iOS 10 is big, bold, and brilliant. But for iPhone SE users, it might be a little too big.
If you've listened to me on the iMore podcast, you may know that I'm a big supporter of the four-inch iPhone SE: It's lightweight, fits comfortably in my pocket and bags, and has everything I need to communicate with both my online and real-life world. With the release of the new iPhone models, I've tried to embrace the iPhone 7 Plus, but so far, I still feel that the iPhone SE is the size for me. I find the larger form-factors of the 7 and 7 Plus unwieldy for my hands, usage patterns, and my pockets — making it less than ideal for mobile computing.
Unfortunately, I know I'm in the minority — and I worry about what that means for my beloved four-inch iPhone going forward.
Something doesn't look right
When I first downloaded iOS 10 on my iPhone SE, I was impressed. It looked great, had amazing new features, and ran smoothly. But after a couple of days digging around the operating system, I noticed a couple of design elements looked off on my four-inch iPhone — specifically in News and Music.
Apple used iOS 10 as an opportunity to redesign some of its built-in apps — News and Music included — with a larger, brighter aesthetic, and it's largely gorgeous. Fonts are easier to see. Objects pop out and grab your attention. But in designing some user interface details, it looks as though the human interface (HI) team forgot to take the smallest iPhone into consideration.
These design problems, as evidenced by the screenshots above, aren't major issues, nor do they prevent me from using either the News app or the Music app. In News, the temperature is completely obscured by the date; in Music, the Downloaded button collides with the More button.
And thankfully, these are just two minor issues in a system upgrade that's otherwise a hit for four-inch iPhone users. In other apps, Apple's designers and engineers have smartly adjusted the interface for four-inch iPhone users, moving interface options and creating the same smooth look given to larger-screened devices.
But it still concerns me that these interface errors made it out of Apple's many developer and public betas. I've filed a radar: Rdar://28776452 and Rdar://28774812, but I'm still surprised these weren't caught and fixed in an earlier stage of production.
Should four-inch screen fans be worried?
The minor design issues in the News and Music apps may not be big deals in and of themselves, but they still speak to something that four-inch phone fans fear at every turn: Is Apple leaving us in the dust? It hasn't even been a year since Apple released the SE, but the smallest iPhone has already started to look woefully outdated.
You can't get the SE with storage any larger than 64 GB — a bummer, given that wanting a small phone doesn't necessarily equal small storage needs. The FaceTime camera is still a paltry 1.2MP for photos in comparison to the iPhone 7's new 8MP front-facing camera. There's no barometer, either, which lessens the SE's Health-related functionality, and there's no 3D Touch.
Some of this is related to size, of course — there's only so much space inside the SE's chassis, and Apple's ultimately working with a design that's almost four years old at this point. But it's hard not to feel a little bit concerned this year, watching the 4.7 and 5.5-inch iPhones get new technological advancements while the smaller iPhone stagnates.
That doesn't mean all hope is lost, however: Rumor has it that Apple might be expanding the iPhone's screen by reducing the bezel size across the front of the handset in 2017's models. This could satisfy both Apple's designers and its customer base, offering the larger screen in a smaller package.
A bezel-free iPhone design could even allow Apple to create a smaller-size iPhone with iPhone 7-style features currently missing from the SE: By removing the headphone jack and adding a virtual Home button and Taptic Engine, Apple would free up internal space to add improved hardware chips and camera optics.
A prayer for the future of the four-inch iPhone
While I don't think the smaller iPhone is a top priority for Apple right now, I'm hopeful that the company has something special coming for us in the future. There were clearly enough fans of the four-inch iPhone to get us the iPhone SE a year and a half after the larger iPhone launched, which is evidence that Apple is listening.
But for the SE to come into the future, its casing has to be completely reengineered: The 5s housing isn't in any way waterproof, nor was it built to include a "camera bump", 3D Touch, a Taptic Engine, or any of the more recent iPhone improvements.
We may never get everything we want in a smaller iPhone handset, but we can still hold out hope that Apple will continue to update the smaller size for years to come. It fills an important niche for the company: the low-cost, good-for-small-hands-and-pockets contingent.
Whatever its eventual future, you'll never stop me from saying: Long live the four-inch iPhone!