familiar with the 5s.)
The rub, though, is that I think the bigger screen has wooed me. Basically, physics doesn’t let Apple have its cake and eat it; if you want a bigger screen, you sacrifice some of the ergonomic benefits (for those of us who don’t have big hands) of the 3½″ and 4″ models. If I’d just walked into an Apple store and hefted the iPhone 6, I’d have dismissed it. Weirdly thin. Slippery. More difficult to use one-handed. And I’d have been perfectly happy with the screen size of my 5s. Now, though, I think I’d choose that set of compromises that gives me that bigger screen. I’ve only begun to think that thanks to many days of intensive, in-anger use, however. I’m in a privileged position to be able to do this; how anyone else will make the right decision for themselves is beyond me.
I’m struggling to articulate something as I review the iPhone 6 (and advise on our review of the iPhone 6 Plus), so perhaps I can start a thought here and you can help me finish it.
I like the iPhone 6 and I liked the 5-series, but I miss the 3½″ form factor. I miss it not just because of how it nestles in the hand (relevant especially to the iPhone 3GS and earlier) and is eminently one-handable, but importantly because of how and how well it can present information.
When you have a small window onto the internet, the way in which you present its information has to be meticulously crafted; apps have to consider and use every pixel or point so carefully. There’s a care and craftsmanship that you have no choice but to apply if you have any ambition that your app could be called be well-designed and efficient.
But when the window gets bigger, you have to worry less about this efficiency. The bigger screen absorbs and forgives. This isn’t, note, a technical thesis; this isn’t anything to do with Auto Layout or @2x versus @3x at different ppis, and nor is it a diatribe about platform tribalism or web apps versus native apps… and yet all of these feed into it.
It sounds perhaps like I’m accusing devs of being lazy. I’m not, though the wider context of app development – increasingly hard to make it as a pure indie app dev, having to make difficult decisions about resources with a broadening line-up of targets – married to the shall-we-call-it simple design of iOS 7 and 8 also feeds into this thread.
So that’s where I’m at: a bunch of half-formed but deeply-felt thoughts about mobile phone screen size and how well information can be presented. If you can form a coherent, balanced and nuanced narrative out of all that, for god’s sake tweet me.
(There’s one more thing to ponder in this context: the Apple Watch.)