Why the iPhone doesn't have a thicker, bigger battery

It then follows, under that train of thought, that Apple is deliberately sacrificing longevity for cosmetics. That the company is putting an obsession for thinness over usability. I used to wonder about that myself. Then I had the chance to speak to some people in the industry and discovered that batteries and battery life are, well... complicated. Here's the case for the thicker, longer-lasting iPhone as most recently made by Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal:

Take the latest iPhone. Let's do a thought experiment, starting with what has changed between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 6. In four years, Apple's engineers made the iPhone 2.4 millimeters (0.094 inches) thinner, or about the thickness of three credit cards. Despite giving it a much larger screen, they also shaved off eight grams, or about the weight of a packet of ketchup.Given the size of its current battery, a little back-of-the-envelope math reveals it's more than reasonable that if the iPhone 6 were as thick as the iPhone 4, the iPhone 6 could have double its current battery life.

It sounds great in theory, but if you take an iPhone 6 as thick as the iPhone 4 and start to imagine how heavy it would be, you can start to see where it breaks down.

Apple was deliberate when they pointed out the iPhone 6 was actually lighter than the iPhone 4. They did that because, while thinness is nice and certainly improves the feel of the phone in both the hand and the pocket, it's lightness that matters. Lightness improves usability.

Battery life is the currency of mobile devices. Every feature you add, you pay for in battery life. That includes screens, radios, and it includes lightness. If a company like Apple is willing to pay that price, it shows how important it is to them — or how important they believe it to be for their customers.

A thicker, heavier phone starts to become a drawback when you try to hold it up for prolonged periods of time. It causes fatigue and eventually prevents you from using it, charged or not, for as long as you'd really like to.

An iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus with the same thickness as an iPhone 4 would be too heavy for many people to read iBooks or watch movies for long periods of time, for example, while in bed or while on a flight. It would also be harder to balance and use one handed while walking around.

It's the same reason Apple's been striving to make the iPad ever thinner — to make it ever lighter and more usable.

Also, batteries don't just hold in power — they hold in heat. They're insulators. Batteries are part of the reason why processor speeds need to be capped and ramped down over time. They're also not RF transparent, so they can affect how Wi-Fi and cellular radios work as well.

With Apple's current generation of thin-as-in-light phones, you can add a thicker, heavier battery case for those times when you want or need extra power. If Apple made a thick-as-in-heavy phone, you couldn't tear half of it off for the times when you really didn't need the extra boost.

This way, usability is the standard and bulk is the option, not bulk as the standard at the expense of usability.

If you occasionally start running low on battery, you can still charge your iPhone and keep using it. If it's constantly awkward or uncomfortable to hold, or too bulky for your pockets, there's nothing you can do. It's a brick.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball made a great observation:

Consider laptops — for years, battery life on a laptop was somewhere around 4 or 5 hours, at best. It was a struggle to use one throughout a cross-country flight. Today, you could probably fly coast to coast roundtrip with MacBook Air on a single charge.

The change in laptops happened when Apple redesigned them to be, essentially, giant battery packs, and Intel made x86 more power-efficient with chipsets like Haswell. iOS devices are already giant battery packs and ARM is already power efficient. That means, absent breakthroughs in battery chemistry, we might not get as dramatic an increase, but we'll get steady increases.

Chipsets and the processes used to fabricate them will improve, screen technology will evolve, and radios will get more efficient. Add even better race-to-sleep and other power-management techniques and, over time, Apple will end up with a light, usable phone that also has extended battery life.

The iPhone 6 Plus, with its day-and-a-half of charge capacity, shows that strategy already at work.

10:00am, February 24: Updated to better explain the trade-off between battery-life and bulk.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

240 Comments
  • What we need is faster charging times. Then it'll be a solved problem. Sent from the iMore App
  • Plug your iPhone into an iPad charger. Zoom. Zoom. :)
  • +1. Works great. And fast. :)
  • Beat me to it Rene. I bought an iPad charger and notice the faster charge. A better faster charger added for my car too made a difference. But for the car do some research. Not all car chargers are actually putting out what an IPhone 6 can take.
  • They really should bundle a bigger charger with the 6 Plus. Love how fast it charges with the iPad charger.
  • But, faster charge time = more heat = lower battery life?
  • My theory, Yes. This is why I stopped using a higher wattage charger for my iPhone's. I bought a brand name car charger from BestBuy, my phone got too hot, so I took it back for a lower wattage, more expensive (?!) charger. Sent from the iMore App
  • How does that affect your battery life? I mean super charging the battery is great but won't the battery be worn out faster? Why would Apple not give us higher amp charger to begin with otherwise? I just like to know the reasoning and also the side effect of using iPad charger .
  • I'd love to get a concrete answer on this as well! If there is no degredation to the battery, ill buy an iPad charger. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Yeah that's what I do most of the time Sent from the iMore App
  • Why? Why when I go out for a day, use my phone to find where I'm going, what my transport options are, what places I could try for lunch, which stores are stocking that thing I wanted to buy, and then by 6pm it's dead and nothing more than a paperweight in my pocket, when I still need to call my pals to check what bar we are meeting up at (and then use Maps once more to find it), why is faster charging time going to solve my lack of Smartphone service? How on earth does that help me?
  • If you don't dress in full spandex you could carry a JuicePack. If you're not idle rich you could charge it at work on 5 out of 7 days.
  • I don't know if I could agree with this article. Though the iPhone is no doubt one of the most well built devices out today, I think it would be nice if you have a bigger battery. One thing I appreciate about the 6+ is it's a bigger phone, and because of it, you could fit a bigger battery. What I wish is that battery tech would catch up with the times. Imagine how much better technology could evolve if batteries could be made thinner without compromising battery life. Posted via the Nexus 5, Sony Z3, or Surface Pro 3
  • No. Rene says you don't want that. He is all knowing. Ask him. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Actually Rene is right. A bigger battery might sound like a great idea until you hold it for a long time. Sent from the iMore App
  • If they made the phone bigger yet lighter, wouldn't a phone that was bigger but weigh the same not be any more uncomfortable to hold? His reasoning makes no sense. If I held the iPhone with that tiny packet of ketchup taped to the front I would notice. Not in the sense he says you would. It's a small fraction. And still weighing less than iPhones before it, and most other phones in the market. The reasoning is sad at best. And saying a larger battery doesn't mean longer life is redonk. If I say I want a minutely thicker iPhone that is hardly heavier to increase poor phone lifespan, then that is exactly what I want. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • You're posting from an Android phone, do you really honestly know what iPhone 6 lifespan is like? Some people will complain about battery life no matter what you give them because they will just keep using it until it's dead. Personally, in my case, I get 2 full days on average out of my iPhone 6 and couldn't be happier with the battery life and would not need it to be thicker. Between 7 and 8 hours of "usage" and up to 1.5 days of standby is perfectly fine on average, and no matter how much i used it I've never been able to kill it in one single day. And the iPhone 6 Plus lasts forever based on all the reviews, so there's no issue here.
  • You must being doing some sort of magic or voodoo. Or you meant to type iPhone 6 ^Plus^. On my 6, I have liberal limitations on location services, etc. I quit apps when I'm not using them, and I'm almost always on Wi-Fi, and/or have excellent LTE signal, but my average "usage" is 4-5h/12-14h standby by the time I get down to 20%. I don't watch videos regularly. I usually listen to audio podcasts for several hours, make phone calls, text, maybe light web browsing. I'll make it through the day, but I have to charge at night. Sent from the iMore App
  • It seems clear to me that there must be some variation in manufacturing of iPhones, or some hidden battery drain that some but not all users experience, because in my queries to people about their iPhone 6/6s Plus battery life, I get widely varying answers. And it's hard to believe it comes down to usage patterns. My 6s Plus is at 60% after extremely light usage today over the past 12 hours. 15 days of standby time is a ludicrous figure to me. I would have to recharge after two days, even if I hadn't used the phone at all. Perhaps it's down to TMobile's lousy coverage (which is terrible here in my home), but the phone doesn't indicate that "Searching for signal" is the lead battery drain. My wife's phone gets roughly the same battery life. Meanwhile, my brother in a different city says he can go over a day of heavy usage without getting near zero. Very, very frustrating to hear.
  • Yes I do know what the battery life is like. The phone I am posting from isn't the only phone I have ever used or tested out. Also I'm posting via my BlackBerry. But that's not the argument. The argument is that keeping it the thickness of a iPhone 5 and the weight, that at the iPhone 6/6+ size it would apparently be unusable and not add enough battery life to notice. Which is only based on design CHOICES by the manufacturer itself. That doesn't mean anything other than they made these choices because they like super thin light phones. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I never thought the iPhone 4/4s was too heavy. As a matter of fact, the 6 & 6+ are nearly impossible to hold without some sort of case so I feel like Rene hurt his argument here. I loved the look and the round edges until I had to hold the stupid thing now I can't go without a case. I feel like adding the thickness would solve 50% of the problem and going back to squared edges would solve the rest. For me, the 6+ solved my battery longevity and small screen issues so I am not complaining but who couldn't use a little more? For the record I agree with Rene 75% of the time but Steve Jobs himself could never convince me on this one.
  • Yeah um no. Look at phones like the z3, or other android phones that have much larger batteries while being larger and not that much heavier.
  • No, I'll respectfully disagree. When I'm holding my phone to my ear for a long time, what gets tiresome isn't the phone, but the weight of my own arm, and having it in a raised, bent position. I'd rather have the additional weight of a ketchup packet for more battery life. Plus, most of my calls are three minutes or less. If I'm really making lengthy calls frequently, I'll get a headset.
  • Is it April Fools day already?
  • Another 1-2mm thickness is an extremely fair trade off if it increases the battery size, I mean isn't the 6/6+ thin enough? They're actually awkward for me to grip without a case on. Sent from the iMore App
  • Exactly. Especially the 6 plus, that is like trying to hold onto a bar of soap. Not to mention it would get rid of the camera bump. Sent from the iMore App
  • Camera bump? Add a thin or thick case and no worries. Have you looked at a Samsung Note 4 ? Do you think maybe there is a reason many phone cameras regardless of the phones thickness have a bulge on the phone where the lense is?
  • It's not thickness, it's weight and other factors.
  • I have had thicker phones than iPhone 6 Plus, but never the battery life that is as great. Also, what people forget is how great the iPhone is at energy conservation. I unplugged at 100% charge at 830am and when I got home at 940pm, the battery was at 98%. Sure, I had a very busy day at work and didn't use the phone too much, but my androids used to lose at least 20% battery even if I didn't touch 'em.
  • Most people complaining about iPhone battery life are Android fanboys who never used an iPhone 6. On average, everyone I know who has a 6, including me, is very happy with their iPhone 6 battery life and is getting around 15-20% more than they did on their 5/5S.
  • I have the 6 Plus and I said the same thing about the thickness and needing a case. But that's the beauty of the 6+. With a case on its perfect. Phones that feel right without a case feel too fat with one. The battery in the 6+ is fine. There are battery cases like Rene mentioned but I can't see the need.....for me. I must say coming from Android I appreciate Apples thinking on the design. Instead of adding a bigger battery and more processing power which actually is throttled and limited some they do a great job in a more efficient way.
  • So your saying that a thicker phone that has more girth for your hand to stretch around will improve your grip?
  • "Take an iPhone 6 as thick as the iPhone 4 and imagine how heavy it would be." Yup. This is my point when people try to bring up how if Apple "just made it a little thicker." Hell no. You have yourself an iPad 3rd/4th generation with that. It would be so uncomfortable to use and actually take longer to charge. You can't make a device even as small as an iPhone 6 and hold it comfortably in one hand with the thickness of the iPhone 4.
  • Yep, and everyone complained when the iPad 3 got thicker and heavier...
  • My phone weighs over 190 grams and lasts forever on a charge. And I fail to see where it's inconvenient to use. It's not. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • You're such a big, strong man...(That's what Rene would tell you)
  • That's the same line your dead mum used to give me all the time, NadaAddict.
  • I'm just glad your mum is still alive... I'll miss her when she's gone. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • The iPhone 6 Plus lasts forever on a charge too, and my iPhone 6 lasts me two full days on average, kudos!
  • This article is pretty dumb. If the 6 weighs less than the 4, why not add the amount of battery until the 6 weighs about the same as the 4? No one complained about how much the 4 weighed. Jeez...
  • Of course we didn't complain about it. He's saying we'd complain if the current gen iPhones were as thick as the iPhone 4. Read and comprehend.
  • "Take an iPhone 6 as thick as the iPhone 4 and imagine how heavy it would be. Apple was deliberate when they pointed out the iPhone 6 was actually lighter than the iPhone 4. They did that because, while thinness is nice and certainly improves the feel of the phone, it's lightness that matters. Lightness is what improves usability." Maybe you are the one who needs to read and comprehend?
  • Thank you for the accurate rebuttal.
  • Maybe read and comprehend my comment? You just made the point for me. A hypothetical "imagine if the iPhone 6 was as thick as an iphone 4." Exactly what I said.
  • I don't really care about your point. The post from icon12 mentioned weight comparison with iPhone 4. Not thickness.
  • Thickness = size and weight. Thanks for answering my point on my point that you took 2 replies to let me know about.
  • Hey no problem. And don't worry about that reading comprehension thing. You'll pick it up one of these days.
  • thickness has absolutely nothing to do with weight. I can have a box made of paper thats a hell of a lot thicker than a box that is made of stone. Guess which weighs more. I said weight specifically for a reason, not so you can fill in your own definition in an attempt to make my point invalid. I'm talking about his argument saying that if the 6 weighed as much as the 4 we would hate it and get tired using it due to its weight. Obviously we didn't get tired using the 4 so why would it make sense to argue that point for the 6? Be unbiased and think.
  • jesus fucking christ, if the iPhone 6 was as thick as the iPhone 4 then of course it would weigh more. Why? Because the iPhone 6 is a bigger phone. Those two things go hand in hand. You're acting like he said that the iPhone 6 would weigh exactly what the iPhone 4 would of it was just as thick. I really have to explain to you that the iPhone 6 would weigh more if it was just as thick? You knew exactly what I was talking about but you needed some super hero to come in here and get technical.
  • Depends... If it was just the case without more gadgetry installed, it could be just as thick, and still be lighter... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • One last time before I give up... Nobody is saying that the iphone 6 should have been as thick as the iphone 4. All that is being asked is why the iphone 6 couldn't have been thicker to at least be the same weight as the iphone 4? Obviously the 6 would not need to be as thick as the 4 to be the same weight. But if the iphone 6 was .5 - .75 mm thicker than it is currently, how much battery life gain could have been achieved from the added battery capacity? At least that is how I read the original post that we are replying to here. Based off the "Apple was deliberate when they pointed out the iPhone 6 was actually lighter than the iPhone 4" quote in Rene's article.
  • Um no. You act like the iPhone 4 is so thick. An iPhone 6 the size of the 4 thickness wise would still not be that large or heavy. Apple has sacrificed battery for thinness in iPhones. Sent from the iMore App
  • From Mims' piece: "But here’s my point: In their dimensions, smartphones became “good enough” a couple of generations ago. Few in 2010 thought their phones were a brick until the next shinier and, above all, thinner one came out." I agree with you that on its face, the iPhone 4 isn't that thick. But we're psychologically trained to think that it is that thick now and that idea in our mentality is permanent.
  • He's saying psychologically it has no affect on what he considers too big on a phone. Most of the population uses phones thicker than an iPhone 6 and as such or wouldn't be any more or less "cumbersome". Maybe they should think about reducing the heinous bezels the iPhones sport year after year. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I agree about the bezels.
  • I just want it thick enough so I can lay it flat on its back without it laying on the camera lens. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think this is the thing that puts the lie to the thin-ness idea. Ive is even quoted in that latest interview as being not so happy with the stick out camera. He says that it was a "practical" choice or some such that makes it sound like they kinda "had to." IMO once you are making an awful design decision like that, you actually *are* fetishising thin-ness, because a flush camera would be better design and the extra millimetre would mean a slightly bigger battery, not a big, *heavy* battery that the entire 2.5 millimetres would theoretically be. Sounds like spin to me.
  • That's assuming the conclusion that it's about thinness and working backwards.
  • I don't agree. But I don't really understand your meaning either. All I'm saying is that they made the "iPhone 6" 0.7mm thinner than the "iPhone 5" and the camera sticks out by that much because it's the same camera basically as the 5. They could just as easily made the Phone the same thickness, had a flush camera and fill that space with whatever percentage of battery (or nothing at all) to get the phone to the weight they wanted. It seems inescapable to me that Apple has prioritized "thin" over the "phone lies flat on a table," for no real reason and introduced a problem (no matter how small one might think it is) that affects many iPhone buyers, again for no reason other than fetishising "thin."
  • Yup, Ive said the choice was pragmatic, means he got it wrong.
    Funny thing is in this instance Apple got neither form nor function correct.
  • The 6 is 0.30 inches wider than the 5. They had to make it thinner so the extra width could be spanned by the same sized hands that held the 5. https://www.imore.com/e?link=https2F2Fc2F4...
  • A Lumia 635 is about the same width as an iPhone 6, but very nearly as thick as an iPhone 4. And it is perfectly comfortable to hold one handed, and I don't have big hands. Sure, making the iPhone 6 this thick, and filling the space with battery, would have probably made it heavier than the 6 Plus. But some middle ground, where it weighed about 20 or 30 grams more, and was around 8mm thick, would have been comfortable to hold on both a size and weight basis, AND had a significantly increased battery life.
  • Thinner makes it easier to handle because you can wrap more of your hand around it. The phone grew a lot in width so obviously Apple did make the decision to make sure it wasn't so hard to handle with the thickness hindering the ability for some average hand size to wrap around. There's no problem with the 6 or 6 Plus battery life anyway, the only issue that I do admit is annoying is the fact it won't lay flat without a case. But then again, no other phone does either. Samsung's have camera bulges, HTC and Moto Xs are curved, the Nexus 5 has a ring around the camera just like the iPhone, they all lack a lay flat feature.