February 13, 2014 at 12:48 p.m. PST
Rumors abound that Apple will be releasing a larger iPhone. It’s quite possible that the larger iPhone may be a smaller iPad — the iPad nano.
The iPhone 6 will probably have a larger screen, but it won’t be a phablet. The screen will likely be about 4.7″, but the overall device won’t be bigger. This doesn’t mean that a phablet is out of the question, but would be branded as an iPad instead of an iPhone. That said, I think an Apple phablet is unlikely.
Why the iPhone 6 Won’t Be a Phablet
Before we look at the likelihood of an iPad nano, let’s first take a look at why the iPhone probably won’t have a screen size bigger than 4.7″. Apple are sticklers for ergonomics, usability and design. Design is immensely important to Apple and they do it well. Famed Braun designer Dieter Rams admits that Apple is the leader when it comes to designing products.
The problem with a phablet is that a large device doesn’t function well as a phone. For most people, it is difficult to hold and use as a phone. It’s not possible for most people to use it with one hand. This is why I doubt Apple will release a large iPhone.
Keep in mind, the larger form factor of competing devices is due to necessity, not good design. Other manufacturers need more processing power to run their mobile operating systems. They often go for bleeding-edge technologies, with components that haven’t been miniaturized. These devices also need bigger batteries. The large screen became a talking point, but it was a necessity. Advocates of a particular brand used this talking point to claim superiority — bigger is better. Market research shows that most users desire a 4″ to 4.5″ screen.
iPad Nano Could Happen
For those desiring a larger screen, the iPad nano is more likely. Currently, the iPad comes in two sizes — 7.9″ and 9.7″”. It is possible that Apple could develop an iPad nano, with a 6″ screen.
There are a few reasons why I think an iPad nano is unlikely. Rumors based on supplier leaks point to a larger iPad. This would likely be a professional model. Apple has historically started with one device and gradually expanded options over time. For example, the iPod only came in one size when first released. Now there are several different types of iPods. Macs also come in different sizes. The original Mac was limited to one model. A 6″ phablet is possible, but it seems to violate the principles of good design.
Device size depends on market research, as well as design considerations. There is some demand for phablets. Some surveys show that phablets are now outselling tablets, however this is mainly in Asian markets. This runs counter to market research.
Sales does not always indicate consumer desire. For example, if you can’t buy (or afford) an iPhone in your country and the next best option is a phablet, it’s possible for a consumer to buy such a device while still preferring a smaller form factor. Conversely, there are a few people who buy an iPhone, but would prefer a larger screen. The screen size isn’t the ultimate selling point of the device. Screen size is an obvious and visible feature. It’s perfect fodder for tech punditry.
As mentioned, larger screen sizes resulted out of necessity, not good design. Many of the best competing smart phones are phablets, or at least have a 5″ screen. This doesn’t mean that screen size is selling the device. Smaller versions of these devices tend to be underpowered and watered down, because they cannot house the batteries and components necessary for the full-sized version.
Phablets are not good design. They have ergonomic deficiencies. Phablets are difficult to use as a phone and almost impossible to use with one hand. According to Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi:
“We certainly see more vendors going after it, but I still believe the opportunity is small because of the compromise the device delivers. It’s too big for a phone, too small for a tablet,”
Given these design issues, I wouldn’t expect Apple to release a phablet. I expect tech pundits to pounce on this when the new iPhone and iPad line are unveiled. Indeed, demand for phablets seems to emanate from the blogosphere, and not market research.
The iPhone 6 will most likely have a 4.7″ edge-to-edge screen. Shrinking the bezel will result in an overall device size comparable to the iPhone 5S. I think it is far more likely that Apple will unveil a 12.9″ iPad for professional use. An iPad nano phablet is possible, but I wouldn’t expect too many options at this point. If Apple manufactures too many models, this will negate economies of scale effects, making their products more expensive. Both design and economics seem to indicate that an Apple phablet is unlikely.
The new line of iPhones has been unveiled, and the 5.5″ device is an iPhone, not a smaller iPad. I stand corrected. Apple has a solution for one-handed use on a large screen device — Reachability. A double tap of the home button positions content such that a user can reach it with a thumb. Once the content has been tapped, the normal view is restored.
This is an acceptable solution, however, I feel that the larger iPhone 6 plus is not pocketable. I will purchase the 4.7″ iPhone 6.
With the Apple Watch, it may be easier for users to store their iPhone 6 plus in a purse, backpack or briefcase and interact with the device. It seems that, once again, Apple has introduced their technology at the right time. If you can’t fit the iPhone 6 plus in your pocket, you can easily access its functionality with the Apple Watch.
I wrote about the iPad Nano almost a year before the iPhone 6 series was unveiled. I am not the only tech writer who thought the larger iPhone would be a smaller iPad. Some thought it would be an iPod touch. Many of us knew why Apple kept their screens smaller — for one handed use. None of us foresaw Reachability.
I still think the larger iPhone is not easily pocketable and will be cumbersome to use as a phone. The latter issue can be solved with the included headphones or a variety of accessories. I have personally seen a few people struggle to use their large screen smart phones as an actual phone.
It just goes to show that it is not easy to predict what Apple will do. They keep their secrets well. Accurate leaks of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch only appeared days before they were unveiled. By that time, it had become a case of crying wolf for me. I no longer believed any of the rumors.
I still think we may see these larger (or smaller) screen sizes appear on the iPod touch and iPad products. Apple will have more surprises in the coming months. Apple TV is also overdue for a refresh or even a complete overhaul. Will we see an all-in-one TV from Apple? I personally doubt it, but I have been wrong before.