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Do people really want smaller screens... or smaller iPhones?

Now that the iPhones 6 have shipped, with 4.7- and 5.5-inch displays respectively, it's just as likely you'll see someone calling for Apple to go back to 4-inches. The argument for bigger screens is that they're larger windows into the internet and apps. The argument for smaller screens is that they're easier to use one-handed, especially for people with smaller hands. But is the latter really an argument for smaller screens... or for smaller phones?

I use an iPhone 6 Plus most days. It's gotten to the point that, when I pick up an iPhone 6, it feels small. An iPhone 5, by comparison, feels tiny and almost claustrophobic. An iPhone 4 feels like an iPhone nano. That's what our minds do to us. They reset to a new normal and make everything that came before seem suddenly strange and different. Yet, inarguably, the iPhone 6 Plus is harder for me to use one handed. It's harder to reach some parts of the screen and harder to balance while trying to reach.

Imagine a future iPhone where the screen goes to the edge.

I don't have that problem with the iPhone 6. It works absolutely fine for me one-handed. But some people do, and they're typically the ones who want Apple to make a 4-inch iPhone again.

Part of the issue is that, for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple scaled up not just the screen but the entire phone. It's what had to be done for this generation of devices, but it also leaves a lot of opportunity for paring down in the future. That's something Apple's been doing as consistently as increasing screen size, after all.

Imagine a future iPhone where the screen goes to the edge on both sides, disappearing not at the curve but as the curve. Imagine an iPhone where the FaceTime camera and earpiece take up almost no space, and the screen reaches almost all the way to the top. And imagine an iPhone where the Home button is replaced by some new technology that can still allow for a physical escape to a known state, that can still scan fingerprints and authenticate, but that also lets the screen reach almost all the way to the bottom.

Apple is already using the digital crown on the side of the Apple Watch to trigger Home screen return, and force touch on the screen to trigger contextual menus. There are also patents for potentially fingerprint-reading cameras that work from behind displays, or on the backs of devices, so who knows what else might be possible?

A physical Home button on the side? A Force Touch home button with Touch ID on the screen? Such a future iPhone would still provide for a bigger window into the internet and apps but also be more accessible to one-handed use and small handed users.

Over time it doesn't seem like it's screen size that regresses, It's form factor that progresses.

When you compare the original iPhone to the iPhone 6, the screen-to-phone ratio sure looks like its been moving in the right direction — more screen, less phone.

It's requiring massive leaps forward in engineering each time to make sure all the components, including batteries and cameras, can keep providing great results even when they're crammed into increasingly small spaces. But Apple's pulling it off, time and time again.

An iPhone with a big screen and a small form factor might not be in the cards for the iPhone 7 or even the iPhone 8. And maybe there will indeed be a 4-inch iPhone 6c at some point. But over time it doesn't seem like it's screen size that regresses, It's form factor that progresses.

We may not be anywhere close to the the credit card-thin, transparent aluminum phones seen in Iron Man or Avatar, but my point here is this — when people say they want the return of 4-inch screens, what they really want is a return to the iPhone 5 phone size, and historically, that seems a much more Apple-like direction to go.

Rene Ritchie

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.

  • Great article. It's true, I personally prefer the small form factor as it fits in with my lifestyle. I think the 5/5s screen is way to narrow but the phone feels perfect when I run, workout or do things one handedly while doing something with the other hand. The Moto X footprint is barely bigger but it doesn't have higher top and bottom bezels (Oh that home button, how it complicates things).
  • I'm all for the 'IPhone 6s Mini'.
  • Because of phone size or do you really want a smaller screen too.
  • Keeping in mind that everything related to size is a personal preference, I really like the 4" size best (I tried both the 4.7" & 5.5"). I do not need a bigger screen (I have an iPad mini for that purpose). Reasons: For continence (fits in pocket better), for holding/handling, for speed (using my fingers/thumbs), for talking (don't like a big item in my face/ear).
  • Isn't it supposed to be "credit card-thin", and not "credit-card thin"?
  • Did you understand the message and or meaning of the statement? If so, stfu.
  • First of all, Rene delivered his views well, and I agree to an extent. I know what he's talking about–I've owned the 4s, 5s and now the 6 Plus. Yes, I've had to shift the the way I hold my phone occasionally; but I spend half my time on Safari reading and watching occasional videos, and what I love to do has been made even better by the added real estate. Secondly, just how did I offend you by correcting a grammar error? Last time I checked, it wasn't a crime/sin and as far as I'm aware I wasn't being abrasive. Rene has even updated the article to use the correct grammar. Compound adjectives should have correct hyphen-positioning. Rene's error was merely misplacing the hyphen, probably because it was a two word-noun and not a one word-noun. I just demonstrated that rule twice, but a simpler distinction would be "a man-eating shark" vs. "a man eating shark". Third, what I said wasn't one of the cases not covered by the rights to free speech; as such telling me to STFU is against the First Amendment. While I'm not an American citizen, you are one (according to your carrier choice); so you fall under this law. You are prohibited from silencing my voice, even if it is distasteful or against public opinion–which it isn't, in case you forgot. And if you're reacting this way to a comment—which isn't even directed at you, I might add—on the Internet, I can't imagine how you'd react to criticism in real life. So take your crusty, salty attitude towards me elsewhere and educate yourself; thanks. Try not to judge so fast—or at all—next time. Links:
  • That. Was a baller ass reply. +1 Posted from the amazing whatever device I can afford because I'm a broke college kid.
  • The issue with this article and many others that say the same is that people do not mean smaller phone top or bottom. The top and bottom where FaceTime and Touch ID are do not get in the way for a one handed use. The height does not matter, the only thing that matters for one handed use is the Width. Taking out the curve on the side will not drastically improve the width. Simply put the iPhone 6 Plus is too big for your hand. Yes you got used to the bigger screen but doesn't chnage the fact that your hand is not big enough. Even phone with thinner bezels like Note 4 and Nexus 6 still not one handed use. Why? Because their width is actually bigger than the iPhone 6 plus. The real solution is actually bring a phone with a 5.2 inch screen. That's what they should have done. I don't know why they went with a screen so big. And yes I have the iPhone 6 Plus myself.
  • Hands attack phones from the bottom angles, so the bottom does matter as well. (Including for the famed pinky-stand grip.)
  • I would not want them to change the Touch ID placement. I use it every day and on the back of the phone I s a bad idea. Cutting just the top would look imbalance and I don't have an issue if I hold the phone on the side. I still think a 5 or 5.2 inch would have been the right choice. Personally I dong thing they should have made it 5.5. Like you say your brain would have never notice if it didn't exist. 5 inch would have been plenty big.
  • Top to bottom defintely matters. Your thumb can only go so far up and down. If a phone is too tall, you have to enlist the help of the pinkie just to keep the thing secure. I love my iPhone 6 but I wouldn't mind a decrease in footprint. As Rene said, they're working on integrating TouchID behind the display itself. Though we will probably see that debut on the watch first.
  • You do not need to go pass the screen on the top side. So the top where the camera is does not matter. And the bottom is not really an issues. Should hold the phone on the side.
  • You're absolutely right.
  • I think the biggest issue is that iOS isn't really designed for larger screens. Having the back button in the top left corner is fine on 4" screens and smaller, but is near impossible to press on anything larger, and I'm 6'3" with large hands. Move the top controls to the bottom and larger screens will be easier to use (like Android's back, home, and the other button). I had an iPhone 6 for a few weeks but had to go back to my 5S. I also don't think the 6 is very well balanced. I was constantly afraid that I was going to drop it whenever I used it one handed. I'm all for symmetry, but there is no room for symmetrical bezels in a larger iPhone.
  • This is dependent on developers using the tools Apple has given them. You can swipe from left to right on the screen to go back. But the majority of third party apps still do not support this gesture. It's not Apple's fault developers are lazy implementing new things. To make it worse the back gesture has been around since iOS 7 so developers have had plenty of time.
  • the BBM app takes full advantage of swipe gestures.
  • Eh, most apps support back gesture by default *unless* the developer is doing shenanigans by explicitly turning that support off.
  • Gestures were supposed to mitigate that, but yeah, navbar on the bottom makes sense, if tab wasn't already there.
  • For me, I'd really just like the sides to go down and maybe a couple mm's on top and bottom. The width of my iPhone 6 makes it hard for me to grip the sides and hit the back button. I've gotten used to it but it's not the most comfortable. If the bezels were eliminated almost completely (screen went to edges of curve) it would shrink the phone by a nice amount. I'm not sure if that would make a difference but I like having a touch id scanner and do not want it on the back as I've heard suggestions for (that would screw up a lot of case options and be unintuitive.) so until screen technology can hold a scanner as stated in the article the best we can hope for is thinner bezels on the sides.
  • I would take a full screen 6 plus. 1) I am a big dude with big hands. 2) the 6 plus has eliminated my need for an iPad. 3) since I was seven I wanted a computer in my pocket. Sent from the iMore App
  • I prefer phones with big screen, and my perfect size is 5 inch screen without bezels. Iphone 6+ screen is way too big for me. Sent from the iMore App
  • That render looks terrible. I do prefer the smaller form factor, although I've gotten used to screens that are 4.5 inches thanks to using the Nokia Lumia 920 and Lumia 925 for nearly two years now. I don't think the iPhone 6 is that much larger than my Lumia 925, but I certainly wouldn't mind a slightly smaller iPhone that's around the 4.3 inch screen range. I love that the iPhone has always been pocketable, at least up until the newest releases!
  • Yes, I think there's a case to be made that the sweet-spot for an iPhone is between 4 and 4.7 inches. Say 4.4" and then 5.3" or thereabouts for the plus. That allows them to kill both the 4.7" line and all the 4" models as well after the current phones run their course. There's a sweet spot in there somewhere and I think 4.7" shouldn't automatically be assumed to be it—end of. I'd be open for Apple moving to a 4.4" thin iPhone 7 going forward and simplifying the whole lineup. And while they at it if they do announce an iPad Pro this year or next I think it'd be perfect timing to simplify the iPad lineup too by killing all the old models and starting fresh at more aggressive price-points for iPad mini 4 ($299/32GB), iPad Air 3 ($399/32GB) and iPad Pro ($599/32GB).
  • it's all about thumb reach. That is the biggest hurdle next to software (UI) design evolution. The Android form-factor (the one on the right in the photo) might be a novel idea in concept, but try typing with the keyboard even further down the screen than it currently is. Think about the back button and all the buttons on the upper title bar and lower chin-bars in just about every app. Our thumbs come in all different sizes but there is a happy medium that the iPhone 4s (and previous 3.5" screen) had perfectly balance. I pick up a iPod Touch and feel instantly more comfortable operating. i pick up my iPhone 6 and have to do a balancing act to type. I have smaller hands for a man (size s/m in gloves) but i'd say IMO, in the general public that's the happy medium. I always felt the 4" phones were too tall to reach efficiently and the 4.7" and 5.5" are even worse.
    Think about having to use the home button that even further down the screen, then reaching all the way to the top of the screen. Reachablility sucks, I hate it, it's a hack. Look at the physical dimensions of the screen itself and imagine what it would be like to operate that even without a bezel. it's awkward at best. the phone keeps teetering from top to bottom with use. the UI isn't designed for that. And even if there was some mind-blowing UI to solve this, it's still all about the physical dimensions.
    Now, I will say I like the bigger screen on my 4.7" but I wouldn't really miss it if I were to go back to a smaller one. For the first few months of use, I don't really even notice that it IS bigger than before. The experience i have with Apps and information on the device is not better than before. To me, iOS on the phone is very well designed to be completely usable and efficient in small screens. Sure, you can see more text and more of a web page but i don't really do heavy productivity on my phone. It's there when i'm out but that's about it. If i want a more full-featured experience, I'll use my iPad or my Mac. The Tech community is all too focused on this naive desire to have a phone-sized device that can do what Mac can do. News flash...unless it can wirelessly read your brain wave and translate that into the UI, a device this small will never be as fully featured and have as-go or better UX than a laptop or a more fully featured Tablet.
    Don't get me wrong. I have got used to handling a bigger phone, but I think the smaller phone was much more my taste and i feel the smaller phone is just as good if not a better UX.
    Now, I think that all could change if Apple comes up with some amazing UI that is better attuned to a larger phone, and I know the Apple Watch might help but it's another device that I have to charge and remember to put on. From what I've seen them add currently (Reachability most notably)'s just not there. There are just so many gestures you can do. And even then you risk worsening UX just to add a few more un-discoverable gestures.
    I agree that size is relative to the individual, but after using my iPhone 6 for 4 months now, I feel safe saying the 4" and 3.5" devices were a much better experience hands-down, regardless of hand size. it's All about the thumb reach.
  • I have fairly large hands and I agree with you- I just can't grip the 6 with the same security as the 5(S). And there is little to no value to have the larger screen. The UI is good enough for me to scroll around or turn my phone to better see a webpage, or better yet, web developers could make their sites more mobile-responsive, so we don't have to pinch and scroll. I especially notice the awkwardness of the size & balance of the 6 when I'm trying to take a picture one handed. There is just too much weight at the top and the shutter button is too far away from that weight, coupled with an extra wide, rounded, slippery design, I feel like I'm go to drop the phone. And the side buttons are not always the best option. This is also when trying to navigate music or podcasts one-handed. The balance and width of the 6 compared to the 5 just isn't as good. And there is zero advantage to a larger screen for these apps. So yes, mark me down for an iPhone 6S Mini. Sent from the iMore App
  • Novel? Sent from the iMore App
  • I love my iPhone 6 but I still feel like the entire device is a tad to large. I hope with the iPhone 7 Apple can at least get that screen size into a package the size of the 2013 Moto X; the perfect sized device. Just like Rene pointed out, I can't get over how small my iPhone 5 feels now.
  • Definitely wish Apple did a better job minimizing the size of the top and bottom bezels. Of course, with the round home button they're utilizing, there's only so much that can be currently done. With the Note 4, Samsung was able to incorporate a larger display in a smaller body than the 6+.
  • Top and bottom bezel does not matter at all. Note 4 is bigger than the 6 Plus.
  • Top and bottom bezels don't matter? Care to explain your position? If the top and bottom bezels were smaller, reaching all parts of the screen with one hand would be a lot easier. I have the 6+ and used to own the Note 4. The Note 4 may have been slightly thicker, but the reduced size of the bezels made it a lot easier to use with one hand than the 6+ even though it's screen is larger.
  • Top and bottom bezel does not matter to reach the top of the screen. The and is on the side of the phone not of the bottom of the phone trying to reach the top. That would be even silly to hold it from the bottom. Note 4 screen is 5.5 inch too
  • I always let the bottom of the phone rest on my pinky. The thumb is then able to move freely around without it needing to provide support on the sides. A lot of other people I know do the same. Also, get your facts straight before commenting. Note 4 has a 5.7 inch screen.
  • If the bottom bezel is .x" smaller and the screen stays the same size then you are .x" closer to the top of the screen when using the phone. You're wrong.
  • You are wrong.
  • How am I wrong? I think I explained this pretty clearly.
  • @gerardo2068:
    You are being a HUGE jerk here (and you are wrong).
  • The note 4 is barely larger with a larger screen. Top and bottom bezels DO matter....
  • Do not matter.
  • Got the iPhone 6 but didn't like it and went back to a 5s. As well as one-handed convenience comfort in the pocket was a big issue. I don't notice the 5 in my pocket but with the 6 every time I bent I could feel the phone constraining my movement. Getting the phone size smaller whilst retaining a bigger screen would be great. I also hope they don't constrain the storage capacity on future smaller phones.
  • You can't go backwards Sent from the iMore App
  • i like the dimensions of the iphone 6, the 6 plus is just too big. i do not like how thin the 6/6+ are however. it's getting to the point that they are too thin to actually hold on to while talking.
  • Agree. I had to put my 6 in a case because it felt so thin. Wish apple would focus more on battery and less on paper thin.
  • I have relatively small hands for an average adult and I have no issue using an iPhone Six one handed. As far as fitting in the pocket, I don't even notice it's there because of the extreme thinness (even with a slim case on). That being said, I wouldn't mind a 5" phone in a 6-like form factor. I find the Six+ too large to be comfortable in any way, shape, or form and think it suffers from too much "bezel".
  • Imagine the iPhone 6 with the form factor of the Lg G2. Maybe with a little bit bigger bottom bezel to fit touch id but that would be so cool. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I have the iPhone 5 (holding out for 6S) but I definitely like the size of the 6. The 6Plus on the other hand is just too big in my opinion and Apple made an iPad Mini to fill that middle of the road void. My opinion is don't go bigger than the current iPhone 6 size for future (main) models but they can keep offering larger sizes if the demand is there for those that want a toaster size device up to their faces to make phone calls. :o)
  • Stop Bitching about big sizes, Android had been successful in this area for years. Sent from the iMore App
  • Toaster sized? Hyperbole wins you nothing.
  • How about an on-screen home button that the user can leave on or can auto-hide at their choice? It would eat up bottom real estate if left on, but would take off at least a half inch of bottom bezel that could be used for full screen apps, if needed. Just swipe up to bring it up, swipe twice to bring up the control panel. Or swipe from the right corner for home button and left corner for control panel (like webOS).
  • No, the Home button has to be a physical button or the reasons why it exists in the first place won't work. A blind person for example has to be able to find the button. If it's part of the screen, you need sight to see it, and all of a sudden, blind people have to go back to not having a phone. The home button, and Apple's love affair with symmetry, are the main reasons the phone has the height it does. The top part can be eliminated almost completely with great ease, but then the top margin would be thin, and the bottom part with the home button would be big. Apple doesn't like that so they make the top part taller to match the bottom. It's a bit silly functional speaking, but it's part of the reason the phones look so damn good.
  • Ahhhh no not really, you could also use voice recognition. Sent from the iMore App
  • I want my Touch ID and I want it there. I do not want it on the back of the phone or any other side.
  • Yes! Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes, I want a smaller screen and phone. I want my phone to go back to being phone sized. The 6 is too big. The 6+ is rediculus - as a phone. The 4 size with an edge to edge screen and 6 thickness. That would be perfect. Also - I hate gesture based navigation. Things happen by accident, they're unpredictable, and there is no easy way to tell if an app supports it or not. A "button" or icon gives you an instantly recognizable action, you get immediate feedback and you can get more information about what is going to happen when you tap it.
  • The 4?, why don't you go back to the flip phone?, Moron. Sent from the iMore App
  • Smaller screens? No.
    Smaller phone without compromise to screen size? Absolutely! Sent from the iMore App
  • iPhone 6 is a great size for one hand, 6 Plus is kind of big. A 5.2 inch would be even better
  • 5.2 would work out very well. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'd love to see a smaller iPhone with a smaller screen. In fact I'm waiting for next year to buy my next phone for exactly this reason. Apple pretty much has to either update the smaller form factor phones (the 5s and 5c) next year, or eliminate them entirely. It will be interesting to see what they decide to do. My ideal iPhone size would be zero inches. IMO, it's beyond time that Apple allowed us to not have to buy an iPhone in the first place to make our mobile gear work. For those of us that don't want to build our entire life around a phone and instead would rather carry a laptop or a tablet are being left out in the cold. It's been possible for years now to have the iPad take the place of the iPhone at the centre of the "mobile digital hub," but Apple refuses to consider it. It would have been possible for the Watch to replace the iPhone also, but instead they have made it a virtual extension of your iPhone again, that requires the user also buy a $900 phone to make the $900 watch work. I'm not interested in Apple making devices that entrench the iPhone or make me need to buy a new iPhone year after year, but I am being FORCED to, if I want to play in the iOS ecosystem. For that reason, the smaller the iPhone better, the cheaper the iPhone the better. It's only going to lay at the bottom of my bag anyway. Un-used, un-loved, waiting for the day I can chuck the silly thing out completely.
  • you don't make sense. You don't need and iPhone to have an iPad. The Apple watch does not cost $900 dollars. No watch in existence have the processing power to do everything the iPhone does. You don't know what you are talk about.
  • As is typical of your comments here, you are incorrect across the board. It is quite likely that the Watch will be in the $900 range for the basic steel model (including the bracelet). Current thinking is that the steel one will cost around $500 just for the body. You currently DO need an iPhone to act as a "digital hub" to enable your other devices. You can alternatively buy an iPad with a contract and a SIM, but it will cost you a lot more for a lot less data, and as far as has been announced so far, iPads will not work with the Watch (thus my complaint). Also, because you need an iPhone to make the Watch work, you will need to have the phone anyway, so why pay extra for a SIM enabled iPad? It's been possible for years now, to put the same things that make the iPhone a "phone" into the iPads. Apple has (so far) refused to do so. You can also take your SIM out of your phone and put it in your iPad and it will mostly work fine, but this is (technically) illegal, and when your cell provider finds out they will cancel your contract. In other words, the situation is pretty much just as I said it was. I think I know, "what I are talk about." As you say.
  • Again you don't know what you are talking about. iPad and data is not apples fault is the carriers. Again Apple watch will cost between $350-$550 Android watch need a phone to work. Go learn something. You are so moronic that is called a phone because that's what make a phone A Phone. Also carriers do not allow to put "phone" on tablet. You do not know what you are talking about and now is a typical thing.
  • Dude you are frigging retarded the watch will be $350.00 you really need to wake the F- UP!!!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • Don't listen to that fool he is still living in 1995, I have the iPad Air and the iPhone 6 Plus and love them both and next Fall I will get the iPad Air Plus or the iPad Pro. Sent from the iMore App
  • No one is forcing you to use an iPhone. If all you want to use is an iPad, you can use just an iPad.
  • I heard the Moto Star Tac 2015 is coming out this year, you should get that and also pick up a cassette Walkman and a pair of parachute pants! Sent from the iMore App
  • I thought the iPhone5 was the perfect size. Now make the screen go edge-to-edge on that chassis and it would be perfect. Get rid of the Home button. "Borrrow" WebOS' double swipe up to go into card mode (anther WebOS feature). A double click of the On/Off button could also serve as a Home button substitute. But to answer Rene's question, yes I want a smaller phone. I lose my grip on my iPhone6 regularly (damn small hands).
  • You know what I want? I want a world where my phone is actually a phone, my tablet is actually a tablet and my reader is actually a reader. Nothing yet has blended the true functionality of all three because a tablet isn't a phone and a reader isn't a tablet.
  • Do you also want to take out all the other functions of your phone that once required an appliance - the camera, digital music playback, digital video playback, audio & video recording, web browsing, GPS navigation etc etc etc? Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree. Even though I love my iPhone6+, I like having a big phone as my mobile work station and a tablet to play games and read the internet. I still love my reader -- it is great when I need to make sure I (or my kids) will be reading a book. The bigger phone actually makes me want the watch, too, for those things that only require a few taps or scans. Or at least an iPod for running. But I'd like to see more choices in the iOS world. Have you noticed the flip phone, the small just-for-calls-and-texts phone, is very popular in Japan? If I could have decent internet on my tablet I might go for that instead of a smart phone.
  • I think the 6 and plus are a little too big in my own opinion. I like to type one handed. Sometimes it feels like my wrists hurt when I type on my 6. I thought the 5s was a great size. I alternate between both. But mostly use my 5s
  • I just switched from Android (Moto X 2014) and I'm loving the size of the 6. My only complaint is the UI could be better suited for a larger display. I shouldn't have to reach the corner of the screen to go back a screen or cancel. Sent from the iMore App
  • I 'upgraded' to the 5s (from the 4s) begrudgingly (as much as one can be begrudged when acquiring new technology) because I wanted the better camera. It was a trade off but I keep hoping the rumors that a 3.5 inch screen iPhone is coming back. I still have not adjusted to the 4 inch screen. Just hands too small or not sized right for it. Or just lob off the part above the screen? I'd be 'happy' with that. I totally understand the appeal of larger screens! But personally one handed use takes precedence. Except, not over camera quality.